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  • Writer's pictureSteve Silk

Truthiness In Action

Stephen Colbert had a word for it: Truthiness. It being something that might look or feel to be true, in spite of not necessarily being true at all. That word is useful for photography, especially in the era of A! and Photoshop. The pair of photos above displays that idea visually, The processed picture on the right appears to be genuine and authentic, but when compared to the original straight-out-of-camera image on the left, well, then what? Is it true? Or is it truthiness? Or is it something else entirely?

First, how'd I get here? I loaded the original image into Photoshop, selected the tree and then used content aware fill to remove the tree and replace the gaping hole the tree's removal left in the background (I also copied the selected tree to a new layer, then turned that layer's visibility off). I took the resulting landscape, sans tree, and went to work cloning, darkening, and cleaning. I then warped it a bit, and got rid of the ditch using, again, a selection and content aware fill. Once the background was ready, I went back to the layer that had just the tree to add the tree back in. I then created a luminosity mask on the yellows, and used it to brighten the leaves on the tree and on the ground. Lastly, another luminosity mask allowed me to selectively brighten the tree trunk and a few branches, Boom! And if it matters...yes, I pre-visualized the whole thing.

So you might say the finished image represents a kind of truthiness, a fiction created from the facts ( that is, the original pixels) which were then bent, twisted, and revised to create the image in my mind's eye. But is it really untrue? Given the proper hardware, weather and time of day, I might have been able to shoot something in camera that was A LOT closer to the finished image. Instead of camera technique, I used Photoshop to make refinements. To me, the finished image is in fact truthful. Not in the strict, documentary sense of truth, but rather in the artistic-liberty sense that it is true to the scene and true to the moment. To me, it is altered reality, but still real. You could have seen it yourself, if you were walking through the park. Maybe it helps that it is all derived from a single frame, and not a composite of several different times and places.

What would make it untrue? Say I added a dog or, better yet, a unicorn napping under the tree, or put the tree in front of an office park or made it appear to be growing out of a glacier. It's a rather long way from my leafy tree to some fantastical only-in-photoshop creation, but it's an interesting road, with many intriguing stops along the way. One of my hopes for the future of the blog is to visit some of those stops in an effort to consider where, in contemporary landscape photography, truthiness lives. And where it doesn't.



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