The term ‘natural’ world encompasses the world and anything in it that is derived from nature itself. This implies an originality, individuality and authenticity that cannot be disputed.
Photography is a visual medium with which such qualities can be captured; frozen in time so that they may be preserved and studied.
But what happens when such moments are fabricated? And is it easy to spot the difference between a scenario that is natural, and one that only claims to be?
Such was the case recently when the winning entry in the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ competition was disqualified for allegedly featuring a fake animal. Marcio Cabral’s entry, ‘The Night Raider’, shows a nighttime scene featuring an anteater moving towards a termite mound in in Emas National Park, Brazil.
The Natural History Museum investigated the entry following a number of concerns raised by others. The anteater – pose, markings & all – bears a striking resemblance to the taxidermy model on display at the entrance to the visitor’s centre on the reserve. Cabral persists that his photograph is the ‘serendipitous’ encounter that he first claimed it to be.
A similar instance occurred in 2009 when Jose Luis Rodriguez was stripped of his ‘Photographer of the Year’ title after it was thought he had used a well-known domesticated wolf from a zoological park near Madrid to pose for the image. Rodriguez’s photograph, which shows a wolf in mid-jump over a wooden gate, has since been dubbed ‘the storybook wolf’.
Mark Cowardine, a judge for the competition, expresses his disappointment: “This is very sad and I think it might make us more suspicious of entries that are too good to be true.”
Of course, this is not just an issue relevant only to the natural world. Images can have a powerful effect on how we see the world, but in the age of “fake news” and evolving photographic technologies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to verify genuine images.
This can be very serious where humans are concerned. In the realm of politics and other global affairs, for example, certain images can carry very grave consequences. Fake images may be used for propaganda, to discredit someone, to influence opinion, and could even inspire drastic actions in certain circumstances.
The practice of photo manipulation has become so widespread that there is now a need for experts in image verification. But this is nothing new to our time, with recorded instances of image manipulation dating back years. It is, however, becoming even easier to achieve convincing results using post production software.
Depending on how this is applied and what are the intended uses, image manipulation has evolved into an art form and even developed as a signature style for some photographic artists. For these ten artists, for example, their work has been used by high profile advertisers as a clever means of telling stories about certain products and their brand.
This digital artistry bends reality to create certain surreal effects. This creates a fine line between what is real and what is fantasy but in contexts where credibility does not rest on how best to portray reality (like the ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ competition does), photo manipulation can be a fun and inspiring practice.
Take these animal manipulations, for instance; their qualities are based on purely natural sources but are blended together in interesting ways to create some extraordinary images.
Despite these recent digital developments, photography in its purest form remains an enduring art form.
Images are a vital part of validating what we say and what we experience in our culture.
Additionally, as we have covered previously, there are also certain moments for which photography – whether planned or not – can open up new, maybe even quite bizarre, layers of meaning beneath the surface of a particular situation.
Although evolving technologies and the development of new techniques presents new complications, this also extends the potential of photography to wow and amaze us. The value of this medium, therefore, cannot be underestimated.