The photo authenticity problem – solved! April 24, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
From IEEE Spectrum comes news that a company called Verifeyed (get it?) has solved the problem of inauthentic photos. In short, they claim to have a way to tell the difference between images that have been Photoshopped (or otherwise digitally altered) and those that have not.
Their approach is innovative. Other companies have software that attempt to detect vagaries that are introduced into an image as a result of digital manipulation. Verifeyed, however, uses a different tactic:
[T]he company has analyzed 8000 cameras and scanners so far, with more in the pipeline, to determine each type of camera’s “footprint.” By comparing the image against the camera’s footprint, the company says it can quickly and easily spot alterations. The technology can also potentially spot the “fingerprint” of an individual camera, making it useful for enforcing laws against, for example, child pornography.
If I understand this description correctly, the Verifeyed system identifies patterns in the way that different cameras record images, and then compares a given image against those patterns. If a given image does not conform to any known pattern, then the implication is that it has been altered.
It is an interesting strategy and perhaps useful for many uploaded photos. However, it does sound as though it might be vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle style attack. That is, someone can manipulate an image (in some way) and then photograph it, thus producing a result containing a bona fide “footprint”.
Fauxtography as a practice February 14, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
Erik Johansson gives an interesting TED talk about his work on impossible photographs. His project is to find ways to knit photos together with Photoshop so that they display scenes that are impossible but nevertheless look plausible. Watch the talk to see what that means.
The topic of faked photographs, or fauxtography, has been discussed in this blog before. In those cases, the point of photographic trickery was to put something over on the viewer. It seems incorrect to say the same of Johansson’s efforts, though. He seeks not to deceive but to entertain.
Johansson puts forward three principles that underly his work. Photos to be combined should…
- Share similar perspectives;
- Share similar lighting conditions;
- Be combined in a way that is seamless.
On the surface, these rules seem to be technical requirements that simply make it easier to combine photograph segments together. Mismatches between photographic regions in a single picture would require more effort for the manipulator to reconcile with one another.
Although this observation is correct, it does not capture the final role of these rules, I think. Although Johansson clearly uses photo-manipulating software, he describes himself primarily as a photographer. That is, his business remains rooted in the traditional conception of the photographer as someone who records scenes as they actually appear visually. Relying heavily on digital manipulation would tend to uproot that conception. So, to preserve his (im)posture as a photographer, Johansson tries to maintain a light touch with the computer alterations.
In addition, the rules help to define the nature of the practice that Johansson is engaged in. Johansson is an entertainer: He presents his audience with images that contain a kind of puzzle which the viewer has to figure out. He says that he wants his viewers to “get the trick”. More particularly, Johansson is a humorist in the sense that his puzzles all seem to contain incongruities that are pleasurable to decode, e.g., a roadway that is apparently laid down like a sheet. Of course, such incongruities could be realized through a number of means. Johansson could simply describe them verbally, for example, or make paintings of the scenes. His choice of quasi-photography is quite deliberate: We have expectations about what photographic images look like, and that they record visual scenes accurately. Images that satisfy these expectations, as captured by Johansson’s rules, and yet present subtly impossible scenes are particularly engaging for the viewer. So, Johansson hews as closely as possible to the methods of standard photography in order to maximize the impact of the result. He seems to be quite painstaking about his craft; as he says, some images take months to plan and execute.
Clearly, Johansson is a talented humorist. He is also a photographer. But are his works really photography?
Faked photo from North Korea January 4, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , comments closed
With the recent passing of North Korea’s Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, a big state funeral was inevitable. As photos of the scene were transmitted, it seemed that one, produced by the North Korean Central News Agency, was retouched. It appears to have been taken from nearly the same vantage point as another photo distributed by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency, and perhaps only a second afterwards. Yet, a group of onlookers to the left of the frame has disappeared in the later photo. The group was replaced with an image of some snow cloned from another part of the image.
Why would the North Koreans bother with the manipulation? The article speculates that the North Korean editors want to keep up appearances:
North Korea, too, has a facade to maintain: that of a nationalistic people who are happier than their neighbors in the South.
Perhaps, although it is hard to see how the altered image increases the appearance of happiness. Besides, shouldn’t people look sad at the passing of their beloved tyrant? Another possibility is that doctoring photos is very easy with modern software and the North Korean press is quite used to touching up photos and other records and may simply have thought that the doctored image looked less cluttered.
Why should we care? It is not inherently immoral to alter an image. However, as the article explains, images made for journalistic purposes, and thus intended as historical documents, have a special purpose that calls for special care. Notes Bob Steele, a journalism ethics professor at DePauw University:
“We must recognize how easy it is to alter reality; when it comes to journalism and documentary photography, there must be an assumption that authenticity and truth are guiding principles. If we don’t have that, then we don’t have trust. And if we don’t have trust, we have a breakdown in communication within society.”
See also Scott’s discussion of “fauxtography”.
In this case, we seem to have a straightforward problem with authenticity, in the sense that the doctored photo is not genuine. That is, a segment of the image originated not at the funeral but subsequently in a computer application.
Yet, looking at the image raises other, more problematic issues of authenticity. On my monitor, at least, the North Korean Central Press Agency image appears brighter than the Kyodo image. That is, the snow seems whiter. Is that also a result of Photoshopping? Or could it be due to the use of different lenses or cameras?
Suppose that the North Koreans had not done any Photoshopping but had used a lens filter with the intention of making the snow more white and thus nicer looking. Their intention would thus be, perhaps, similar to the intention behind removing the untidy crowd on the left. Would the filtered but not-Photoshopped image be authentic? It would certainly be genuine, as every pixel would have originated at the original scene. Yet, its truthfulness could be questioned. Would it be appropriate to retract such a photo, as occurred with the Photoshopped version?