This stunning photo was taken by film director, actor and photographer, Fan Ho, in 1954.

Ho was famous for taking candid photos of street life and the city architecture of Hong Kong, in the 1950s and 60s. His striking use of light and shadow, exemplified in "Approaching Shadow", led to him being linked to the Bauhaus art movement.


Does it change your opinion of the photo when I tell you that Fan Ho staged the shot by arranging for his cousin to pose as the human subject?

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Furthermore, does it change your opinion of the photo when I tell you that the diagonal shadow was added by Fan Ho, in the darkroom? In reality, the wall didn't have a shadow.


@fitheach no, I'd say most photos are staged and they still had to capture the moment, the light could have been off, the angle not quite right etc but this was caught perfectly IMHO

Yes, "many" street photos have a reputation of being staged. Debate has raged for decades about how many of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photos were staged, and whether that changed their significance.

Do you still feel the same knowing the shadow was added in post-processing?

@fitheach at the end of the day, without post processing enhancements how many pictures would there be printed/published today? Given it was the 50s I'd say he was ahead of his time.

Post-processing skills were as much part of the photographer's skill set, as was using the camera. This was certainly true of Ansel Adams, and before him, too.

however, I'd argue that improving contrast, tweaking exposure, boosting colours, changing focus etc. is quite different from adding or removing whole elements from a photo.

@fitheach I'm still going no, film shot on a set aren't real life but I don't think that it's fraudulent because it is a set and not an actual outdoor scene

Devil's advocate:
I guess you are referring to fiction films. I would agree that they aren't fraudulent, as they aren't setting out to deceive (usually). Many films, often for legal reasons, display disclaimers that they aren't portraying real life.

On the other hand street photos do, without stating as such, imply that they are showing real life. A moment of real-life, frozen in time.

Many people will realise that photos are often staged, but the vast majority do not.

@fitheach I'd more-ore-less assumed he'd seen the shadow one day and brought a model along the next so the staging's not a problem for me. The fact the shadow wasn't observed does subtract something, yes.

Post processing to bring out the “real” image is one thing, to make a different image is, well, different.

The issue is that people will assume that a photograph is mostly recording a situation. We don't make the same assumptions about, for example, painters. The ability, and motivation, to edit photos is beyond what most people expect.

We almost need disclaimers on photos in the same way as with movies: "any resemblance to real life, or real people is purely coincidental".

@fitheach It depends, really.

If you're "faking" to build a story or compose a scene, it's actually composition.

If you're covertly faking the story you're capturing, i.e. when the moment itself is supposed to be the object of the story, then it's faking.

Concretely, this photo is composition. But if you went into Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and took photos that depict the faux commercial orientalism found there as Turkey's everyday life, then that's faking, and somewhat unethical.

@fitheach E.g., IMHO there's more to this Ho photo than just the scene. It communicates to me a feeling of insignificance in industrial urban spaces and loneliness in city life. It does not misrepresent Hong Kong, or, does not really represent any particular location. It just uses the space, the model, and the shadow as compositional pieces. The shadow directs focus, the colours and tall straight lines communicate urbanism and industralism.

@fitheach I'd contrast this with some random photo depicting people in some traditional attire, or just the historic quarters of a city, trying to tell that that's how the normal life there. These photos try to capitalise on a sense of exoticism and at times beholder's feeling of superiority. IMHO these are faker than Ho's photo even in their raw form on the negatives, even if they were truly spontaneous.

It is difficult to separate ones personal feelings about a subject, and a message coming from an artist. Should a photographer be free to make a (or any) statement? What if that statement is something about exoticism?

@fitheach IMO all of art is gray territory. We can develop criteria and analyse in detail, but it's an inexact, case-by-case science. "You know it when you see it", kinda sorta.

But the rest of the artist's work does help a lot, just like context and presentation, to varying extents.

At a more fundamental level tho, yes, any artist should be free to express anything, within the limits of the human rights and freedoms of others. Apart from that all we can discuss is how we receive the art.

@fitheach I very rarely hear the words when I listen to music. More important is how it makes me feel. Similarly I don’t care how a photo was created. If it sparks some emotion, then it’s a good job.

Photos are often assumed to show actual events. People now are probably more aware of how photos can be manipulated because almost everyone has a camera in their pocket, with simple editing tools.

What happens if the emotion raised is fear or anger, does it matter?

@fitheach I don’t think so. The photographer had an objective. If my emotion matches his objective then he’s done a good job.

Obviously I take issue with photographs that are altered to manipulate facts, but otherwise it’s a shrug from me.

If your emotion doesn't match his/her objective, what then?

The problem then becomes whether you agree with the particular truth the photographer is telling.

@fitheach I don't even trust video anymore these days due to the same reasons as pictures.

Sad turn of events for arts :(

Video is usually harder to edit (manipulate) than a single image, therefore there is a higher cost or barrier to doing it. However, because it isn't expected the payoff may be even greater, if that is your objective.

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