With apologies to René Descartes, one of my personal philosophies is, “I am, therefore, I take photos.” Yeah, there’s that whole love affair with PR and words and writing, but photography can be as sensual.
As much as I enjoyed learning about photography in the film era, my love has taken on two new lives in the 21st century. DSLRs; without the need to buy, process, and print film. Smartphones; which use computational photography to produce photos better than the scene.
Faux, as in fake, makes up the somewhat new term Fauxtography which more accurately describes photos that come from smartphones. Here’s the traditional definition:
Visual images, especially news photographs, which convey a questionable (or outright false) sense of the events they seem to depict.” It is also mentioned as “a serious criticism of photojournalism products, both the images and the associated text
Fauxtography in the traditional sense carries a heavy negative connotation, probably from the very early days of the century.
The word “Fauxtography” was coined by the webloggers during the 2006 Lebanon War photographs controversies. It was first used to illustrate the altering of a photograph
Think what Photoshop can do for news and you get the idea of the early origins of fauxtography. Language, though, is a dynamic and meanings can change over time. Think Gay Paris and Gay Pride. What has fauxtography become?
Vlad Savov on the history:
It’s a term that’s been used to describe images that are manipulated to factually misrepresent a situation as well as sloppy but innocuous Photoshop chop jobs.
Vlad Savov on what has become computational photography:
It’s been largely about post-production fakery, whereas the novelty in recent times has been about how good phones have become at doing such things on the fly.
In other words, fauxtography is a situation where smartphones with the smarts of computational photography produce photos which are far better in every aspect than the original scene, and certainly improved over the non-edited or non-enhanced photo.
This is a genie that won’t go back into the bottle; toothpaste that won’t go back into the tube.
For the longest time, we’ve had a seemingly clear dividing line between shots straight out of the camera (colloquially referred to as SOOC) and examples of fauxtography where the shooter has indulged in applying some after effects like filters, vignettes, recoloration, or masking and inserting objects in the frame.
The days of straight out of the camera (SOOC) are gone. To the naked and untrained or inexperience eye, my iPhone XS Max takes photos as good as either of my Canon or Nikon DSLRs. In many cases, photos appear automatically as if they’ve already been enhanced in Photoshop or scoured with a few filters, thanks to ongoing, rampant, and immediate computational photography.
The end result is fauxtography.
So, why do we need computational photography in the first place?
All of the pores, wrinkles, ear hair, and other imperfections that you subconsciously disregard when engaged with a person face-to-face become magnified in a photo. And the better cameras get, the sharper each of those flaws comes into focus.
Check out a 4K HDR television and you’ll see the same effect. Call it beautification mode or computational photography or fauxtography, but the end result is the same.
The two biggest problems with beautification modes so far have been their lack of subtlety and the homogenized beauty standards they promote. Whitening and flattening the skin, enlarging the eyes, shrinking or straightening the nose, and throwing a soft and saintly glow around the face are practically universal features across any phone maker you choose to name. Importantly for photographic purposes, a flattering portrait is also soft on detail
More humans than ever have cameras that take excellent photos and videos (which adds proof that earth is not inhabited by green creatures from Mars and Bigfoot is not real). We’re taking more photos than ever because each photo is dirt cheap– no expensive film, no expensive processing, no expensive prints or slides.
Yet, in our quest for ever greater quality and improved photos, computational photography creates photos that are not an accurate representation of the scene.
Fauxtography is no longer a thing that happens only in Adobe’s Photoshop or Lightroom, and the idea of unprocessed and unvarnished photography, at least via digital means, is more a romantic ideal than an attainable goal.
I’m sure iPhone has a setting or an app or a filter that will take us back to the good old days where everything was real, expensive, and crummy looking, but compare an old photo with a newly enhanced fauxtograph, and tell me which one you want to put on Facebook or Instagram.
Fauxtography rules in the 21st century and we have iPhone to blame.