30 November 2013
I am a Manchester City fan so you can aim off for a degree of prejudice in what follows. I also think more about photography than anything else at the moment so you can also aim off for obsession.
‘For his 40th birthday @ManUtd have published a pic of Ryan Giggs in a fascist pose with a violent caption. Classy’
This tweet produced some odd responses: bafflement, derision and one responder who said it was ‘just’ a head shot. This last would be remarkable at any time – all images carry a distinct set of meanings – but in the age of Photoshop it was simply naive. I know photographs have always been manipulated but the advent of Photoshop made manipulation so powerful and so easy that it now takes precedence over the shooting of the original picture. This means we no longer see pictures ‘of’ anything. The magazine picture of Jennifer Aniston is not an image of THE Jen, but, rather of A Jen, a version that exists only in the imagination of the star and her retoucher.
The Giggs image is heavily manipulated. It is also very ugly, not because he is ugly but because it excites revulsion. My initial explanation for this revulsion was that the lighting, the pose and the composition reminded me of fascist ‘hero’ imagery, as in the films and photography of Leni Riefenstahl. Matters were made worse by the violence of the words, which, I now know, are Joy Division lyrics often sung by fans in honour of Giggs. This, of course, does not alter the fact that they evoke violence.
Without abandoning this reading, I have since come up with two further interpretations which take into account the colouring. Giggs’s skin is silvery grey, suggesting a corpse. But, lower down, it is suffused with the red that rises up from his collar. I take it this is intended to be United red, but it is not, it is the deep red of arterial blood. In this reading he becomes a zombie rather than a Nazi. The expresson in the eyes is no longer that of an SS officer moved by the singing of the Horst Wessel, but of a dead man puzzled by his continued existence. This reading provides an even better explanation for the words – or it would if ‘and eat you’ followed ‘apart’.
The final reading is that this image has been doctored to make him look like a figure in a violent computer game – Call of Duty perhaps. This arises from the hyper-realism of what I suspect is a heavily sharpened image. Photoshopped hyper-realism looks anything but realistic because that is not how our eyes see things, but I suppose people think it is how they should see things.
This is all, I suppose, frivolity. Or it would be if it weren’t for the fact that there now seems to be a cult of Photoshopped ugliness. I am looking at a full page Louis Vuitton ad in the FT which shows a model in the Doge’s Palace looking back over her should at the viewer. Her expression is very nasty, she seems to be saying, ‘Sod off, you can’t afford me’, which is almost certainly true but does not raise my spirits to the point where I might feel inspired to dash out and spend what little money I have saved to cover the next ruinous energy bill at LV, though I can see it might appeal to some masochists.
There are many other examples. The shift of photographic power from the taker to the processor has produced this new ugliness. It is as if in abandoning the real world occasion of the photograph, some retouchers have also abandoned the culturally acquired meanings of imagery – or perhaps they are exploiting them deliberately to upset us. Or, like certain PR firms, they are avenging themselves on clients they dislike. Whatever the explanation, the world is becoming a more dangerous place for the tutored eye. Oh and City rule