Monday, 18 April 2011

Reality vs slick photos. Which do you prefer? (or, Veg News, you were foolish).

I don’t know about all you other people who blog, but, when I am blogging I occasionally have a conversation with myself about how much of the crappy stuff to show. Because (violins), sadly my life is not (and I know you will find this hard to believe) absolutely completely aesthetically perfect all the time, and often I read blogs admiringly where beautifully tended gardens, photogenic cats/ children and apartment therapy-type homes are in evidence and think, God, I ought to redecorate/ pave over the back garden/ hire a biddable photogenic cat (I imagine biddable cats are very easy to find) before I take any more photos.
Game! Spot the biddable Pussycat, crossing Islington High Street
Well, if you have ever had that conversation with yourself and thought, how far should I go in the pursuit of photographic attractiveness at the possible expense of honesty, you need wonder no more. Because we have an answer, and it is, not as far as Veg News. Veg News (which I didn’t know about before – we don’t get the print mag in the UK – but I’m afraid that isn’t going to stop me giving you my opinion) is a vegan magazine with (I think) features and recipes. It includes attractive photographs. Sadly one of the reasons those photos are so attractive is that they are standard stock photography of meals – not real photos of the recipes at all - photoshopped to high heaven. And what is worse, sometimes they are photographs of meat versions of the meals. With the bones photoshopped out! Well, this was pointed out on Quarrygirl, and the response from Veg News was underwhelming (it is here). They basically said, we are a bit annoyed that you noticed, no-one understands how hard we work and it is difficult getting photos.

Now, I won’t go into the whole meatiness of it because I do eat meat so it would be hypocritical (although, if I were operating a vegan magazine, ‘save money by using stock photographs of meat, don’t credit them and hope none of our committed vegan readers notices’ might perhaps not be the top objective on my business plan) but I will tell you what I suspect happened here. The stock photos have a certain professional gloss which is difficult to get if you are an amateur photographer not photoshopping things. I think Veg News thought having photographs with this professional gloss was more important in terms of selling its magazine on the newsstand than actually having real photographs, and this was the cheapest and easiest way to get them (I mean, I think that kind of indicates odd priorities and a lack of ability at getting photographs. But I bet that was it).

Anyway this made me think about blogging and photographs and honesty. One of the things I think you do when you are writing a blog (look, I spent a large part of my youth with people in leafy quads muttering to me about types of discourse, I think about things like this) is, you are saying, look! I made a widget! I want to tell you how I made my widget, because I want you to know how to make a widget too! Because your widget might go a step further and be Superwidget, and then you might blog about how to make Superwidget and we will all be the wiser! I mean, you are saying other things as well, but I do think that’s part of the dynamic. So, I think admitting to imperfection is a good part of that process, or at least it is for me, because I find it encouraging.
Bravely showing you our weatherbeaten imperfect garden table although I would like to point out that the Lucozade is Partner's
While I love really nice photographs, and I also like looking at stock photography on people’s blogs (which is often used in a really witty way), I don’t have a problem either with seeing a less-than-perfect photo of something a bit wonky and reading about how the process went slightly wrong. Because if all we were ever presented with was beautiful airbrushed images of perfect flawless Widgets and Lives we’d just feel inadequate and lie down on the sofa in our jogging bottoms eating Doritos and whimpering, surely. And I’m sure every single reader of Veg News would have said that they preferred to see actual photos of the recipes rather than a photoshopped beefburger, however attractive a beefburger that might be.
Blossom in my Purslane which I carried back in triumph from the farmers' market in a reusable hemp bag. Go me with my aspirational eco lifestyle
I think it’s a bit like if you meet a friend who you haven’t seen for a while and they ask you how you are: you don’t set your face in a rictus grin and say ‘fine. I’m absolutely fine’ even though you’re just on your way to have your leg off, but also you don’t stand moaning for an hour about how miserable you are*. (No. You ring your mother to do that). You present perhaps a slightly upbeat version of reality, but a version of reality just the same. In blogging, so in life. I won’t quite go and take photographs of what the sewing room looks like at the moment though. As Eliot said very wisely, mankind cannot bear too much reality. (I misquote).

Where do you stand?

* This is exactly what I used to do when I was doing the Job Of Doom, though. (‘And then he said… Can you believe that? Don’t walk away Goddammit! I haven’t told you in forensic detail what happened at the last Management Committee meeting and how someone raised an eyebrow during Any Other Business and that means he’s going to try to cause trouble at the away day! I don’t care how bored you are. Get Back Here!’).


CraftyCripple said...

I agree 100%. The line you draw about where is too much information and what is overglossing things is up to the individual concerned and how much they want to keep private. I just know that the most honest and open posts are the ones that touch me and stay with the longest. When people who generally give an entertaining and informative slant to their posts are occasionally open and honest it seems to mean that much more. It means that on this particular occasion they feel the real need to share and that makes me pay more attention than normal.

I also feel that if it isn't pretty most of the time I won't look at it, because life is ugly enough. But pretty is a very WIDE scale. So long as there are some bright colours or interesting shapes or even just cute or funny in the blog, I will read it. It don't need it to be perfect. In fact if it's perfect I'm after I'll buy a book or a print magazine. Blogs are all about the attainable!

katiemckinna said...

Your post is so germane to my situation! I"ve been thinking about this, too. I do edit photos sometimes such as brighten the pic or heighten the colors a little. I also crop occasionally. They are always photos I take, of my own work, but I do want them to be appealing and I know that a dull pic with a mountain of laundry in the background is not appealing. Oh the other hand, I do find that if I read a blog and the pics are a little to perfect, I find it to be deterring. As crafty cripple said, attainability is really part of it with blogging.

Sharripie said...

I figure that since I write about handmade stuff, my photos should kind of have a handmade quality about them, which doesn't mean bad, just not slick. Unless I were a professional photographer and my blog was for promoting my business. Then I would want them to look professional. I think do what you do, as well as you can do it. That's good enough.

JacBer said...

Hello - I'm new around here, I like your post and my first comment may make me seem slightly daft... ah well

Vegans in my head are similar to a kind of hippy (which is weird because vegetarians are just normal) so I would have though they wouldn't even have bought a glossy magazine to start with - they being such an earth friendly lot (in my head), and glossy magazines generally are bad for the earth.

Besides that everything you said makes perfect sense and our cats are only biddable at tea time :-)

AC said...

If the photos are taken well (in focus, decently composed) I don't mind and perhaps prefer the subject matter to be raw and messy. I screw stuff up ALL THE TIME so it's refreshing to read about how I'm not the only one, and also learn from others' trials and tribulations.

Anonymous said...

Yes! This feels so pertinent to my blog which basically is about being a bit rubbish, having high hopes and lots of good intentions but finding myself serving tea up on saucepan lids because I have let the washing up get out of hand again. When roaming around other blogs these are the kind I'm drawn to as I find them very soothing. I do read quite a lot of mummy blogs and there's been a fridge meme circulating where you post a photo and list of contents which brought home quite sharply that I am self editing as I cannot imagine opening my grubby, mouldy sealed, lurking jar filled fridge to a strangers gaze. I like to think that these gleaming fridges have been prepped to a waitrose filled inch of their lives but I suspect not. I fear I am just accustomed to grime.
I do think it's interesting what we subconciously assume photographs are a record of the whole truth and not just a facet of it. Great post, really thought provoking as always :)

mooncalf said...

I try to remove some of the mess from the backgrounds of my photos but I rarely make any further effort to glam things up.

I always figured my blog was more of a warning to others.

*I made a widget. This is what went wrong. When you make your widget don't make the same mistakes!*

Vivianne said...

I would love to fill my fridge from Waitrose ....:-)

The Gingerbread Lady said...

Well, my blog is just a tiny sliver of my larger life, so I do try to show one of the more attractive slivers. God knows, y'all have enough pimples and overdue housework of your own to look at. In any case, I am taking a break from the lighter side of life to tackle some more worthy and hard-hitting issues at the minute, so I am aware that the gritty realities portrayed on my blog might not be for everyone.
As far as photos go, I am one of those weirdos who actually likes looking at random photos of total strangers, not to mention their piggy-backing cats, so I say 'yay' to unphotoshopped portraits of la dolce vita in England.

Rachel said...

This is a really interesting question, or possibly lots of questions, I'm not quite sure.

In general, I try to make sure I talk about my failures as well as my successes on my blog. This does take a bit of effort because it's very tempting to just skip the bits that went wrong, but I really don't want to be saying, "Look how wonderful my life is," all the time. I think an honest account of (parts of) my life is much more entertaining to read.

Photos feel like a slightly different question, which probably means you've just exposed my hypocrisy. I feel self-conscious about my photos - they're not as pretty as those in other blogs, and I am sometimes guilty of pinching photos from elsewhere online to brighten up my posts (interestingly, these attract visitors - I got quite a lot of google image hits for one I pinched from a TV program, which was very naughty of me. That's not why I do it, though).

There are two aspects of photos - the content and the quality. I'd like to say I'm happy about showing reality in the content, but that's not quite true. I usually do bother to tidy up for photos, at least a bit. You may draw your own conclusions about the unedited state of my house!

As for the quality, my pictures need help! I often take pictures of the garden in the late evening, when I've just finished working on it, and the quality is terrible. 'Gamma correct' works wonders on these, but I tell myself this is just compensating for the use of a crummy phone camera in poor light. I find food very hard to photograph, and actually postponed a post about burgers recently because the photos were too poor to use.

That last point makes me feel less of a hypocrite. I wouldn't use a stock image of a burger and pretend it was my home made one, or even to illustrate a post about home made burgers. On the other hand I do want my blog to look nice, so I will tidy up a bit and tweak the colour balance to make the pictures look better.

Sorry - that's enough for a blog post in itself. Didn't mean to hijack your post, but it got interesting. I could have just said I completely agree with everything dichotomyof said ;-)

My cat is not at all biddable, by the way, she just gets in the way a lot. Even so, I have to keep the camera to hand if I want to catch her being obstructive in a particularly cute way.

Voie de Vie said...

You know, I hadn't heard anything about the VegNews photo fiasco until I read it on this blog:, and then just heard an NPR piece.

I enjoy taking photos, so I'm going to go for the best shot. However, other than a little cropping, my photos aren't touched up. What's there is what people see. But I'm with Eliot - too much reality can bite. :)