A week or two ago a series of photos was released to the internet from Russian photographer Murad Osmann and his beautiful wife Nataly Zakharova. You may not know their names, but you are sure to have seen some of their photos as they are the couple who started a romantic photography phenomenon around the world with their "Follow Me" series which shows the beautiful young couple travelling the world hand in hand.
The photos in this new series were part of a trip to Taiwan sponsored by the jewelry company Pandora. The couple came to shoot product photos for Pandora as well as to experience the beauty of this small island nation and of course to take some of the photos they are most well-known for to show the world (in their own specific style) just how beautiful this small island is. The photos (for the most part) were an instant hit on social media in Taiwan and people here seemed to love seeing this famous couple in their country and promoting it to the world.
Video: PANDORA A Journey of Love 拍攝幕後直擊
The internet from time to time has the ability to show the best of human achievement and ingenuity, but most often digresses to show the more negative aspects of our being and so even though there was a lot of appreciation for the photos, the trolls quickly went on the attack criticizing Pandora, the photographer, his wife and her figure, a lack of understanding of Taiwan by the photographer (and all foreigners in general) and the post-processing in the final images that were released to the public.
The screen grab above is a post by a popular Taiwanese internet loud mouth Lucifer Chu (朱學恆) who has a half of million followers and is known as a writer and a translator (having translated The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and the Dragonlance series of books into Mandarin) but more recently as a critic through his Facebook page and appearing on Taiwanese talk shows and news shows.
In his post he comments: "In the picture of the temple, Taiwanese people will no doubt realize that the colours are not right. But in the eyes of a foreigner, maybe this is what an Asian temple looks like. And why did he photoshop the orange cones out of the photo? Some netizens said he and his chick (Misogynistic term for a girlfriend/wife 馬子) didn't even have to come to Taiwan, they could have just photoshopped themselves into the photos. HAHAHAHA"
The post was shared hundreds of times and garnered a few thousand likes. The comments that followed Lucifer's post saw a minority of people chiming in that the couple did Taiwan a favour by coming but were overshadowed by a lot of misogynistic comments about her figure, how foreigners are stupid, how foreigners could never understand Taiwanese culture and that the photoshop work done by the photographer was absolutely terrible.
I'm not going to bother spending much time arguing about racial, sexual or gender discrimination in Taiwan here (although Taiwan Explorer recently wrote an excellent article about anti-foreigner trends over the past few years) but instead want to focus on the unfair and preposterous attacks on the photographer and his post-processing work with a randomly selected photo of my own in an attempt to address some of the anti-Photoshop post processing comments which I consider to be ignorant.
1. Straight out of the Camera.
The shot I chose for this example isn't particularly a special shot, its just a typical street shot from the day I spent shooting the Nanjichang Community (南機場社區) a month or two ago. The example above is straight out of the camera, a RAW image imported into Photoshop from my memory card and exported with no touch ups. The reason I share this specific shot is because without the help of Photoshop, this photo would likely end up being trash due to issues with light.
I would generally never post any photo online without any touchups - There is always something in a photo that needs to be tweaked before presenting a final product that is a representation of your skill level and vision as a photographer to the world. I'm sure that a writer would never publish an article without first using spell-check - so why can't a photographer use the tool that is provided to us to do some minor edits?
This doesn't mean that I'm about to replace the old man's head with someone else's head or make any drastic changes - It just means that before I post a final image, I'm going to improve the light a bit, sharpen the photo and take care of some minor imperfections such as removing dust spots on my cameras sensor or lens.
As it is, this photo had some promise in the composition, but with photoshop, I can apply my specific post-processing style to make it look more interesting or appealing.
2. Coloured Post-Processing.
In this version of the photo, which I consider to be the final version - I changed some of the colours and also the mood of the photo from a more natural light to older light to make the corridor that the man was walking through seem more aged. I burned the light in the foreground to make it darker and added a vignette to make the edges darker before sharpening the image.
I haven't posted this photo anywhere and the final version of it may actually need a bit more work or it may just be thrown away into the depths of my Photoshop catalogue until another time. You should be able to see however that nothing drastic happened, the man still has his origins head and all that changed were the colours. I don't think there is anything worth outrage happening here.
3. Monochrome Version.
The third version of the photo was converted to monochrome - Something that I have been trying to get in the habit of doing recently (especially with my street photos). With the help of Photoshop I converted the photo to monochrome and then didn't really do much other than burning some of the light in the foreground, sharpened it and brought out some of the clarity in the corners. Post processing took less than two minutes and it is a final image. You may notice in the bottom right corner though that I completely brushed something on the scooter out and made it appear darker.
Are you outraged yet?
The reason I give you these three images is to show a bit of how I do post-processing and why there is nothing really nefarious about it. I generally spend less than 2-5 minutes per photo and tend to be a minimalist. If I took the "Follow Me" photo above however I also would have removed those cones. They take away from the composition and add more clutter to the photo when the point of the photo should be the young woman and the boat / temple. Complaining about the removal of cones just seems petty to me. If the original photo hadn't of been released to the public there would have been no way that anyone could have known they were there.
Is it unethical to use Photoshop?
There is really nothing sinister about what the majority of photographers do in photoshop, but there has been some backlash over the past few years (to which I completely agree with) especially in regards to the commercial fashion community which had made a bad habit of misrepresenting females and their figures. The propagation of unfair and unrealistic beauty expectations for women has created self-esteem and body-image issues, especially for younger people and contributes to both men and (mostly) women holding themselves to almost impossible standards which have negative and dangerous effects on people's mental and physical health.
These issues however are the result of an unscrupulous industry which needs to be put in check and so far advocacy groups have been holding the industry accountable with a popular movement to stop this kind of image-editing.
While I completely agree that the fashion-industry has done a lot of harm to people's self-esteems - I don't think that we can't blame Photoshop, which is tool for photographers and designers in the same sense that a hammer or a saw is for carpenters. You can use photoshop to improve your photos and fix imperfections - But just like a hammer or saw, you can also do some terrible things with it and that is what has to stop.
I would argue that the "Follow Me" photos from Taiwan which rubbed some people the wrong way were guilty of none of these fashion industry-like photoshop crimes. The complaints about these photos seemed to me to be very petty and came across as people complaining for the sake of complaining.
Is it because they were expats?
Were people really getting worked up that some orange cones were cloned out of the photo? Were they losing sleep over the colour saturation? Or were they just acting like jealous children? Is this an issue of people just not liking the photos? Or is it an issue of people not liking them because they were created by foreigners? Or did the photographer and his wife just really not understand Taiwan?
Truthfully in the back of my mind I also fear that these trolling masses would eventually happen upon the work that I do to promote Taiwan and find fault with the photos or the information I provide and turn against me as well - An angry mob is not something I prefer to have on my back. The majority of people here are supportive of what I do with my photography and also my blog but that could all change in the blink of an eye and that is probably scary for the majority of expat content-creators in Taiwan.
Expats who come to Taiwan LOVE this country - Sometimes even more than Taiwanese people themselves! Expats are a great tool for promoting Taiwan to the world and each expat comes to this country with his or her own set of skills.
The common thought though is that foreigners, especially males just come here solely to mess around with Taiwanese women. In the past year or two however these generalizations have started to transcend racial stereotypes and shift more towards misogynistic comments directed at Taiwanese women who are accused (by trolls) of being easy and ready and willing to sleep with foreigners. This type of attitude, which was popularized recently with a blatantly racist and ignorant song/music video by the Taiwanese band "911" (玖壹壹) in their song "歪國人" (Foreigner) which I refuse to link to here. When confronted with an accusation of racism, the band replied with a misogynistic comment implying that they could dictate what a country full of grown women can and can't do with their bodies.
I realize that some expats come here and have a good time, but I don't think this particularly behaviour is unique to Taiwan and I'm sure that when Taiwanese men visit other countries, they may even be guilty of the same type of things. This is a male thing and it really has nothing to do with nationality.
Foreigners have a different way of looking at Taiwan than Taiwanese people do, so when we take photos we are seeing beauty in things that Taiwanese people might not ever take a photo of. I often tell my Taiwanese friends who are impressed by my photos that if we were talking together back at my home in Canada and they took a photo of something, I might think "Wow, I never realized that was there!"
With Taiwanese temples in particular there is a group of expat academics and photographers (including myself) who are extremely well-versed in the amazing and completely unique temple culture here. I might argue that each person in the group knows considerably more about temple culture than Mr. Lucifer Chu (loudmouth mentioned above), but does it really have to be a competition? Do we really have argue about who understands Taiwan and who doesn't? Can't we all just agree that we appreciate and love this beautiful island in our own way?
With the anti-foreigner sentiments prevalent in Taiwan these days, I would hope that people eventually come to the realization through cultural exchanges that a lot of expats have the ability to be really helpful in telling the world Taiwan's story and promoting the country to their friends, family and fellow countrymen.
I'm not writing this blog to say that photographers like myself shouldn't be criticized, I just think we should be criticized fairly. I welcome criticism and I will never be above it. If someone comes to me and tells me that my photo has an issue, I'll look at the photo from their perspective and consider what they have said and then consider whether their opinion makes sense or not.
I often attend critique sessions with other photographers and we spend an evening discussing the merits of photos and how to improve upon our work. I find these types of events extremely valuable and getting the honest opinions of other people helps me to become a better photographer.
I try to take the attitude as a photographer that no one is better than me and no one is worse than me - We're all on a level playing field and the opinions of others helps us grow. The people who show up to the events range from beginners to professionals yet we are all on the same level and the opinions given are considered carefully by each person.
There are some however who think they are better than the rest and completely reject honest opinions. I believe that if you live solely in your own self-congratulating bubble that you will have a difficult time improving your work and ultimately get stuck in a creative rut producing the same boring stuff for the rest of your career!
The important thing is that criticism and opinions should not be levelled at someone in anger or malice which is why I believe that the criticism levelled at the "Follow Me" Taiwan series is completely unfounded and unfair. I might look at the photos and say, I think he overdid them with the colour saturation in the sky - but that is just my opinion, I rarely get worked up about this kind of thing. Photography is what I do though - so its easy for me to see where he used photoshop in the photo. For people who have no idea what they're talking about, its kind of pointless to freak out with mob mentality complaining about someone's work.
As for the questions posed above, I don't really know the answer to any of them but I think a lot of it has to do with jealousy of other people's success - Normal people wouldn't get so worked up about this kind of thing so my best guess is that the people who commented and were so opinionated about these photos were just plain jealous.
The post-processing work probably wasn't the issue nor was the nationality of the photographer - It was simply an issue of being envious of someone else's success. Taiwan is a beautiful country full of kind, intelligent and caring people. Taiwan however has more than its fair share of trolls who recklessly go on the attack when and when something happens. I would never wish that sort of mob-mentality ”靠北“-style of attack on my worst enemy and we have already seen the negative results of what can happen when these people are at their worst.
Internet jealousy, negativity and trolling are terrible and are a scourge of modern society. (First world problems?) It is so easy for people sitting in front of their computer doing nothing with their lives to criticize people who are doing things with their life. I genuinely hope that as humans grow and evolve that this sort of pettiness eventually disappears and people are able to celebrate the efforts and the beautiful art that other people make and share with the world. At this point it seems that asking a troll not do what he or she does best is a tall task but I hope for the best.
I'm thankful, like a lot of (normal) people in Taiwan that this young couple came here not only to experience the beauty of this country but also to share it with the world. I've never been a huge fan of their work, but that doesn't mean I don't respect the notoriety that they have achieved. I hope that through their work, more people will know about and come to visit this country and experience the warmth of the people who have treated me so well over the past decade.
Rant complete. Be kind to one another. Stop 靠北'ing all the time okay?
If you're not an angry troll, you can see an exhibition of the Osmann's photos at the Hsinyi Eslite Bookstore (信義誠品書店) near Taipei 101 until 4/29/2016.