Sarah Palin + Photoshop + Pop Culture = Interesting Questions

I know it’s hard, but put your political beliefs entirely on hold for just a minute. I’m only asking you to do this because that’s what it’ll take for you to get the point of this post.

Over at Jim Goldstein’s blog, there’s a brilliant dissection of this gun-toting, bikini-sporting Sarah Palin composited image that recently made it’s way all over the world. The interview is not a dissection of what Sarah Palin is or is not, but rather a dialogue that paints a picture of all the other underpinnings. It’s somewhat in line with my earlier post Photography As A Weapon. Jim’s post is smart and explores deeply. He interviews the creator of the composite image above and from that interview we’re able to draw some fascinating conclusions (or maybe just more questions?) about contemporary media, popular culture, and how powerful imaging–and the whims of it’s creator–really are. A snipit from the interview:

Naomi: And a lot [of] shock and disbelief that it’s a fake photo that was done in such a short period of time and that there was really not much thought put into it. I mean, maybe there is a little bit of a gestation with my ideas about this woman over the course a day but yes, there wasn’t that much thought into finding these images and putting them together. It was – the fact that it has reached as far as it has is just a perfect storm of ingredients…

The interview is fascinating to me on so many levels. It reads long, but skims quickly.

[And btw, let’s keep the thread on target and please leave the political rhetoric out of the comments…(seriously). Let’s be more focused in how these bigger imaging and cultural concepts sit with us.]

31 Responses to Sarah Palin + Photoshop + Pop Culture = Interesting Questions

  1. design_is_it September 11, 2008 at 6:22 am #

    Really interesting post on a number of levels. I saw this photo on one of the political blogs, knew (or rather strongly assumed) that it was Photoshopped, but paused to consider the kind of “damage” that this actually does. I didn’t know that the image was created because the creator was “bored”, but assumed that it was a hostile political move on purpose. Makes us ask some tough questions. Are we all cynics in this new media? Or all we all more informed? Or should we just take more things with a grain of salt?

    Got me thinkin’.

  2. Anonymous September 11, 2008 at 6:26 am #

    Great interview.

    (and a pretty good job of photoshop…)

  3. Christopher September 11, 2008 at 6:43 am #

    The cliche, it’s worth a thousand words… since no one gets more than a sound bite these days, is there a new role for photography as a weapon, or as a platform?

  4. Tammy M. September 11, 2008 at 7:03 am #

    Great thoughts. One image can change the course of someone’s life, a great responsibility.

  5. Colin September 11, 2008 at 7:52 am #

    Interesting interview with a couple of points of note:

    1) how quickly the image was circulated throughout the web
    2) the creator’s assumption that the images used were Creative Commons

  6. 金田一 September 11, 2008 at 8:05 am #

    Really wish to meet you one day.. admire ur works so much

  7. Derek September 11, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    In the interview, the creator of the photo makes the statement “… people will criticize things that politicians say or they’ll criticize a movie because their CGI graphics are not very believable. But if a friend sends you information or if a friend tells you a story, you’re just more apt to believe it.”

    The rise of photo and video sharing sites and with them their “viral” content has definitely changed the game and marketers have definitely recognize this. I increasingly see I would call “less than professional” visuals in advertising. Several TV spots here in the US now that are either shot or made to look like they were done by an amateur (shaky, handheld, often heavily compressed to look like cell phone video). In a world where there is constant bombardment of advertising, this level of authentic still seems to connect.

    I guess it was only a matter of time before it moved into the realm of politics and propaganda.

    Marketers seemed to have latched onto this idea. The rise of what I would call “less than professional” visuals in advertising is definitely gaining ground. I’ve seen several TV spots here in the US now that are either shot or made to look like they were done by an amateur (shaky, handheld, often heavily compressed to look like cell phone video).

    The rise of photo and video sharing sites and with them their “viral” content has definitely changed the game and marketers definitely recognize this, I guess it was a only a matter of time before it moved into the realm of politics and propaganda.

  8. Scott Shepard September 11, 2008 at 9:21 am #

    What a hypocrite, she wouldn’t want people to steal her written work but she has no problem stealing photographers work. She said she would do it again even after she knew she didn’t have the rights to the images. Once again someone unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions. Poor me, it’s not my fault, the photographer should have been more clear. He should not have put it out there if he didn’t want me to take it. What crap. Yeah it’s all up to me to tell the whole world that they can’t steal my images, otherwise it’s my fault.

  9. garyallard September 11, 2008 at 9:24 am #

    The impact of such an image obviously runs deep. Many of the readers of this blog can spot a fake but the general public has been conditioned to take a news photo-any photo for that matter- for face value. It’s there to help tell the story and if it’s not accurate, we as viewers don’t know where to turn. We WANT to believe our eyes. Otherwise, what’s the adaptive value of eyesight.

    Seems to me we’ve already gotten to the point where everything that hits the Web is suspect so, where is it heading? Are we all becoming cynics as design_is_it says? I hope not but is almost seems we should question every image we see now. I know I am guilty of it.

  10. eric September 11, 2008 at 9:24 am #

    The thing that I’m somewhat amused at is that the original images were found so quickly. (within a day or two, iirc)

    It makes me wonder if one could make a convincing fake by making it the source of several other fakes.

    Or, you know, you could just change the caption.

  11. robert September 11, 2008 at 9:28 am #

    JG tried really hard to get her to the point of understanding the issues involved, and at the end, she just didn’t get it…

    Despite being “online” as a culture for several years now, no one wants to acknowledge the “reality” of it.

  12. plukevdh September 11, 2008 at 9:37 am #

    Great article! Definitely an interesting question left hanging as far as ethics and artistic liberty go. Thanks for posting.

  13. Eric September 11, 2008 at 10:33 am #

    Doesn’t her use of the photographs qualify as “fair use” under copyright law? It’s a transformative, non-commercial use that has no effect on the market for either of the original photographs.

  14. andy hagedon September 11, 2008 at 11:07 am #

    We need not ask the question “are we all cynics” any longer. The answer is Yes. With a few rare holdouts, we are. We have been for years and with good reason. Look, we’ve been duped (or attempted to be duped) for decades. When was the first fake UFO pic made? Bigfoot? Celebrity cellulite? But that doesn’t scare me; I feel quite comfortable and adept in my role as cynic.

    Maybe that’s why what scares me most are, first, how easily anyone can pilfer and alter my work for their own enjoyment, to push their agenda, or for their own gain. I use flash on my site/portfolio to reduce that risk (and ‘course it looks cool, too) but I’ll bet a box of Rice a Roni there are ways (screen capture, perhaps) to copy those images. Prompted by JMG’s post, I also just jumped back to facebook/LinkedIn checking their policies on rights to uploaded images (simple right-click, hello download.) Man, o’ man. I gotta reconsider what I have up there. Here’s the important nut: By posting User Content to any part of facebook, you automatically grant …an “irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license” … to use, copy, publicly display, reformat, and distribute such User Content for “any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise,” … WOW! I boiled it down a bit, but here’s the whole enchilada, Do I expect fb to steal my work for their commercial gain, not really. But remember, I’m a cynic. More important, as a professional relying on actually getting paid for those rights, I can’t dilute that value.

    Second fear – the lack of control we have over where our work goes once it’s online. Again, we should be used to it by now – online viral phenomenon have been news long enough. But it’s still sobering to see something fully intended to be shared among friends broadcast on CNN within a couple days. Another reminder there’s so much more to our trade than making the images. A salient point I look forward to bringing up next time I’m negotiating my rate.

    And I have to mention catching Cowboy Mouth last night at the Music Farm (Charleston, SC). Seen them several times, and never been dissapointed. Sound coulda been better, but Fred LeBlanc just whips the crowd into a frenzy like no other.

  15. Neil September 11, 2008 at 11:11 am #

    A bit off topic…

    I just got told PHOTOSHELTER COLLECTION IS SHUTTING DOWN. Effective 10th October 2008.

    A collossal dissapointment, I’m sure its for good reasons commercially, but I loved the idea and the spirit.

  16. Vince Penman September 11, 2008 at 11:58 am #

    @scott – Wow, kind of harsh.

    @andy – I agree. I always have a slight tinge of fear when posting images on my site or blog. Mostly because we live in a scary world. As photographers we want our names out there, but not in any way that would harm us or our families.

    This was an interesting article. If you go the the two party’s Flickr pages you can see open dialog between them. They even considered making money off the photo. But I happen to agree with them, this will die out really soon.

  17. Cody H. September 11, 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    from my favorite celebrity blogger, The Superficial:

    “Allow me to set the record straight because, I shit you not, a ton of folks think this is real. (Smartest country ever!) It’s photoshopped, people. How do I know? Simple: No one is that sexy. Also, the real Sarah Palin would’ve shot the guy behind her for smoking his cigarette like a homosexual.

  18. Nathanael Gassett September 11, 2008 at 2:19 pm #

    One of the most disturbing things she said,
    “Really, it always depends on the context. In my case, it has so happened that what I created or what I had put together was in line with what Doctor Casino had in mind for his photo in the first place. […]his photo was a parody in and of itself and I was just adding to that parody. So, in that case, I feel like I didn’t take away too much from him[…] “
    She assumes that the author has something in mind, without asking. A classic case of supposed telekinesis. And she also assumes that because she liked the end product, so would the author. And yet later on she says, “[…]if someone had taken something I had written and put it out of context or plagiarized my words, that would obviously be a different story. I would definitely take offence to that[…]
    She seems to understand that taking something out context is wrong, but doesn’t grasp that she might not understand the context in the first place. I think she took the photo greatly out of context. What do some kids at the pool and Sarah Palin have in common?
    Take into account that not everyone can tell a photoshop when they see one. The work done here is good (technically speaking). She did have a hint of political agenda when she made the photo, she didn’t really know anything about Palin, but she didn’t really like her either. That in mind (she wasn’t politically neutral when she made the photo) she is taking the original photo out of context (it was politically neutral, now it’s not). And as sad as this is, it might influence the way some people vote. Yeah, it was meant as a joke, but let’s be real here, even if it wasn’t meant as an attack, that’s what it’s become.
    She doesn’t think. It’s as simple as that.
    “I mean I probably would’ve asked if I’d known it would get us far out as it did, I’d definitely have asked Doctor Casino for his permission to use his photograph. As for the commercial side which is a little different, I don’t know if I’d have asked for permission.”
    She seems to think “commercial” is inhuman, or that it doesn’t hurt the “commercial” side if she takes from them. I’m curious on peoples thoughts on this comment.


  19. jimmyd September 11, 2008 at 2:54 pm #

    Sorry for my cynicism but what’s the big deal? Aren’t lies the new truths?

    Wait. I’m being naive. Certainly nothing new about that. Especially in the world of politics.

  20. mark r September 11, 2008 at 3:25 pm #

    aside from all the political ramifications- it pains me to see this type of thing going on. photography was once a true artistic medium. with the coming of the digital age it is difficult to trust in the validity of anything you see in the news or media these days. even more so the unbelievable speed at which something like this travels the internet is absurd. how people get joy out of ruining other peoples reputations disappoints me in general. maybe im off topic, maybe its a bad day. but it sure disgusts me to see our profession get drug around in the much thanks to a few bored people.

  21. Lenny September 12, 2008 at 7:16 am #

    I had a simular conversation with a highly educated woman about how you can lie with images, even un-doctored images, a concept that hadn’t even crossed her mind. Even with her education, she has no filter.

    It hasn’t happened yet, but I can forsee an event being created by an image on the scale of the original radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds”.

  22. Nathanael Gassett September 12, 2008 at 8:02 pm #


    That’s a very interesting thought, your comment about War of the Worlds. Very, very interesting. I think it could very well happen one day, and that’s a scary thought.

    Mark R,

    I agree, it is sad. But that’s why we’ve got to try even harder to hold tight to moral integrity. Without upright photographers, the profession will (in theory) become something that is distasteful to people in general. While I don’t think this will happen any time soon, or even in my lifetime, it’s something to think about. I had heard someone say once that “what’s accepted by this generation is embraced by the next”, the speaker wasn’t talking about photography, but I think it applies. If people allow fake imagery to influence them today, what about tomorrow?

  23. Adam September 14, 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    Nice job on the photo Naomi! It kicks a$$ on a number of levels.
    At the end of the day, this is honest art, but dishonest photojournalism. With our mass-media and technology it’s dishonest to publish with the thought that it is a private joke. If you blog, it’s to the world, not just to yourself or pals.
    Politics manipulates art for purpose, journalism always seeks truthful interpretation, only Naomi knows who she is really, an artists or reporter. My interpretation of the person tells me maybe there is a real photo in a box somewhere like this, but that is not the point. The photo is fake. Period. People will take it the way it hits them though. It’s a very interesting world.

  24. sarah rhoads September 15, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    good interview. photoshop should not be used a tool to harm others.

  25. sarah rhoads September 15, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    good interview. photoshop should not be used a tool to harm others.

  26. Superduper Idea Club September 15, 2008 at 8:10 pm #

    Hey Chase,

    I’d love to get your comments on this article about Jill Greenberg in reference to this blog


  27. Chase Jarvis September 16, 2008 at 5:21 pm #

    @ super: Hmm. Off the cuff, I’m generally interested in subversive art. And I think JG is solid. What JG has done in this regard is bold, but I think it could have been a fair bit more interesting if she didn’t come out talking about it, and just let the less attractive images of McCain speak for themselves when they got out after embargo. Talking about it boosts a perception of her but can undermine the images actually having an more powerful effect later without the rhetoric. Just my 2 cents.

  28. Michael September 17, 2008 at 12:57 pm #

    Well, the very ordinary legs and body parts of this poor pretender, even when in bikini and toting a hunting rifle, will not rewrite history. To conclude on anything is just infantile. Let’s just retain that photography is and will always be an arm, as any other.

  29. Anonymous September 22, 2008 at 7:36 am #

    Trite, juvenile rubbish that highlights the failure of modern education to instill the ability to think critically and without moronic prejudice.

  30. Brian September 24, 2008 at 2:43 am #

    It is really interesting post and I totally agree with you m. Makes us ask some difficult questions.

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