Hello again dear reader it’s your favourite Brummy gobshite here, rattling cages and ruffling feathers as usual but this month its my cage and feathers you see the world slipped me a Jeffrey this month so come on, stroke the furry wall with me while I tell you another tale from the naughty step. Here’s what happened…
As I’m sure you’re aware, I work at lots of conventions all over and my work is regularly featured in magazines and on websites all around the world. It would be fair to say that I – and my work – are fairly well known. Its seen being done, once it’s done and once it’s healed by a lot of people. I’m not an internet sensation or an overnight success story, I have simply built up an audience for my work using good old fashioned hard graft and legwork. It took a while to get here and a lot of people have been around watching while I was doing it. And my point? I hear you cry, well my point is that – just like thousands of other artists – the work is real and I’m real and that is a well documented fact, period.
So imagine my surprise (and annoyance) when I was recently accused of being a fake. Ridiculous right? Well, yeah either that or I’ve managed to pull the wool over an entire industries eyes and create the biggest internet hoax ever! But I haven’t – i’m simply not that clever – so where did this accusation come from? I bet you’re thinking ‘more internet forum shit’ right? Wrong.
I recently got an email from the editor of a little tattoo magazine explaining that he refuses to publish my images because they ‘aren’t real’ and are ‘done in photoshop’ (fucking twat). Initially I brushed the comment away offhand and got on with the rest of my day but – whilst tattooing and chatting with my client about it during the 6+ painful hours that it takes to create one of my ‘photoshop creations’ (oh, how we laughed!) – we tried to figure out what it could possibly be that this ‘editor’ saw that convinced him that there was no way I could create these pieces. I maintained that it was simply my superhuman ‘leet’ tattoo skills that made him believe I was a computer program, but this suggestion (amazingly) fell on deaf ears. So I decided to set about critiquing my portfolio with this criticism in mind in an effort to understand the mistake he had made. I also asked a bunch of other artists if they had ever experienced the same thing and it turns out they have, but not for the reasons you might think, you see, it would appear that the way you present your work could – possibly – see you end up in the same boat.
The way you present your images can affect your ability to get published
We all know that right? So we invest in good cameras, photo lights and software to ensure that our images are of the best quality we can or – at the very least – a damn good smartphone and and app like photo toaster (http://tiny.cc/phototoaster) to do as good a job as possible. As well as being a Tattooist – I’m sure you know by now – I’m a Graphic Designer (award winning – don’t you know!) so I’m no stranger to photo editing software and I have – as a part of my ‘design gig’ – been required over the years to retouch and fix photos of everything from guitars to girls bottoms – both of which are a lot of fun to do. I’ve trained designers and even written tutorials about the subject of how to get a great pic – so I think it’s fair to say that I understand how to take a good pic and the best way to present that picture to best show off the subject – whatever it is.
I’m also a massive control freak (I’m a creative – what can I tell you), I’m very protective of my work and how it is displayed. I know exactly how I want it to look and believe that I should be free to display it in a way that I think suits my overall body of work. But – it would appear – I’m not and neither are you.
The crux of the criticism levelled at me would appear to boil down to the fact that my images are (for the most part) presented cutout of a black background with very little redness around the tattoo which means (in the opinion of the aforementioned twat) they have been ‘tampered with’ (it’s not magic, it’s called Bactine) or ‘photoshopped’ and anything that has been ‘photoshopped’ is seen (by a few) as hiding some kind of imperfection and that’s a bad thing. Of the artists I spoke to most have had similar criticisms about this and things like images being too dark which (apparently) shows that the artist is hiding something as well. So why is photo editing seen as such a taboo in our industry when it goes on – as standard in all other creative fields? And does everyone see it this way?
With great power comes great responsibility…
Lets get something clear, just about every image you see in publications and online has had some level of correction and if you shoot on a smartphone a massive amount of correction is being done by the phones camera software before you even get the pic into any kind of image editing software. Without getting too technical, the colours displayed on a screen look different if you print them and adjustments have to be made to ensure that the image prints as intended – this is a fact. So even if an artist supplies a ‘raw’ unedited file, a mac operator in a production department will adjust the image to make it look good – fact. Also, in the case of glamour photos (ie: any pic that has a body in it) the skin tones will be adjusted and – in most cases – body shapes will be altered. Even the skinniest of girls can appear to have ‘lovehandles’ if you make them stand in funny positions like photographers often do and almost all women have some amount of cellulite around their bum cheeks which shows badly if they are standing in an unnatural position. Ask any model and they will tell you that taking a ‘natural’ shot often involves not standing naturally at all – fact. The camera may never lie but light very often does, white light comes in different colours and images often have to adjusted to compensate the white point – fact. So get used to the fact that you’re not looking at life, you are looking at a printed version of it. None of the above techniques are designed to deceive you (that’s advertising and not the job of editorial) they are just designed to make things look as good as they can whilst still looking representative of the real thing in the real world and that’s what most artists are doing when they adjust their pictures before publishing them. They are trying to represent the actual tattoo as closely to life as possible with an interesting image without making it look like something it isn’t.
It’s no wonder that our images have to be edited when you think about it, we take them at the end of (quite often) long sessions with tired eyes and sore clients that just want the wiping to stop so they can go home in places like dingy exhibition halls – that almost always have horrible orange toned lighting – on smartphones that have no depth of field (f) settings. We rarely get the opportunity to spend anything like the amount of time a pro photographer would getting a shot with a tonne of lighting gear, meters and a least a couple of lenses, yet we are still expected to turn out a pro photo result AND do it all in camera on a bloody smartphone in about 15 minutes. Give us a break would ya! Jesus!
I know that some go a little too far with things and that’s where each artist has to show restraint when adjusting their images and it is the job of editors to weed out the ones that have gone too far but unless the editor in question has a good working knowledge of both photography and image editing how they hell will they know? And that dear reader is how situations like mine arise. From ignorance.
For the most part what I’ve seen online and what I seen in the flesh look pretty damn close to me. Another problem that I think this kind criticism or fear of being criticised for ‘photoshopping’ creates is that only the banal, safe tattoo images make it into publications and online because – quite often – the person making the ‘include – don’t include’ decision has no idea what photoshop or a filter is, other than they’ve heard it’s bad. Artists fear this criticism so they play it safe when taking, editing and supplying their pics and this leaves us with boring, flat, lifeless, ‘cropped to fuck’ shots that just don’t do anyones work – or tattooing as a whole – justice.
I’ve long felt that tattoo publications in print, online and the myriad of share sites in general have a real visual poverty when it comes to presenting tattoos. Unlike the tattooed models that are presented in much the same way as the glamour industry with shots that are interesting and don’t just ‘show the tattoo’ but the placement and the movement – all of which are really important – the tattoo pictures are a completely different thing altogether. So tight cropped you can’t even tell which body part they’re on, flat as fuck so as not to be accused of making the black blacker, noisy cluttered backgrounds so no-one says your ‘photoshopping’ etc etc
Boring, really fucking boring.
But it doesn’t have to be this way and if more editors and online share sites weren’t so ignorant or prejudiced towards this approach maybe we could tap into a source of visual goodness that would do tattoo publications and the image of tattooing the power of good.
If you run a site, edit a mag or share tattoos on the web take another look at what you’re doing because if you’re doing it wrong you’re hurting tattooing as it moves forward by forcing your ignorance and prejudices on artists and restricting the creative growth of the art form. And (in one case in particular) before you go accusing people of things you don’t understand you might want to get your fucking facts straight you twat…