“Storybook wolf” a depiction of a “mental model” and a real thing.

Some considerations regarding the “model wolf” image … over on Conscientious (and I would agree the specifics surrounding the photographer and the resultant image / award / “unaward”  in the specifics of that situation isn’t that controversial itself)…  but I thought that this is something worth thinking over some more!

I saw this “staged” image story earlier this week and initially I thought “that’s too good to be true”…. also… but what I was thinking about, specifically what I imagined was a lot of prep work on behalf of the photographer (the actual planning was alluded to in the related article before the image was in question…(infrared / motion trap / trigger rig)… To me this is a first rate example of a “staged” photo – that is “setting it up”.  This supposes a mental model already exists about what the picture will depict. Seems to me like it might be akin to the press photo opportunities public officials so carefully orchestrate and too this is the skepticism with which many approach the photographic image these days (in certain contexts).  I don’t care and it doesn’t matter if the image was “set up”.  It is just a picture of a wolf leaping over the fence…  but…

I’ve written my own thoughts previously wondering about the “mental model” and photographers who seem to put the photograph into service as a way to create the image of that “mental model” . But in this case two very different kinds of “models” comparing examples by Paul Shambroom and his work in the Security series...  which are depictions representing simulation that of “First responders and law enforcement officers training in large-scale simulated environments…” or “real” simulated events, compared with the work of Paolo Ventura and  “War Souvenirs” – Ventura’s work as pure image invention, simulation and authorship – it reveals itself as such…

The important thing is that the Storybook Wolf picture did make me wonder… would there be any difference between a “real wild wolf”  trapped in the photographer’s image and say a trained / captive “performing” wolf? A zoo specimen perhaps in a good diorama set up might have produced the same photographic object and result…   Maybe a “real wild wolf” would tend to look a little more scuffy?  Who knows?  But it remains that the picture clearly was made to be viewed in the context (and with that all of the expectations)  of it depicting a wild creature in a real situation… this was my expectation…

The idea of what we “expect” of photographs is a great topic… the Morris articles in the Times a while ago regarding Walker Evan’s “documentary” work and the role of “captions” elaborated on this while interpreting photographic objects viewed in the context of documentary work do come to mind…

My first gut response to the storybook wolf is that it is a case of context trumping the photograph especially considering how that object may be interpreted specifically in the context of the competition rules – the photo probably shouldn’t be presented as a representation of anything more than a wolf jumping over a fence.

I think the key is to try and discern as carefully as possible the context with-in which the photograph will be received / interpreted as a visual representation – this is what colors our expectations of what it is we’re viewing.  This becomes problematic when you can’t predict the context. Perhaps this is why we find all these vintage photographs from anonymous sources so fascinating… we can finally look at them for what they are…without the baggage of context.

Understanding the "mental model"….

I came across this first image below from Gallery Hopper – regarding some work and an interview with Paolo Ventura over on FSTOP online – and a comparison came to mind thinking about how different artists approach the topic of “reality” or “ir-reality” in the nature of photographs. Both artist depict (illustrate?) staged events and fabricated models.

“The home of the poet GV”
Paolo Ventura/ HASTED HUNT Gallery NYC
Ventura – is “first an image-maker” in the sense that he creates sets or “models” that he apparently personally fabricates to a great level of detail, then carefully selects a viewpoint and “color of the air” in order to fabricate an image – the end product is a photograph depicting a scene. The work has a certain cinematic feel – very rich in detail and mood.
Police SWAT, camouflage.
“Terror Town”, Playas Training Center, NM.
Paul Shambroom
Compare this to some of the work of Paul Shambroom, in his SECURITY SERIES. Here a sort of inverse situation is presented in comparison to Ventura’s images. Particularly, the staged government training of “first responders” in staged emergency situations is interesting to consider. Both are all very real, on the one hand – yet also staged at a completely different scale. Shambroom, rather than creating a “ir-reality” finds one that actually exists – already. I find it interesting though that in the “real world” of prints – Shambroom chooses to present the images almost to full size scale printed on canvas which tampers with the surface of the photo – almost as if it is a painting and with color tones and surfaces treated more like a painting might be treated with color and even with a varnished finish. For me, this keeps the question of “is it real or not” all the more interesting…. One chooses to fabricate images based upon a personal mental model, and the other finds a kind of fictional model that exists already – both of which present images that are quite powerful and unusual in a tricky sort of way.
This leaves me thinking that the fruitful question is not whether or a photograph is “staged” – all photographs are already staged to a greater or lesser degree – but what matters more importantly is in my opinion the “content” of the image. Is it strong enough to trigger a response from the viewer?
More discussion / thoughts / viewpoints on this – as well as many other examples can be found here, here… and here….