The Composite

Kamloops - Thursday, November 23, 2006 by: Michael Townsend

Parent/Teacher interviews today so have a bit of time to kill between interviews. This is how I have been using my time. I made this with three images, one of my bike in the basement, and two scanned images, the girl and the road.


The marvel of an image is that it is able to tap into a different part of your brain and its magnificient capabilities. Unlike text the image can handle emotion and evoke images created by the viewer, it is a mystery that we are only barely beginning to realise its potential. But today we can take this capability and use it to tell a story. Mike tells us what elements he used in creating his image and of course you can see he added the text which is something else entirely as text is processed by our minds both through a verbal and abstract intellectual process.

Mike's image alone tells one story, his text caption another and together they tell a third story. Only you the viewer get to determine what each of those stories is about.

So many have condemned image manipulation in the past and I believe they have done so unfairly because the artist is leaving the door open for interpretation and the viewer is the participant in the decision making. The cool thing is that an image like the one above can tell you one thing and at another time tell you quite a different story. That's why the old saying about pictures being worth a thousand words is a gross understatement.

Here are some examples of the mechanics of building a composite. This picture was used at the top of the page last Friday on Ensign and in the comments about it I pointed out that it was a fake, meaning that it had been created from several images. The base of the image is the background taken downtown at the four-way stop. The stroller (2) was photographed crossing the street at the Bank of Montreal intersection as was the (3) image. The two ladies appearing to be walking toward the camera were actually photographed in front of the Credit Union and then to enhance the reality and create the illusion I added the shadows for 2 and 3 (5).

Now that image is not exactly dishonest in that all of those people were photographed on main street only minutes apart but three blocks distance. Here time and space have been compressed to tell a simple story of the nice day and the glory of the afternoon sunlight.

In this composite I needed to illustrate Mario deSantis' story about the Frames of language and the key to his story was the author Peter Senge and his book. I began with a blank background the same colour as the page on which the illustration would be shown (1) then took the cover of the book (2) tilted and enlarged it to be the key element on the left hand side of the image. A little searching on the Internet lead me to a nice recent image of Peter Senge (3) leaning against a brick wall. I enlarged that element and put it in place and then discovered that the image I was using was like the one I was creating, it was itself a composite. A picture of Senge had been imposed in the scene making it appear as though he was leaning up against a brick wall. The reason I know it is a composite it is because there is a lack of shadow on the wall and the creator of the composite did not feather the sweater to blend it into the bricks. The make the book and Senge portrait come together to tell a story I had to cut out the spaces in the railing to let the book cover peak through and thus blend into the over all composite.

In most cases artists deliberately leave errors in composite images so as to let the viewer know that the image is a creation. Indeed it is possible to create flawless images without errors but most of us will intentionly place something in the image just to keep our feet on the ground.

If you see images in Ensign and wonder how they are made send in some e-mail and find out.



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