At Adobe MAX 2019, Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky announced the Content Authenticity Initiative – a nascent and ambiguously defined way for attribution to travel with an image and allow consumers to know, in the words of Adobe VP Dana Rao, that “the content they’re seeing is authentic.”
Before the rise of social media and the ubiquity of apps like Instagram, photographers established and flexed their brands through their personal website and blog. The photographer website supplanted the printed portfolio, for the most part, offering photographers a way to showcase their work with a remote audience of photo editors, customers, and fans.
Every once in a while, a “fun” website or app that requires us to upload a photo of ourselves goes viral. In 2015, it was Microsoft’s How-Old.net, which would guess your age based on a selfie. It turned out to be a showcase for Microsoft’s facial recognition technology.
Adobe recently announced that it would both discontinue downloads of older versions of Creative Cloud apps (which includes Lightroom and Photoshop), and revoke the license for older software. Further, Adobe tweeted that consumers “may face potential claims of infringement by third parties.”
For some photographers, the thought of continuing to use Adobe’s subscription-based products is unpalatable, and fortunately, there are a number of full-featured alternatives that come without the price nor baggage.
When National Geographic published Beth Moon’s images of “the world’s oldest trees by starlight,” seasoned astrophotographers like Adrien Mauduit cried foul. Not only were sections of the sky cloned, but specific stars were appearing in portions of the sky that were physical impossibilities. As other astrophotographers chimed in, a microbiologist emerged as the most eagle-eyed of the bunch. Dr. Elisabeth Bik, a science consultant who runs Microbiome Digest (@microbiomdigest), started finding more manipulation in Moon’s work, as well as other images on the Nat Geo website and by photographers like Steve McCurry.
A group of boys in Baraboo, WI assembled for a junior prom photo and posed with a Nazi salute. One of the boys posted the image to Twitter with the caption “We even got the black kid to throw it up.” In the midst of public outrage, it was revealed that a professional photographer not only took the image, but directed them to “wave goodbye.”
I’ve read The Onion headlines and McSweeney’s pieces that have knocked me off my chair. I can still remember staying up late during high school to watch Saturday Night Live sketches like “Change Bank,” or Dave Chapelle’s Killing Me Softly on HBO. I’m a person who can appreciate good humor and satire.
This is neither.
Eye-rolls, shrugs, and barbs greeted the $120,000 Grand Prize winner of Dubai’s HIPA Photography Prize. Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong’s photo of a partially blind Vietnamese woman carrying her baby was derided for representing yet another “poverty porn” contest winner before it was suggested that the image was staged by photographer Ab Rashid.
Imagine a website that convinces its users to upload free content and builds social signals (e.g. likes and view counts) to make the site addictive. Then imagine the company using the usage data as a referral mechanism to make money without compensating the content producers. It’s not Facebook, it’s Unsplash, and it’s terrible for photographers.
Now imagine a huge website provider partnering with Unsplash to distribute the photography for free, and basically send the message that photography has no value. Stop imagining because Squarespace just did it.
In the U.S. and most industrialized nations, we have a collective infatuation with technology but a poor understanding of its effects – both intended and unintended. We love asking Siri to play our favorite song, but don’t fully consider the privacy implications of allowing the device to persistently listen to us. We love the convenience of smartphones, so much so that we’re willing to engage in destructive behavior like texting while driving. And we love the connectedness of social media, but are virtually powerless to the dopamine-dependent culture of likes and comments.