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Reportage Illustration and Hoaxes

May 13, 2011

We had a visit from an exterior academic over the last couple of days. Catrin Morgan who teaches on the MA Authorial Practice at Falmouth and is doing a PhD at the Royal College of Art researching into illustrated hoaxes and such like. She’s not keen on reportage illustration. She thinks it is dangerous as it attempts to depict the truth. I think she is looking at it from completely the wrong perspective as she seems to believe that people seriously believe that when they view a piece of reportage illustration that they are seeing a true representation of the events or place the image  depicts. I doubt very much that many people view these sort of illustrations in that manner and that they are perfectly able to accept them for what they are as well as take into account fully the artists interpretive position along with the limitations that a personal perspective brings. I would give many reasons why I think this as it is an area I have been researching myself but that would give the game away.

Anyway – Catrin and Chris gave us a great brief that was connected to her work on hoaxes. We spent the day in Cardiff city centre and were asked to use the language of reportage illustration to depict real life events but to place hoaxes, or misinformation within those drawings. It would of been easy to simply draw untruths that were so matter of fact that you would be unable to tell whether they were or were not actual events but I found that quite pointless so drew images with fairly easy to spot untruths in them. This appealed to me more and added the humour that many good hoaxes have. Why pointless? Pointless because it proves nothing. It proves only that an individual can manipulate the truth within the images they create if they choose to do so. A reportage illustrator can do this in the same way as a photographer can do this. The illustrator could do something as simple as draw from someone else’s photograph and then say they were there. A photographer can stage an event and pretend it really happened. Both can manipulate images before they are presented to the viewer. The issue is their honesty. In fact I would suggest that the photographer is far more dangerous because people viewing the relatively new medium of photography tend to see the images as more true to life than a drawing, even though photographs do not show the world as we see it at all. I’m not going to go on and will finish on a point that was used many times during discussions with Catrin and that is the the one of using photographs in a court of law. Catrin suggested that photographs are accepted as proof in court and that a drawing is not. This is not completely true. Photographs are only accepted in the same way verbal evidence is accepted, or documentation. The character of the witness presenting them is tested and taken fully into account. If the court feels they are an unreliable witness then anything they bring to the case would be seen in the same way – unreliable. If it is found out that the images they presented were false then they have committed perjury in the same way as someone who lies on oath. I’m not suggested that drawings are as readily acceptable as a photograph but that is only because drawings are more easily manipulated than photographs not that they are automatically more truthful.

The drawings I produced are below. Each one has an untruth in it.

Lisvane and Thornhill station and the train I took into Cardiff centre

A sketch of Queen Street - one of the main shopping streets in Cardiff

Some Hari Krishna's who were chanting and marching up and down Queen Street

The McDonalds on Queen Street where I had a cheap cup of coffee

Another perspective of Queen Street

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2011 11:57 am

    WOW! I love your work, you are amazing!!!

  2. June 20, 2011 12:42 am

    This is really interesting – I agree that reportage will be subjective in many ways because it comes through a human process, and quite famous reportage illustrators often reveal that they leave bits out or move or exaggerate an item slightly.
    I think the reason reportage is seen as truthful is that it essentially sets out to be so, even if it doesn’t quite live up to this. Perhaps reportage aims to be sort-of-truthful, and slightly fails because of circumstances.

  3. June 27, 2011 9:41 am

    Another thought …. I’ve always, when trying to explain or define reportage drawing, said that
    it’s intention/aim is to try to capture some of the atmosphere and feel of an event or place.
    If we say that, then it is not trying to record stark, objective truth – rather it is emotive in nature and the illustrator is a fllter.

    The style associated with reportage usually reflects this emotive quality by being rapid, loose, unfinished but friendly in nature.

    Another site worth visiting and receiving their e-posts is http://www.meltonpriorinstitut.org

  4. July 7, 2011 12:14 pm

    Reportage illustration is all about recording the experience rather than simply depicting the scene. We simply don’t perceive the world in the same way that a camera captures an image. This can be seen when looking at a photograph of a landscape and feeling everything in the distance is too small. The camera cannot adjust for consistency in the same way our minds do – bringing important aspects of the landscape forwards in our vision and more clearly than can be picked up by the camera.

    I agree with your filter analogy as when an illustrator filters the scene before him through his mind and onto the paper he selects, probably often completely subconsciously, the important (to him) aspects of the scene before him. He then adds to that visual data many other parts of perception such as touch, memory and emotion. Of course his success will depend on a lot of things, not least of all his technical abilities.

  5. February 8, 2012 8:42 pm

    I think you have raised some very interesting points about why photographs are seen as a more truthful documentation of an event than a drawing of the same thing, both are fundamentally subjective. A photographer will choose what to include within a frame and what to leave out. They will wait patiently for the right moment to take the photograph, so as to communicate most effectively the story they wish to share, and ultimately the picture they take is just a fraction of a second of time. Why is that more truthful than a drawing?
    As Susan Sontag says ‘ instead of just recording reality, photographs have become the norm for the way things appear to us and thereby changing the very idea of reality, and of realism.’

  6. February 9, 2012 12:14 am

    “The camera can never achieve the tact and selectivity which the
    painter can display in this effort to evoke subjectively truthful visual
    experience.” GOMBRICH, E. H. The Image and the Eye – Further studies in the
    psychology of pictorial representation. pp267. 1982. Phaidon. Oxford

  7. February 9, 2012 12:12 pm

    The way news is delivered to us is rapidly changing. A breaking story is as likely to be reported on by an eyewitness with a camera phone and internet access, as a trained journalist or photojournalist. Surely that need for news instantly, combined with the availability of software to edit and change photographs and video call into question the authenticity and truthfulness of everything we are told is news? If that is the case is there a role for drawn reportage? and what is it?

  8. February 10, 2012 2:01 am

    I think the question is one of integrity. The manipulation of images, whether they be still photographs, video or drawings, calls into question the integrity of the reporter. I think that in the same way that we are happy to take into account the bias of one writer form another, so to could we apply that acceptance to the work of a reportage illustrator. We either trust the reporter or we do not. This brings into play the fact that when someone looks at a drawing or painting they are readily able to make an effort to decipher the meaning therein as they are fully aware of the process involved in the works creation. Not so with a photograph or a video and therefore the public still suffers from a certain sort of shock when the trickery, manipulation and illusion of the photographer is exposed. Since the invention of photography we have wanted to accept the adage that “the camera never lies” even though photographers have been manipulating their images, to their own end, since day one. I don’t actually have a major problem with that – after all, that’s precisely what we do as illustrators, whether consciously or not. The problem lies with the naive belief that a photograph is somehow a more ‘truthful’ representation of the way we see the world.

  9. Gillian Biggers permalink
    February 6, 2016 10:27 pm

    Your work is indeed amazing!
    I would argue simply that art is not required to be truth, but rather is created to be what the creator chooses. If he or she states it to be truth, that can then be debated. However, art in itself has never been about pure truth, but rather to evoke emotion. Ms. Morgan surely does not favor poetry either.

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