Photography from Emotion and Concept – w/ Renee Byer’s TEDx Presentation

Photography from Emotion and Concept – w/ Renee Byer’s TEDx Presentation

I can’t grip rational leverage on conceptual composites that look like photography but really aren’t, even though they defy any other category and have original photographic components. What are these things?  Common sense says they’re illustrations yet they’re not freehand creations.

On the other hand, I know what feels real.  When I see a photograph I don’t have to speculate about manipulation, my senses care less because they’re consumed by examination and filled with emotion. Once I whiff movement too far from photo-authenticity, I sense too much personal jurisdiction lost over interpretation; I begin to feel as manipulated as the image.

A postcard manipulated or not, is a great souvenir but nothing compared to my family standing near a Paris landmark. When I put my camera between me and my family it transcends mere memento.  If I choose enhancement it loses nothing, yet choices made by another are highly destructive.

Photographic images, pixilated or otherwise need integrity or risk reflecting a downright feeble notion of authenticity; revealing a strong agenda yet one relatively easy to dismiss.

Pulitzer Prize winning Photojournalist Renee Byer tells a powerful story with her images. I don’t care how she captured them.  I don’t care what she did with them post capture – if anything. I easily place my trust in her and the honesty of the message she’s offering.

When is it that we lose this trust? If photography isn’t dealing with hard news and world events don’t hinge on precision, there is more editorial leeway; still there is an instant where manipulation annihilates the story.

Do I like these clever, often funny, conceptual illustrations that use photography tools?  I still haven’t decided whether they are worthy or fade as fast as a Hallmark Card with sloppy wet prose.

“Once the images begin to replace the world, Photography loses much of its reason for being.” – After Photography by Fred Ritchin Director of Pixel Press .

Watch Renee’s presentation and look at the conceptual slide show (above)  and help me out.  Where is the line we know exists; what is lost and what is gained?

TEDx – Tokyo Presentation – “The Story Telling Power of Photography”

Renee Byer – A Mother’s Journey: [via The Pulitzer Prize Website]

With over 20 years of experience in the media industry, Renée C. Byer is an award-winning photographer, designer and picture editor.

She has taken honors from the National Press Photographers Association, Society of News Design, Associated Press, and the Best of the West photo and design contest. She has twice been featured in Photo District News magazine for photo stories while working as a staff photographer at The Sacramento Bee. Most recently in the September 2006 Photojournalism issue for her yearlong story “A Mother’s Journey.”

Her series of photographs on biotechnology titled “Seeds of Doubt” won the Harry Chapin Media Award for World Hunger in Photojournalism in 2005. The series also won first place in the Best of Photojournalism contest sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association.

In 2005 she was awarded the McClatchy President’s Award for her photographs in the “Women at War” series. This was the first time that a Sacramento Bee photojournalist was the sole recipient of the award.

Byer has been a staff photographer at The Sacramento Bee since 2003. Previously she worked at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer where her photography was a finalist for a Dart Award for excellence in reporting on victims of violence. Byer is a long-time newspaper photographer who has worked around the country at a number of top dailies.

She recently served on the faculty of the Mountain Workshop for photojournalism sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

advertising, Digital Photography, Imagination, Photojournalism

8 Responses to “Photography from Emotion and Concept – w/ Renee Byer’s TEDx Presentation”

  1. Kevin Halliburton Says:

    To me the adjustment in thinking is nothing more than viewing the still image raw data coming out of a Canon 5D Mark II the same way I view the motion images captured by the same device. We took the lid off of motion picture makers years ago. Many of the cinematic stories today are far richer for it, and many of them are far poorer, but we quit debating the validity of extreme manipulation of the captured data in motion pictures a long time ago. We are free to judge the story on its merits, not it’s techniques.

    I’ve rarely witnessed the heavy handed manipulation attempted in Avatar but it was the blatant manipulation in the story line that drove me nuts, not the cinematic techniques. The sooner we get to the same place with still images the better.

    I have a dream:

    • Bruce DeBoer Says:

      My feeling is that each is equal like two film emulsions are equal. I personally have no struggle with one over the other; I appreciate and participate in the full spectrum. Yet, there is something that photography brought with it in the 1830′s that is clouding over, isn’t there? How would you feel if you discovered that your favorite Ansel Adams image was a composite of 3 different scenes? Would you feel differently about a photo of a loved one that was heavily retouched to fix imperfections? I’m thinking it would.

      So … it would follow that the ease with which photography is now so fluid would change – on one way or another – our perception of images in general. In turn, it’s changing our culture – but how?

  2. Kevin Halliburton Says:

    It depends entirely on whether the images were created to do Dan Rather’s job or Mark Twain’s. I would never trust Mark Twain as a reporter but as a story teller and entertainer his ability to manipulate, enhance and outright fabricate the details of a story left him with few equals.

    All of the images in the slide show you posted have Mark Twain’s job. None of them are pretending to be Dan Rather. If there is a societal shift in our perception of photographs it is that people have moved from thinking all photographers are Dan Rather to thinking that all photographers are Mark Twain.

    I think the line you are nervous about is the one where an image isn’t clearly defined as one or the other. There I can see your point of view. The photographers who consistently walk that line with a clear conscience might want to think about running for office. :-)

  3. Bruce DeBoer Says:

    Thanks Kevin, good thoughtful reply – still not satisfied though. I’m probably nuancing this way too much but as generations die the fluidity of our imagery will change us – just not sure in what direction.

  4. Kevin Halliburton Says:


    For some reason I can’t get the link to Renee’s video to work either here or directly on the TED site. I finally did a search and was able to watch it here:

    Wow! I see now where you are coming from. There are so many stories and so many ways to tell them – more of both now than ever. The authenticity of Renee’s images were critical to the stories she told. I believe that type of imagery will continue to improve with technology and the conventions that mandate authenticity will rise to the challenge of that evolution.

    That said, none of those scenes were black and white in real life. The starkness of the black and white images brought clarity to the stories. That was a good and perfectly acceptable scene manipulating choice on the part of the photographer. It doesn’t alter the story, it clarifies it and common sense allows for that sort of thing… for now.

    To me the purpose of photojournalism has always been to tell a story honestly. For me the debate over any particular photo journalistic image should be whether or not the image honestly tells the story that unfolded, not whether it was converted to black and white, cropped after the fact, or even if a distracting white shoe tip in the corner of the frame was removed in post.

    One danger in our evolving attitude toward journalistic image “manipulation” is that the abuses of a few are leading to more rigid and inflexible policies that hamper the photographer’s ability to isolate the components of a story. Reporters are free to strip irrelevant details out of their verbal description of a scene but we are never going to grant that right to photographers no matter how much common sense they apply in the process.

    Quite the opposite actually. When some of my images were used recently in a newspaper article the paper insisted that my camera raw adjustments be stripped to their defaults before I saved to jpeg. The results were nothing like the actual scene I witnessed in person. They rejected one interior shot because I white balanced for the tungsten light in the room in camera and the plants in the sunlight outside looked suspiciously blue. They were mortified when I suggested that I could easily fix the color shift to more accurately depict reality.

    Admittedly, I usually play the role of Mark Twain so their suspicions were well founded but to me, that was an illustration of one the greatest dangers in our changing attitude toward digital imaging. When fabrication becomes the norm, the journalism photo police take over and they tend to really suck at story telling.

    • Bruce DeBoer Says:

      Really well said Kevin – EXACTLY! In some ways we were allowed more editorial influence when using film and printing b+w. In our most raw form as photographers, our mere choice of frame is an editorial selection. Thanks.

  5. Trudy Says:

    Great post. I really enjoyed Kevin’s comments as well.

  6. KC Says:


    I, too, have no issue with the mechanics of modern imagery, although your analogy of an Ansel Adams composite is a valid one. I recently met up with an old, local peer of ours, Clint. He was doing a CGI demo at Ringling School of Art & Design.

    Although I found the techniques fascinating, and quite useful for future projects, the magic that I see in automobile ads is forever spoiled for me. Not that Clint isn’t capable of producing compelling images in camera, but knowing how easily these looks are created with HDRI and CGI software makes them much less impressive to me.

    I love the technology, and I equally enjoy what can visually be achieved with modern software, although none of it will ever replace the satisfaction that I feel when seeing or producing an amazing image on celluloid or the raw sensor.


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