*spooof*: I Need a Hero

Calling the picture of a hero a “dud” is close to blasphemy. And yet I will risk the wrath of all the Porter-babes today and pick apart a picture of the hardest soldier the SAS has ever seen. Mind you – absolutely no blame can be laid at A___’s door. It is not his fault when the choices of the picture editors will be proven to be faulty. It isn’t even the photographer’s fault, that I am compelled to pronounce this  image a dud. Unless it is him/her who is responsible for the post-production. But we come to that later, let’s have a look at the image first.

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Where have all the good men gone, and where are all the Gods?
Promo Image from Strike Back
Sourced via RAnet

What I have chosen today is a promo picture for the Sky 1’s dramatisation of Chris Ryan’s Strike Back. A___ plays John Porter, a fallen hero, a wronged soldier, who sets out on a journey of redemption after having been scape-goated on a mission-turned-catastrophe. With that in mind, the scene as depicted in today’s *spooof* is entirely appropriate: John Porter is shown on a dirt track, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He is dressed in army fatigues, carrying a large gun. He is alone – an important bit of characterisation as it might not only reflect a particular scene in the films (although there is no such scene where this image came from), but also shows him as a bit of a loner. This is a man who works on his own. He is perfectly capable of taking care of things alone. Heck, he probably could save the world singlehandedly, such a mighty clever warrior is he. The fact that he has been photographed from about knee-height is no coincidence: We are meant to look up to this man. He is a hero, whom we should worship while we have thrown ourselves in the dust at his feet. A subtle interpretation of what Porter *really* is – all conveyed simply in the perspective.

And supported by the look look on his face: It speaks of determination and confidence. He stares straight at the camera = the viewer, i.e. he does not have to hide himself, he is not afraid of anyone. That is also signified by his right hand which is not on the trigger of his gun but holding on lightly to the sight finder  – he evidently does not expect any serious opposition on his walk and is thus not on the defensive. His posture is erect yet energetic – his shoulders are relaxed and he is walking without haste, which gives the impression that he has just finished (part of) a job. The fact that his face is grimy with dirt and sweat and traces of blood tells us that he is just back from a “job”. Maybe the “job” that is burning in the background left?

Porter may have ended the “job” by turning the trouble into (smoking) rubble. However, for the discerning viewer the real trouble now only starts. Because the various elements of the image do not quite add up. What we are being presented with is the work of a graphic designer who has put the image together in Photoshop. This is not *a* photograph that was shot on location, while the film was being made. My hunch is that the image consists of four independently created parts: first of all there is the full-length shot of Porter, then there is the general landscape/dirt road background, plus the sky, and the smoke. The latter is probably completely artificially created in Photoshop (That can be done relatively easily with a few nice Photoshop filters, starting out with a some digitally-drawn doodles that then get put through filters like Gaussian Blur, Distort or Twirl etc.) and then dropped into the finished image.

The main background and the sky are of course “real” photographs. But they are two separate ones. Some of that is conjecture on my part in the sense that I “know” that the film was shot on location in Namibia. As luck would have it, I have been to Namibia. And I simply do not believe that you get such massive cloudy skies in a country that largely consists of desert. The sky, I believe, is a separate photograph, that has been fitted onto the picture of the dirt track in order to give a bit more visual interest to the whole image. (A practice, btw, that is very common in promo photography! There are entire image banks of cloud formation skies for photoshop pros to use. A sky for any occasion, so to speak…)

My hunch is supported by the fact that the lighting in background and sky do not match up properly. How come there is no shade in the scenery when the sky is full of clouds? Well, there might be a big gap in the clouds just behind the photographer that lights up the scenery. Very well. But a closer look at the angle of the light reveals that there must have been two suns in the sky: The clouds are lit up from the right (observe how there are darker patches on the clouds where the sun does not reach – by and large on the left of the clouds). The scenery, however, seems to be lit up from fairly straight above (again, look at the shadows on the stones in the foreground.)

This discrepancy may actually be very slight and indiscernible to the untrained eye. But let’s now have a look at the man in the centre of the image. *dun dun duuuun* Porter is catching the light from the left, clearly indicated by his shadow on the road as well as the highlights on his skin on the left (our pov). A third sun? Well,*that* one was rather low in the sky, then,  judging by the shadow on the road. Or rather high, judging by the shadow under his right jaw (our pov). Sun number four! Confused? How many suns are we counting yet? – Well, the image of Porter is a studio shot with flash that was supposed to mimic sunlight. The shadow on the road is also a Photoshop creation, added in order to anchor the subject in the image. But it doesn’t add up. I think the image as a whole could’ve been much more convincing if the designer had simply flipped the picture of the sky to make the light on the clouds and the light on Porter match up.

Yes, I know – I am niggling pedantically. And what does it matter when the image is actually quite an eye-catcher. The composition is very pleasing – a classic rule-of-thirds image with the horizon line roughly one third up from the bottom. The asymmetrical composition of the background thus adds interest while drawing the gaze of the viewer to the torso and head of the figure in the centre. Porter’s upper body stands out against the sky and commands all the attention – the telegraph pole on the left is conveniently blurred/smoked out to not distract from him, either. Moreover, the lines of the road, vanishing into the distance, nicely lead the gaze into the centre of the image, to the subject. As do the two trees on either side of Porter and the telegraph line on the left.

While my examination of the image components may be rather technical and certainly pedantic, I am sure that even the untrained viewer would have noticed that there is something wrong with the image in its entirety. Perhaps you couldn’t put your finger on it, or maybe you would have noticed that the background of the image looks slightly washed out while the colours on Porter are fairly strong. Altogether the background looks slightly blurry whereas Porter is sharp down to the last pixel. Try as hard as Photoshop might – but the human brain does still register the little hints that somehow it doesn’t quite fit together…

It’s all a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it? One of the reasons why I have rambled on here is that I am on a mission. I am the Porter of the Anti-Photoshop League. I am just very aware of the visual lies that we are being presented with – as consumers of the media. We are fed images every day, on TV, on the web, in magazines and newspapers. And I would like everyone to be aware of the subversive subtleties of advertising images. They are used to manipulate us into believing and buying. None of the images you see in advertising are “real” – they consist of many components, have been colour-enhanced, lit from 27 different angles, have been deconstructed, cropped, flipped, filtered, and distorted. Unfortunately you cannot believe your own eyes anymore. Photography is not synonymous with “documentary” anymore.

Mind you, I’d “buy” Porter any day. The world needs heros – both in reality as well as in fiction. Something to give us hope and to ease our minds. And to give us a bit of eye-candy in the face of the evil world. Cue…


If you know where I can get one, drop me a line.

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19 thoughts on “*spooof*: I Need a Hero

  1. I love the *Spooof series*, but it’s disturbing as well, because you’re actually making me less ignorant of things I look at, and that has always been my bliss 😉 Yes, the sky looks fake. So does the black smoke monster from Lost on the left. And if I had ever moved my gaze away from Porter (no easy thing), I guess that would bug me.
    BTW, just a quick thought. Isn’t our general understanding of Richard Armitage “deconstructed, cropped, flipped, filtered, and distorted”? Don’t we do that every single fangirling day? We photoshop his image to fit our needs and we have a multum of RA skies to fit our different needs and moods.

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    • I actually think that the *spooof* series is a bit destructive. I take on unloved, bad photos and then rip them apart analytically. Very negative – and therefore shall be limited to this one week in the year and never rear its ugly head again!! I prefer doing the *ooof*s where I can gush about RA and the photograph without having to rip the photographer/stylist apart…
      So yeah, I guess I am responsible for deglamourizing. And I do not really want that effect to pass on to RA. I prefer him to be admired rather than ridiculed *ggg*. I loved you observation that not only are the actual images of RA filtered, distorted etc, but so is our view of him. So true!!!!! A figment of imagination. I think I’ll go back to bed and cry in my pillow…

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      • LOL! We need the good with the bad and it’s looking back at some of those hot messes that make especially the recent RA photoshoots so attractive! What I’d like to read is you analyzing a photo of Richard on a sheepskin rug. End of! 😉

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        • If you present me with that photo, I might be persuaded to emerge from the pillow *ggg*. Or, actually, why don’t I make that picture myself? A little photoshoot with RA and a sheepskin rug. Always wanted that. Hand me my tripod, though!

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  2. Very good post 🙂 and it serves well to the cause of Anti-Photoshop League. I think it’s important to stress what you stated in the last part of the post. Nothing is real, everything is fake and ofefred to feed your inadequacy. They sell us everything in such a way. Beauty related products are the worst case of all.
    I am a totally dumb photographer but I sense and feel something wrong sometime – and surely in this particular case – that lead me to think of a bad Photoshop use. People stopped to do great pics (for commercial use, that is) just thinking: – Well, we can manage it with Photoshop.
    This is EVIL.

    Thanks for the *spooof* series, it taught me a lot and I will try to look at photographs with a better eye 🙂 And no offence to poor RA that is the innocent sacrificial lamb of totally unprofessional photographers et similia.

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    • Thank YOU, micra, for your thoughtful comments and support. I can only hope that my thoughts and explanations add something to the reader’s own experience of photography. [rant] As this fandom is dominated by women, I think it is important to drive home these points about the manipulative powers of photography. We are being fed images of womanhood, no, BEAUTY, all the time and we need to be aware of their complete and utter falseness. [/rant] I apologize again to all RA lovers that I am using our favourite actor as the proverbial lamb to the slaughter. But then again – he’s a perfect ruse to get your attention *evillaugh*, save screaming “SEX (now I have got your attention)” in your face…

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  3. There were a whole series of these that were shopped by the same editor or team — they all have the same elements. The way they mess up perspective is occasionally intriguing, but most often comical or disturbing. (How they made Orla Brady look, for example.) I have a question, though — in that I think that these were probably created for a bulletin board campaign as opposed to (solely) for the screen. Does that change how we view them (if they are supposed to be more monumental, and glimpsed more quickly)?

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    • That’s a good point you are raising there, Servetus. I had not considered that, but I suppose you are right. If these images were made for billboards, then that means they were going to be blown up quite big and printed on paper – which means that the intricacies that we notice in the condensed digital version will not show up as big. The designers therefore did not have to worry too much about discrepancies between the various picture elements. – I admit that I deliberately chose an image in which I could find hints of manipulation.

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      • I had the impression that they were created for one setting and used in others where they didn’t work. (No evidence, just a feeling). For instance, the foreshortened perspective in some of the pics that makes the faces pop out — then got used on the book cover of the Chris Ryan novel reprint. Managed to make Orla Brady look like a chunky dwarf, which can’t have been the intention …

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        • If I remember correctly it was some of those publicity shots that actually caught the attention of the Captain America people? He was plastered all over London for the Strike Back promo and the producers/casting people saw him, or something like that… In that sense they became emblematic for the whole series. That’s quite a good result, even if they turned Orla Brady into a dwarf.

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          • yeah, though he never said this one — and there was also a sort of gritty realism poster series where he wasn’t as obviously photshopped and looked meaner …

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            • Yep – I was jumping ahead there. It is most probably not this picture that got the producer’s attention. More likely that it was a shot of him on his own, though – I think there is one where he is seen closer up and not full length…
              These billboard type posters, btw, seem to have only been produced for the first double-episode of SB. There are no action posters of RA in the Zimbabwe or Afghanistan episodes…

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  4. I thought the sky look odd in relation to the rest of the photo, but my eye was drawn to Porter of course. But it does look fake in total, even to my untrained eyes, and now after reading your post, I know why. Am learning to look at things in more detail, thank you!

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    • Thanks for your comment, fabo. I am always pleased to hear when readers agree with me. Because to some extent I am winging it with my analyses, and I often wonder whether it is just me who thinks something. It’s great to feel vindicated 😉

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  5. I have made the enormous sacrifice of detaching myself from staring at the Thighs of Thunder to say that IMO, that Bonnie Tyler video is ten billion times worse than any badly photoshopped picture of Richard. ;p I am laughing out loud at the song, remembering what a huge hit it was. Anyway…yes, that picture is horrible. Thank you for explaining that it was taken in another planet, since there are three suns. I didn’t know Richard was an astronaut! 🙂

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    • My goodness, there is a new *spooof* idea: Eclipsing *spooof*s with bad music videos. And this certainly was one. Aw, the 1980s… bless. Simple times. Innocent times… 😀

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  6. Thank you for the spoof a day late but it been on of those days. I spent Sunday cooking and doing homework. What ever the picture it is better than reading about nonverbal messages, where the mind wants to think of RA and all that nonverbal messages he has in everything he is in. I do think the sky in this picture is a bit weird, to bright. Thank you for schooling us in what a picture should look like.

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