The NYT currently features a fascinating piece that documentarian Errol Morris put together about the power of images and the ease of faking them and what that might mean in the larger cultural context. It’s mostly a conversation with a couple of experts in digital photography and fakery. Here’s an excerpt from part featuring professor Hany Farid:
ERROL MORRIS: Yes. There’s a remarkable story about the forging of the Hitler diaries. The forger was so prolific, he created so many forgeries — letters, watercolors, diaries, etc. — that handwriting analysts (charged with the task of authenticating the diaries) took writing examples done by the forger thinking they were genuine examples of Hitler’s handwriting and compared them to the diaries. They authenticated the diaries on that basis. Often we make a comparison between something that we believe is real and something that we believe is fake. I guess the moral of the story is we should always consider the possibility that we may be comparing something fake with something else that is fake.
HANY FARID: It’s sort of like Rembrandt, right? His body of work has been shrinking for decades now, right? And so what’s considered to be his body of work is completely different now, cause he was faked so heavily. It’s a good question. The reason why we believe that the one with the four missiles is fake is that there is pretty strong, at least circumstantial, evidence that the cloning was there. The plumes of smoke look very, very similar. There are a lot of little pieces. But also, when you clone with a standard clone tool, there’s like a soft cloning, so it does a little bit of like alpha matting, so that it’s not a hard edge. And you see along the rocks, there’s definitely some funny business going on. Again, visually it’s not a certainty. But it certainly looks more suspicious.
The whole piece is well worth reading. And makes me want to revisit the First Person series, which I adored when it was on. I still vividly recall the episode about the little gray man.