Sherwin Rivera Tibayan

[Untitled #1 (from the series Content Aware Fill v2)]

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Content Aware Fill (v2), 2012

Archival Pigment Prints, 16" x 20"

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This project began with my surprise at discovering that Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" was the result of other, prior images. I should have known better perhaps, but icons, like sensible magicians, are better served when not revealing their secrets.

Less of a secret, however, is the fact that the iconic image of the mother and her children was manipulated. Lange instructed a darkroom assistant to retouch the negative in order to remove the mother’s left thumb; she considered its presence a flaw. Although this aesthetic decision seems to undermine notions of documentary truth and photographic representation, it may also be viewed as an affirmation of sorts, as an encouraging gesture that helps inform the productive space and current discourse behind the reconstruction and malleability of all images, iconic or not.

Using Photoshop's "Content Aware Fill" filter on the set of five publicly available images comprising Dorothea Lange's photo session, I’ve attempted to visually entangle issues motivating the availability of software that constructs content from its surrounding environment with the well-documented tensions between social responsibility and personal aesthetics.

My implementation of the filter as a kind of digital prism—framed by changing equilateral triangles with the apex beginning on the mother’s left eye and the base determined by the approximate position of her youngest child’s own left eye—is a recognition of Lange’s own targeted movement within that space, and of the classic composition and content awareness that she would eventually achieve in her final, lasting portrait.

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