A fabricated frolic into folly

There are few things I love more than photography, Photoshop and good Chinese controversy. Imagine my delight then when I stumbled across a WSJ article, “China Eats Crow Over Faked Photo Of Rare Antelope“, that melds the three.

The fake photo, with a little Photoshopping of my own.In what has become this month’s journalistic black-eye (in a LONG line of similar cuts and bruises) for China, it’s been discovered that a photo of the rare Tibetan antelope (or Chiru) casually cavorting along the Tibetan plateau as the new Qinghai-Xizang high-speed train bullets by was completely fake.

The image, photographed manufactured by journalist photographer Photoshop amateur Liu Weiqing, has appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country and was even named one of CCTVs top 10 photos of 2006. As it nicely depicts the endangered antelope unfazed by the modern marvel of man, it’s not hard to see that it worked as some perfect propaganda to quell the mass of environmentalists who are against the world’s highest railroad.

Suspicions about the photo became public last week after Mr. Liu’s photograph was displayed in Beijing’s subway system. An anonymous Chinese Internet user going by the screen name Dajiala raised questions about the photo’s authenticity on one of China’s largest photography Web sites. Dajiala, a photographer who claimed to idolize Mr. Liu, said he was studying a copy of the photo posted on Beijing’s Line 5 subway platform when he rubbed some dust off it and noticed something odd.

“At the bottom of the photograph, there was a very obvious line,” he wrote. “I examined it very carefully and it was obviously the stitching of two different images….Was this decisive moment just a simple Photoshop trick?”

His post created an online storm. Photographers blew up the image and analyzed each out-of-place pixel. Animal behaviorists weighed in, explaining that antelope are shy and noise-sensitive, and would scatter in panic at the sound of the high-speed train. When the chat-room controversy spread to China’s largest Internet portals, the Chengdu Business Daily confronted Mr. Liu.

Cornered by the mounting evidence, Mr. Liu admitted he had indeed used Photoshop to blend two pictures, according to the newspaper.

What’s amusing to me is not that it’s a doctored image, but that it was done so poorly. I mean, if you’re going to try and deceive a country with your graphical guile, uncovering it should take CIA experts with those fancy computers that you simply say “enhance” to, not some guy on a subway.

Be sure to check out the WSJ’s nifty Flash page showing some of the key areas of the photo that are being disputed.

Incidentally, because I think it’s a neat tidbit of info, the Fúwá Olympic Mascot Yingying is a Chiru/Tibetan antelope. Additionally, the rather well-done film Ke Ke Xi Li revolves around the protection and slaughter of these animals.