“The Decoy,” which pretends to be an experiment in the relativity of perception . . .

. . . is actually a set-up. It treats the six photographers as fools. I’m really surprised they didn’t get pissed. I sure did.

On the other hand, the comments section is fabulous. I reproduce it in full, here.

Hmmmm . . . how often is what we view or read about as “the news,” whether MSM or alternative, actually a set-up? And how often to we “show” ourselves to others (or even to ourself in the mirror) wearing a mask? Is it possible to take all the masks off? How do we know they’re all off?

In any interaction with another human being: there’s

  1. who we really are (do we know?)
  2. who we pretend to be (do we always (ever?) know we are pretending?)
  3. who the person really is who is viewing and interacting with us (does he/she know?)
  4. who he/she pretends to be (does he/she always (ever?) know he or she is pretending?)
  5. the spatial frame: any frame, no matter its shape, or how large or small, specifies a context which shifts anyone’s (relative) perception of the foreground. (Gestalt theory 101).
  6. the temporal frame: ditto #5.

Which is why there’s no such thing as objectivity in science, nor is there such a thing as a “controlled experiment” that actually describes “reality,” which is ever moving, shifting changing, in endlessly mysterious ways.

Even so, the video does to some extent indicate the relativity of perception. And, as I said, the comments are good, even if they too, seem to be infected with scientism: the possibility of “objectivity,” and a more accurate “controlled experiment” that would indeed mirror reality.

As the revealing video below shows, portraits can be shaped by the photographer’s point of view rather than just by the subject being documented. Created by The Lab in conjunction with Canon Australia, the clip features six photographers, one portrait subject and an unexpected twist. The twist consisted of the (mis)information each photographer was given regarding the person being photographed.

The photographers entered the studio individually and were told a bit about the subject, whose name is Michael. The fictional back stories on Michael ranged from him being a self-made millionaire to a hero, ex-inmate, fisherman, psychic and a former alcoholic.

In reality, he is none of those things. Consquently, their finished portraits range wildly in style and context.

The video, called “The Decoy,” runs about three-minutes and is a very eye-opening experience in that it makes us stop and rethink how portraits should be created.


This video doesn’t prove that the photographer’s point of view shapes the portrait taken since there was in fact a different character in front of each photographer.

I bet that even if this man was just himself, the photographers would’ve taken different portraits just because of their personal style, though. (This is why you have to make sure you like the style of the photographer you pick.)

sabrinarae's picture

I agree. They should have all been told the same story, then their different photos would reflect the different photographers’ styles. This is a cool experiment, but it only shows that a person can look different, it doesn’t prove WHY.

Correa Photographic Images's picture

I think the video told its story just fine. Each photographer was told to create an image using the same camera, lens, subject*(person to photograph), and time limit. Each was given a different story to form a different concept as to what they wanted to project the subject. Obviously you get different results. Any decent portrait photographer will try to get the personality of their subject to show in the photo. To do this you need to know some things about the subject. They got most of this from the introduction and from the actor’s feedback as they were shooting. You are right, given free reign, the photographers would have probably shot slightly different photos. But had they been told by the Actor that he wanted a head shot for his portfolio that was for a serious role, most of the photos would have been looking very similar.

Zoog's picture

Although the person is the same the subject changes which each story.

Correa Photographic Images's picture


deeleephoto's picture

I like the idea, but bothered with the how it was done, and I can’t agree with the tag line that the photographer shapes more of the image than what’s in front of his lens. A portrait is a collaboration, not a one way street and I dislike that this is the message being shared.

It’s not news that the photographer has a huge impact on the photograph. It’s a collaboration that is influenced by many many factors to long to list here, but in this case they are being lied to and the actor is leading them on. As photographers we are story tellers, and of course we’re not going to tell the same story for a millionaire or a fisherman. They are telling the story they’ve been given. That’s their job. I think the photographers all handle it really well and want to get to know the person first to create an honest image WITH him… but that’s impossible because he’s not being honest, so the pictures can’t be honest either.

As someone mentioned in a comment, this experiment would only have been valid if they had been given the same brief and if the actor was being himself.

Deniseorford's picture

To see each photographer’s interpretation – each needed to photograph the same subject with the same information. The difference being the photographer not the subject.

Zoog's picture

It is photographers interpretation of the subject that shapes the image. All though the same person the subject changed for each photographer. Why were each not given the same subject? Try again!

BryantPhotoz's picture

I believe they should have had them reshoot him after finding out this info and see just how much they changed.
also on a side note they were shooting different people..he was acting his part to influence and confirm what they were told, anyone else notice the touching of the shirt in the video?

gbdz's picture

It is not only photographers who judge people on the things they’ve heard.
Humans do that all the time. Nicely made, kudos.

kurtjoe's picture

There’s no “Control” on this experiment. Also, a photographer brings their own style in the first place. PLUS, if you tell a photographer something, it’s SUPPOSED to influence the shoot.

I HATE when “experiments” like this try to convey something that’s assumed by the experimenter. That is, “Experiments” with an agenda.

donhajicek's picture

The conclusion drawn by the filmmakers is false. The subject is embodying six different personalities during these photo sessions. Hero, Criminal, Everyday Joe, etc. While photographers can create an environment that tells a story, the subject actually has MORE control over that story than you (apparently) think.

Tell the subject he’s supposed to act like a mute millionaire. Tell the photographer that the subject is an axe-murderer who can’t speak. Put them together in that room and see what the photos look like. 😉

If you didn’t tell THE SUBJECT which he was embodying for each shoot, this would have been a very interesting piece that would tell us something. As it stands, it tells us little.

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