If fish could fly…(on fake news, again)

During a call-in to TRT World with anchor Ayça Aydoğdu, I mentioned an example of fake news which still baffles me as to how it duped anyone.

There was no time to go into detail or show the offending image on live on air, so let’s take a look at it now.

Back in June, an unlikely story was published on some newspaper/tabloid websites: a freak storm in China had caused waterspouts which apparently sent sea creatures hurtling through the sky and onto people’s cars.

Now, a few of the photos included in the article look genuine and realistic. A rainy scene, a wet windshield and small sea creatures. I can accept that, lightly, because the creatures are small enough to be transported by high winds and the wet conditions on the car seem to match the reported stormy conditions. The veracity of time and location of the photos is being taken for granted in this case and are as yet unverified.

BUT, none of that matters because the hero image of the article is this masterpiece of deceit / failure of image manipulation:


The caption reads This octopus was sent flying through the sky thanks to the storm (Picture: AsiaWire).

I’m amazed, nay, flabbergasted that this caught out so many people.

Let’s take 60 seconds to evaluate it, it’s all you need.

The story is about a storm, so we expect to see rain. Checks out. It’s raining on the windshield, which is causing distortion to everything beyond the windshield. But, my oh my, the octopus appears as an unblemished, perfect silhouette (alarm bell #1, really the only one you need in this case).

Even the colour of the octopus is just so uniform. Few things in life are like this, especially in a storm (alarm bell #2, bonus alarm bell). It almost, ALMOST (totally) looks like an illustration.

So, hey, how about we do a quick search for “octopus silhouette”?

BLAHM, here is the octopus falling from the sky:


When something is too incredible and dumbfounding to be true, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t, but just pause for 60 seconds and take in what you’re looking at.

You don’t have to be a Photoshop user to realise when an image has been altered (case in point, the Paris Hilton t-shirt example I discussed in my TEDx talk).

We can’t stop people from willfully creating images and stories for the sole purpose of deceiving people, but we can stop those “creations” from spreading.

Think of it as a nasty cold.

Viruses exist, but hey, if you cover your mouth when you sneeze, you’ll stop the spread (although seriously you should sneeze into your elbow if you REALLY don’t want to stop the spread).

Fake news fighting tools:

  • Google reverse image search: upload an image and let Google find where else it has been used (to verify context, time, etc).
  • Snopes.com: it will debunk all kinds of stuff, from politicians’ claims to news stories and Twitter posts.
  • FactCheck by Channel 4 News: similar to above, created by the well-respected Channel 4 News team in the UK.
  • Full Fact: UK version of Snopes.

There are so many more, guys. No excuses.

Stop the virus. Stop the spread. Take 60 seconds. (This metaphor/motto needs work.)

(This article was also published on Medium.)

Fake news is everyone’s problem

It’s heartwarming that everyone is paying attention to fake news at last. The brutal result of the election has jolted people into awareness, suddenly noticing a host of awful things around us which were really always there.

But fake news is nothing new. Remember the National Enquirer? It’s still going strong (internationally), showing its face at your local supermarket, ready to give you a compelling story about a boy who has a tree growing out of his mouth (not kidding, an actual example from the early 90s, I still remember the accompanying photo).

In the last week, all the news outlets have been talking about fake news simultaneously (BBCVoxBuzzfeedLA Times, Huffington Post). And that’s half the problem. Social media dictates that when one provider has a story, all others must follow. Like beacons on top of mountain peaks…once the first one has been lit, the others must follow quickly. And sometimes there is such a rush to light that beacon, that nobody’s looking what they’re setting fire to.

A year ago I gave a TEDx talk on the importance of verifying Facebook and Twitter posts before sharing. After the talk I was approached by many people who expressed their frustration at constantly seeing fabricated information online. This gave me hope, it made me think people were waking up to it and taking responsibility for their sharing.

But I was wrong. Things are getting worst. And while Facebook and Twitter can take some of the blame, the ultimate responsibility lies in the reader/sharer.

Responsible sharing is easy. Follow two simple rules:

  1. Is the source familiar to you or reputable? If not, verify (more on this below).

  2. If in doubt of a story’s veracity, don’t share. Stop the misinformation in its tracks.

We all have to be a lot more sceptical of what we read online. Use the “too good to be true” notion. Is the story too salacious (Denzel Washington chooses to vote for Trump)? Is it too perfect (Donald Trump’s “dumbest group of voters” quote)? Question timings and motivations.

Stop and take a moment

Have you ever shared an article without reading it? I hate to admit I have. Terrible habit, but it’s so easy to do when even reputable sources are using click-bait headlines. You share the article because you assume the content will reflect the headline, but most of the time you will find that although the title is technically correct, it is a deep extrapolation of the article’s actual content. This is terrible practice by news outlets, but we can also help this by reading the article we are about to share to our followers.

What is the source?

Before opening a shared link, you can easily see the URL of the source. Have you heard of it before? Do some keywords give it away as being extreme (freepatriotpost, americanpoliticnews, usanewsworld, donaltrumpnews, supremepatriot — all real examples)? It is likely these sites will not be run by professional journalists, but by people with extreme opinions and little regard for truth or balance. Verify or move on.

How can I verify?

This depends on the story. Denzel Washington voting for Trump is an interesting one. I came across this story after it was debunked, but hypothetically I would have checked if he has a blog (he doesn’t) or official twitter account (nope) on which he would have either declared his new allegiance or denied the reports. I would have then tried his agents, both website and Twitter, as they would be keen to also deny reports, perhaps releasing a statement (they didn’t). Ultimately, this is hard to verify and one that must be judged on a balance of probabilities and therefore best not shared.

Trump’s quote to People Magazine isn’t an easy one to verify, either. People Magazine does not have its archive online, although you can buy back issuesup to 2006. The next step would be to search for the image (reverse image search in Google) or the text and see when it starts existing online. Does it coincide with heated periods of the election? Is the timing a little too perfect? Moot point, however, as this was debunked by Snopes (an excellent resource) as far back as May, 2015.


Debunking and verifying can be time-consuming, but also fun. Sometimes it can take a minute or two, but if you’re going around in circles trying to verify something or you haven’t got time, check to see if any of these sources have done the work already:

According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, who has recently published a book on this topic, the incidence of misinformation and false news is so high because people have “hard time letting go of past beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence or scientific proof”.

Gossip, lies and fake news have existed since mankind could communicate, so don’t expect any of it to go away any time soon. The power to stop misinformation is in your hands. If everyone does their duty to share facts, then social media will become a risk-free source of information.

Apparently, the top performing fake news stories on Facebook were more successful that the top stories from major news outlets during the US election. We can’t let this happen again.

Go forth and verify.

UPDATE: just this morning (November 18, 2016) I embarrassingly fell victim to fake news. It was reported that at demonstration in front Trump Tower in NYC, a protester held a sign that read “Rape Melania”. Thankfully, for so many reasons, this was later debunked by Snopes. It did not, however, stop #RapeMelania from trending.

(Article also published on Medium.)

TEDx: Scepticism in an ultra-connected age

Speaking at TEDx Square Mile in November was a wonderful experience and lots of fun. I spoke about the perils of social media in terms of the quality and accuracy of the information spread on its platforms. 

I was surprised after the talk how many people approached me, expressing frustration at the amount of false information they come across on a regular basis. I'm glad I'm not alone in feeling like this! Perhaps, this collective desire for accuracy and truth will lead, somehow, to a reduction of fabricated information being shared online.

Have you found any examples lately of gross misinformation being spread on Facebook or Twitter? Email or Tweet me examples!

Lee Miller, In Brief

There seems to be a Lee Miller revival of late, which makes me very happy as she is one of my favourite photographers. The Imperial War Museum London is hosting an exhibition of Miller's work, A Woman’s Hour, focusing on the impact of World War II on women. And according to Variety, Kate Winslet will be playing Miller in a film which has yet to be written.

It wasn't until 2003 that I came across Lee Miller. At Christmas I had been given a diary that had the theme‘Daring!’.  I was flipping through it when I stumbled on a peculiar photo, that of a woman having a bath. The caption read: ‘War correspondent at work: Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub at Prinzengentenplatz 27, Munich 1945’. I was unaware of the precise context in which this picture was taken - was Hitler there? Were they friends? – but I was amazed at the originality of the photo and of that woman. A little later I made the connection between her name and a poster of Man Ray I had in my room. It was called ‘Lee’s Eye’. It showed a picture of an eye with short poem by Man Ray underneath it (in reality it was written on the back of the photograph). The eye on the poster belonged to the woman in Hitler’s bathtub. My curiosity was piqued, I had to know more.

Lee Miller was born in Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1907. She was the daughter of an engineer who was also a keen amateur photographer. At the age of eighteen, Miller was sent to Paris to travel and study. She hardly focused on her studies during that time, preferring instead to experience the city's buzzing art scene. It was at this time that Lee came in contact with some of the most influential Dada and Surrealist artists of the period, such as Man Ray.

Miller was eventually whisked back to the US by her family, but the life of upstate New York was no substitute for Paris, so when she wasn't modelling for her father, Miller spent a vast amount of time in New York City training as a dancer. It was there that Lee nearly stepped in front of an approaching car had it not been for a kind stranger by the name of Condé Nast. Some time later, she would grace the cover of Vogue.

By 1929 Miller had made her way back to Paris in order to carry out a research assignment for the French Vogue studio. It was there that she forced Man Ray to take her on as an apprentice: ‘He said he didn’t take students, and anyway he was leaving Paris for his holiday. I said […] I’m going with you' [1].

Ray turned out to be a very influential teacher to Miller. The kind of photography she took at the time successfully portrayed a simple, yet touching beauty. Whether her photographs were of nudes, bridges, roads, or fashion models, the essence of the Surrealist movement were gracefully present.

Miller was difficult to be with and to live with, especially since her sense of ‘free love’ made it hard for her to be committed to just one person. Man Ray was aware of Miller's numerous affairs while they were together, but he put up with them. In 1932, Miller fell in love with Aziz Eloui Bey, who was to later marry her and take her to Egypt. This marked the end of her relationship with Man Ray. He proved to be inconsolable, but then ‘his mad despair found an outlet’ [2] in the form of emotive Surrealist art.

After Miller's marriage to Bey, she returned to Europe with Roland Penrose, whom she would later marry. They went to London as the Second World War was starting, and although Miller was strongly advised by the American Embassy to leave Europe, she chose to remain and endeavour to re-enter the world of professional photography through her contacts at Vogue. Miller wished to communicate to those not yet involved in the war the atrocities of the many blitz attacks on London. During that time she took a series of extremely powerful pictures, all of which made a statement in one way or another. An example is an image of the shattered roof of the University College London reflected through a puddle of water on the floor. Another sees a broken statue of a girl ‘whose throat is cut by a bar of iron and whose breast is bruised by a brick’ [3]. Miller titled the picture ‘Revenge on Culture’.

By 1942, Miller had become an official war correspondent and took advantage of that position to go to mainland Europe and document the atrocities of the war. One night in 1945, Miller and a colleague found their way into a less than impressive building in Munich. It was not until they had properly inspected the flat that they realised it was Hitler’s. The first thing Miller did was to take a bath in Hitler’s bathroom, a scene which has been immortalised by photographer Dave Scherman. The image is surreal, almost ridiculous: Lee Miller enjoying a wash in an enormous bathtub, with her muddy ‘combat boots parked on the bathmat’ [6], and in the corner a picture of Hitler watching her with a stern expression, his hands placed powerfully on his sides.

The visual idleness of post-war Europe left many photographers, including Miller, disillusioned. Boredom and depression took over rather swiftly. By the late 1940s, after taking a few trips to Eastern Europe, Miller decided to abandon photography. She struggled with PTSD, but did not seek help for it. Instead, ‘it was food that saved her life’ [7]. Until her death in 1977, Miller took up the art of cooking in a most successful way, and enjoyed inventing and perfecting recipes in her unique and creative manner.

Lee Miller had this unique ability to achieve success and perfection in everything she tried, from modelling to gourmet cooking. Her style of photography did not lose aesthetic quality, whether she took pictures of dead soldiers, or surrealist shapes and images. In every one of her shots, even simple family snapshots, one can detect a unique way of looking at objects or situations with beauty, emotion, and a sense of duty to document.             

Penrose, Antony (1985) The Lives of Lee Miller, London: Thames & Hudson, [1] p.22, [2] p.41, [3] p.104, [4] p.134, [5] p.135, [6] p.142, [7] p.196.



Photoshoot for Offscreen Magazine

Back in August I was commissioned to take photos of Dan Rubin for Offscreen Magazine, an independent publication about creatives working in digital industries.

The shoot took us all around London, starting off in a coffee shop in Shoreditch and finishing up in a Soho back street. Dan is a photographer as well, so most of the day was spent geeking out over cameras.

This latest issue, n. 12, is out now and you can get it from a stockist near you or buy it online.


'Hear Our Pleading' documentary

I recently completed a Masters in TV Journalism from City University in London. The final project was a 28' documentary which takes a look at the UK's contribution to the crisis of displaced Iraqi Christians. Compared to other countries, such as France, the UK's financial contribution seems lacking. We spoke to refugees who have settled in France, as well as academics in the UK. We were also able to Skype with the head of the Shlama Foundation in Erbil, Iraq. For the protection of those involved, the documentary is not publicly available. For a private link, please get in touch.

'Bringing Sexy Back' photoshoot (NSFW)

I was recently asked to take photos for Bringing Sexy Back, a collective of women from all walks of life who come together to overcome, in a fun way, fear of their bodies, their body hair and themselves. It was a very fun day and a great opportunity to venture out of my comfort zone.

For further information on the project, or if you'd like to participate, please contact founder Lara Bell (lara.bringingsexyback@gmail.com).

Art direction: Lara Bell / Make-up: Paula Delgado / Light technician: Anna Grenman

2012 Retrospective

My favourite photos from these past 12 months. A good exercise in editing for any photographer...

The London Food Project (2)

I was asked once again to shoot for the London Food Project. This usually involves taking photos of people cooking delicious food and then EATING said food, so I never turn down these jobs! This time the focus was on Japan. We spent time with Hana and Rina while they cooked Japanese delicacies. And, yes, it was all delicious!

The London Bike

In the quiet and unassuming north end of Pitfield Street, Hoxton, one can find a small but important jewel: The London Bike Kitchen. The premise of the shop is simple: come in with a broken bike and they’ll show you how to fix it. Jenni, LBK’s founder, was inspired to by bike kitchens found in her native California. She has to turn the odd person away who just wants to pay someone to fix their bike. Most people, however, are intrigued...they come in for a class or some workshop time and leave with a working bike and a head full of bicycle maintenance knowledge.

The local kids love it so much Jenni says she can’t keep up with their enthusiasm. The LBK runs a series of classes, such as Build Your Own Bike or Introduction to Bike Maintenance which mainly run on the weekends. There are also classes for young people which teach “critical thinking and analytical skills via the bicycle” and on Mondays they host WaG Night (Women and Gender-variant).