The Art of Fark: Deconstructing PhotoShop Contests

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I'm a big fan of Fark PhotoShop contests. For the uninitiated, a couple of times each day, the editors of Fark post an image and challenge to modify it. So, for example, a recent one was 'Photoshop a caretaker dusting stag heads mounted in a room at Invercauld Castle'. Farkers get busy, and (more or less) 24 hours later, the images are posted. Users vote on their favourite, and that PhotoShopper wins, well, fleeting fame.

Generally, I think, the most creative and comedic images win. While PhotoShop skill may help, if doesn't seem to be an important factor. After following the contests for a while, I've noticed trends in the kinds of images people make, and how they make them. The following is my analysis of how people go about generating PhotoShops, and some thoughts on what commonly wins.

There are two aspects of a PhotoShopped image to examine: its subject matter and the technique. The subject matter refers to the type of material that the PhotoShopper has added to the images. Technique refers to how the image is modified for comic effect.

Subject Matter

Here are the popular categories of subject matter, with examples from several recent contests:

Cliché: Fark has a series of complex clichés-kittens, Trogdor the Burninator, Admiral Ackbar, and so on-which PhotoShoppers often depend on. The stories behind many of these clichés are unclear, but a few are explained here. Apparently these have, for the most part, arisen from previous PhotoShop contests.

Sexual/Genital: These are less frequent and more original than you'd think. Sodomy is a particularly popular topic.

Movies/Television: Movie and television references are extremely common and popular. Because the comedy depends upon the viewer recognizing the reference, PhotoShoppers will either use current releases or classic scenes/characters.

Political: Satire of political leaders is frequent. In fact, the Fark editors regularly chose international figures as targets for PhotoShopping.

Internet Memes: These are infrequent, but worth mentioning. These are short-term, viral trends that flood across the Internet on a regular basis. A good example is a reference to the Quebecois Star Wars kid.

Sport: Another infrequent category, but many PhotoShoppers refer to popular sports figures or stories.

Current Event: Refers to a current news item, such as the World Trade Center bombing.

Metafark: The most post-modern category, wherein PhotoShoppers refer to other recent contests or to the Fark pages themselves. Put another way, they're 'Fark about Fark.'

Nothing: Sometimes the best images do not require additional material, but merely depend on a manipulation of existing material. See technique below for more detail.

While those are some of the categories I've observed, they can't begin to describe all of the PhotoShop subject matter. Many of the funniest PhotoShops depend on simple ideas, using every day objects.


Here are some techniques I've observed:

Change in scale: The size of persons or objects in the image is changed.

Change in location: The subject of the photo remains, but the background is changed.

Change in amount: The number of persons or objects in the image is changed, usually for a Warholesque repetition.

Use Fragment: Only a tiny part of the image is used in another context.

Transfigurement: Nothing is added to the image, but it is re-arranged for comic effect.

Animation: The image is animated.

Usually a successful PhotoShop combines one or more of techniques and some subject matter. However, subject matter can be applied without one of these technique (for example, just pasting Darth Vader's head on George Bush's body) and technique can be applied without subject matter.

What Wins?

So, what gets the most votes? If you want to regularly win these things, what should you focus on? I looked at a bunch of contests, and the most popular categories are definitely Movies/Television and Sexual/Genital. Now, in truth, that only accounts for about half of the winners. The rest don't fall into any of my categories, and are generally restricted to technique or are particularly original or unusual.

In terms of technique, they're all commonly used, with Change in Scale being particularly popular. Consider this recent contest, where-in the winner depends on a movie reference and a change in scale. Second place is just a well-done original entry. Third place is all about effective animation. Fourth place uses a change in location, and fifth place combines a change in scale and location.

In short, the more creative you are, the likelier you are to win. Clichés, for the most part, will do well, put rarely actually win. People generally won't vote for the familiar. Quality of the PhotoShop has some impact, but a really creative lousy job will beat a well-crafted mundane image every time.

I welcome from Farkers and Fark fans. In particular, are there other categories I should consider? Other techniques? Is this all just bollocks?

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