Chasing Attribution: Following the Debunkers of “Panorama Taken While Rolling Down a Hill”

Attribution in the age of the internet is a fickle thing, and it's fascinating to stumble across an unattributed photograph online and try to trace it back to its original source.

If your photo renders on a website, it's copyable, and while photographers naturally like to control how their images are copied, remixed, used, (re)presented and even sold, the social-media & copy/paste culture can do a number on your original image.

On the front lines of the fight for correct attribution is Paulo Ordoveza, the man behind the "PicPedant" twitter account, who consistently fights for proper attribution and against faked, photoshopped images presented as the real thing. He calls himself a "punctilious internet killjoy at the forefront of the New Debunkonomy" which just about sums it up.

PicPedant is metaphorically running up the hill of Erik Kessels' "24 hours of Photos" installation; for each debunked or correctly attributed photo, thousands are sliding beneath his feet.

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Erik Kessels' installation at FOAM
I've enjoyed watching PicPedant fight-the-fight for the last year or so, and today, came across an extraordinary photograph (of dubious origins) that was being widely shared. I figured I'd take my own stab at debunking (and uncovering) the real source.

On Monday, Tim Brannigan, a writer from Ireland, tweeted a photo:

I saw the photo over on stellar.io a "fave-aggregator" kind of place, and the caption caught my eye - surely it was in jest, but many of Brannigan's followers were reposting the photo with the same caption, and while it's a great photo, I've never seen a mobile panorama taken with such clarity and seamlessness.

Randy Scott Slavin's digital composite - not Panorama Taken While Rolling Down a Hill
Spoiler: click to reveal original source!
In a follow-up, Brannigan declared it wasn't his photo, but didn't provide any further info to its source.

From here, I clicked-through Brannigan's tweet to reveal the location of the embedded jpg. I copied its location: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CF39ejdWMAM_EgE.jpg:large and pasted-it into (reverse) Google Image search. If you mouse-over the camera at the right of the Google Images search box, you have the option for Google to search for pictures on the internet that resemble a picture from your hard drive, or pictures on the internet that resemble each other.

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The search yielded lots of links talking about "a panorama made while rolling down a hill" and "rabbit holes" and such. There was a link to a reddit discussion of the photo, and buried in the thread was a comment from seymour47 that said: "Shouldn't the note about the title be changed from 'Misleading title' to stolen from someone's website with no credit given?"

seymour47 linked to the original source, "an award-winning director and surrealist photographer based in New York City" named Randy Scott Slavin who has an entire project of these circular views called "Alternate Perspectives".

Thanks, seymour47, picpedant (who was hot on this exact same case yesterday), Oscar Bartos (who alerted Brannigan to the original source 12 hrs ago), and big thanks to Randy Scott Slavin for his stirring digital composite!

(All of this came to mind in large part thanks to Rob Fee's brilliant look last week at joke stealing on twitter, and the latest Richard Prince Instagram kerfuffle...)
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One Response to “Chasing Attribution: Following the Debunkers of “Panorama Taken While Rolling Down a Hill””

  1. Tim Says:

    For what it’s worth, you claim I didn’t provide any information. As it happens, I gave the source as I understood it, on three occasions, posting links to the original photographer’s site. I also RT’d other people’s tweets claiming a cylinder was used etc. Your blog suggests otherwise. You were only partially correct. Perhaps you can amend your blog? If you wish.

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