Here’s a night shot of the Hotel Utah on Brannan Street in San Francisco. I used Photoshop to alter the image so the sign painted on the building reads “Utata” rather than “Utah.”
I have no idea as to the meaning or origin of the word Utata. It’s the name of a Flickr group that features some excellent photography and some that is cliché and sappy – rather like most Flickr groups. For many of my photo friends, like the folk at Flickr DMU, Utata is the place where they urge people to go as an insult. Whatever.
After altering my Hotel Utah photo, I put it up for a vote at DMU, bearing the title “Hotel Utah.” There’s nothing special about the photo, so I didn’t expect it to do well. Nor did I expect big laughs from my Photoshop alterations. But I did expect that voters – who are required to write some sort of review in order to cast a vote – would comment on Hotel “Utata”, since they so often refer to Utata as a place you and your cheesy photos should, uh, “[go] off to.”
A prominent (brightened in Photoshop for added prominence) wire cable runs diagonally across the top of the picture. It would have been easy to remove. Most of the reviewers commented on the cable. Only a few mentioned the “Utata.” How could people critiquing a photo miss this detail? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with that shiny cable and the prominent turnbuckle on it.
It reminds me of a psychology experiment by Dan Simons and Christopher Chabris did to show how we often miss significant details when we’re concentrating on something else, the famous “Missing the 200-Pound Gorilla” study. In it and other variations that followed, you’re asked to count the number of passes of a basketball between a group of players in a circle. Meanwhile a guy in a gorilla suit walks through the circle and waves. If you’re counting the tosses, you tend to completely miss the gorilla.
Chabris’s discussion of the experiment plays some additional tricks on you to make the same point. In my aerospace days we often referred to the fact that when pilots have too much to do they omit things (task shedding); unfortunately, tasks are not shed on an inverse-priority basis but rather randomly. I’m not sure if the same thing is at work with Hotel Utata, but I’m reasonably sure you shouldn’t text photo critiques with an iPhone to your friends while driving an F-18.