the evils of photoshop? 11.22.2005, 12:04 PM
posted by lisa lynch
In a larger essay which bemoans the rise of image culture, Christine Rosen goes after Photoshop and its users in The New Atlantis, a right-leaning journal concerned with the intersection of technology and cultural values. According to Rosen, the software "democratizes the ability to commit fraud," corrupting its users by giving them easy access to the tools of reality manipulation. She writes:
Photoshop has introduced a new fecklessness into our relationship with the image. We tend to lose respect for things we can manipulate. And when we can so readily manipulate images--even images of presidents or loved ones--we contribute to the decline of respect for what the image represents...
Worrying about photographic fakery isn't new, of course -- as Rosen herself notes, Susan Sontag inveighed against manipulated images in her 1977 work On Photography, and Rosen takes her point that images have been manipulated prior to the age of digitization. Here, however, Rosen's concern with digital manipulation focuses less on the ability of people to deceive others with altered photos than on the ability of Photoshop to propel its users towards a general irreverence towards the real. This is an interesting inversion of the point that Bob Stein makes in a recent post; namely, that we have less respect for digitally manipulated images than ones which are "real."
Later in the essay, Rosen suggests that some Photoshop images can be seen as the equivalent of today's carnival sideshow:
"Photoshop contests" such as those found on the website Fark.com offer people the opportunity to create wacky and fantastic images that are then judged by others in cyberspace. This is an impulse that predates software and whose most enthusiastic American purveyor was, perhaps, P. T. Barnum. In the nineteenth century, Barnum barkered an infamous "mermaid woman" that was actually the moldering head of a monkey stitched onto the body of a fish. Photoshop allows us to employ pixels rather than taxidermy to achieve such fantasies, but the motivation for creating them is the same--they are a form of wish fulfillment and, at times, a vehicle for reinforcing our existing prejudices.
Looking at the Photoshop image above (which I pulled from the first Fark photoshop contest I came across), I can see the root of Rosen's indignation: there is something offensive about the photo's casual attitude toward an iconic image. But having seen similarly offensive editorial cartoons that riff on iconic phototographs, I'm not persuaded that Photoshop is the issue. It is true that without Photoshop this image would not have been made; indeed, as Rosen suggests, there is a Photoshop subculture on Fark that promotes the creation of absurd and often offensive images. But can we really make the argument that those who create these images become, in the process, less respectful of the reality they represent? I tend to resist such technological determinism: I would argue, against Rosen, that people manipulate images because they are already irreverent towards them -- or, alternately, because they are cynical about the ability of images to represent truth.
Felipe Aguilera on November 22, 2005 2:15 PM:
SANTIAGO.- Recientemente se realizó en la Universidad Diego Portales de Chile el Tercer Congreso Iberoamericano de Periodismo Digital (http://www.periodismodigital.udp.cl), en el que se discutieron diversos temas relacionados con la nueva forma de hacer y entender el periodismo, en un mundo donde predominan los sitios web, los blogs, el iPod y otras tecnologías al servicio de la información. Protagonistas de este encuentro fueron, más allá de los exponentes, los propios estudiantes de Periodismo, ávidos por conocer el qué, quién, cuándo y cómo de los rápidos cambios que vive el mundo gracias a la tecnología e Internet.
Es por eso que, en una iniciativa Unica, alumnos de la Universidad del Desarrollo de Chile http://udd2005.blogspot.com realizaron una completa cobertura al evento, subiendo notas, entrevistas, audio e incluso videos a un blog. http://www.arturocatalan.cl/congreso
Dentro del material destacado está las entrevistas a la española María José Cantalapiedra, periodista y docente, quien discutió en el congreso la evolución de la pirámide invertida y cómo ésta sigue siendo la mejor forma de redactar una noticia a pesar del nuevo periodismo y las nuevas tecnologías.
Sobre esto ultimo expuso el chileno Carlos Osorio, ingeniero del MIT, quien habló de la relación entre periodismo y medios tecnológicos.
El también español Gumercindo Lafuente, del diario El Mundo, se refirió a los desafíos de los medios online, mientras que el peruano Diego Peralta, del diario Peru.21 señaló que el periodismo digital al informar antes ha obligado al periódico ser más de análisis. Del diario peruano El Comercio, habló en forma especial para el blog de la cobertura del congreso de los alumnos de la Universidad del Desarrollo el periodista Juan Carlos Luján, quien se refirió al fenómeno blogs, que definió como de gran utilidad para los periodistas.
Otra de las cosas interesantes de este sitio web de los futuros periodistas, es que incluyeron archivos de audio y video, por lo que quienes lo visiten pueden enterarse de lo ocurrido a través de formatos multimedia. También se pueden bajar desde el blog algunas presentaciones.
Un abrazo desde lo más austral del mundo: Chile
sol gaitan on November 22, 2005 3:14 PM:
Entonces los futuros periodistas, y los actuales, se están dando cuenta de que el buen periodismo se enriquece con las nuevas tecnologías y de que hay gente, como The Institute for the Future of the Book que entre sus multiples intereses, busca darles a los blogs la validez y el rigor que se merecen. Bienvenido Felipe y ojalá sigas mandándonos las ideas, siempre refrescantes, del mundo hispano.
ben vershbow on November 22, 2005 3:52 PM:
People have been manipulating photographs since the earliest days of the medium. There's an exhibit right now at the Met gathering dubious photographic depictions of the occult from the late 19th century to the early 20th. Spectral apparitions, levitations, ectoplasms -- it ranges from spooky, to laughable, to just sort of gross. A lot of double exposure and other then-not-so-obvious tricks that any photo student today has toyed around with.
Haven't photographs always lied? Doesn't any image lie? In that it is a selection, a slice at the expense of everything surrounding it? But if you take Picasso's credo that art is the lie that tells the truth, you can perhaps understand and accept the power and use of images. A power that, like any power, is susceptible to abuse and misuse.
There's a remarkable book I've seen that shows before-and-after views of photographs that Stalin had doctored to remove individuals who had fallen out of favor with his regime. What you see is two versions of the same image on facing pages. In one the person is standing there, in the other he is gone (and we know it wasn't just from the photograph that he disappeared). For some there are several versions, and you watch how a crowded frame slowly is thinned out to a few remaining survivors. Because you are on the lookout, you perhaps detect a faint haziness in the the place where the people previously stood. If they'd had Photoshop it might have been more a seamless job.
More powerfully than most documents, this book shows not only Stalin's ruthlessness but his near-total control of perceptions, or at the very least, of the public record in the Soviet state. With the advent of digital photography and Photoshop you can at least say that that power is no longer concentrated in the hands of a dominant few. If we're all manufacturing own propaganda, well, that's sort of like life isn't it? During the Soviet period the two main newspapers were Izvestia, meaning "News" and Pravda, meaning "Truth." The joke went that: "There is no Pravda in Izvestia, and there is no Izvestia in Pravda" -- "There is no truth in News, and there is no news in Truth." People learned to put quotes around concepts like "news" and "truth," just as we must learn to put quotes around many of the images we see.
One last thought. In the final paragraph you say "there is something offensive about the photo's casual attitude toward an iconic image." It's interesting that you talk about a casual attitude toward the image and not toward the event (the napalming of Vietnam). The image certainly holds an important iconic place in our culture, so I can see how it - as an object - maybe should be accorded respect. I would be surprised if the Fark image was made by someone who was alive, or at least aware, during Vietnam. To me, their ability to re-deploy the image in this way suggests a remoteness from the event that comes not just from not having directly experienced it (or lived during it), but from having been exposed to so many iterations of the picture in the perpetuation of its status in the culture as an icon. So disrespect for the image points to a dislocation from the actual event that was already well in place before any manipulation occurred. Images deceive, or at least take us further from the truth rather than closer, whether they are manipulated or not. They are manipulated from the moment they are taken. Just taking them is a manipulation. It's like an original sin for the medium.
dave munger on November 22, 2005 4:47 PM:
I'm really not getting how Photoshop started this. Take a painting like Breugel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. If the myth of Icarus is a tragic story about the arrogance of man, then Breugel's work does the same thing to the Icarus myth that the photoshopped photo does to the Vietnam war -- a war that was, more than anything else, about the collective arrogance of a nation.
Is the problem with the photoshopping the fact that it begins by sampling someone else's work directly? I think that viewpoint is now quite outdated. And anyway, what would Breugel's painting be without the myth of Icarus?
Tyler O on November 23, 2005 6:13 PM:
I think this article is very true about photoshop, and how you can manipulate almost any picture you want. Even though you can use photoshop to do this, you can't put any blame on them. There main reason wasnt to make a software that could ruin historic art. They made this so that you could modify your own art. Even if people do manipulate famous art, it isnt like it is going to become famous. The original piece of art will still be the most famous of all the pieces. So I dont really think there is really any reason to say that photoshop is evil.
pedro meyer on November 24, 2005 12:16 AM:
I am always bewildered how much the culture surrounding the person ( context some would say) that view digital images, then proceed to make critical analysis derived from the prejudices emanated from such contexts.
The USA has this cultural double standard about lies, where as you are willing to go to the extent of impeaching your President, for having lied about something as trivial as getting a blow job, and yet with all the lies that Bush has visited upon the world, no similar impeachment has even become part of the public discourse. By me, a blow job is not the equivalent of blowing up an entire nation, such as Iraq, under the pretense of weapons of mass destruction. I hope I am not offending someone, but truth be told. I find the USA has this huge confusion when dealing with veracity, and is willing to accomodate the most enormous contradictions just to fit their belief system. There is not that huge an abysm, between the discussions about the nature of digital pictures and politics.
Let us be honest, all this nonsense about the truth in photography has all these debates going on in a similar vein.
I find it absolutely astounding to discuss the veracity of the digital when I assure that 98% of the people could not differentiate a digitaly altered image from one that is not. They might think it is altered when in fact that is not the case.
In the past we would be awe struck if in a film they included visual effects, today we are likewise awe struck if they do not.
It all reminds me to the discussions that were held in the photo clubs some 40 years ago, when the merits of the LEITZ lenses were presented as prima facie evidence that the image was better. I would already then argue, that what counted was the image itself, not the quality of the lens, and to prove my point I took 12 images and made a test with 30 photographers, who were told to choose which pictures had been made with a Leica lens and which not. Not a single photographer got more than 3 or 4 right, and if you toss coins you would probably get even better results. In other words. we tend to make huge assumptions about what it is that people actually see in photographic images.
When I made an exhibition back in the early nineties, with some of the fist digitally altered pictures, people would go around my show, trying to identify which were altered and which were not. to my satisfaction they never had a much better record than those earlier tests with the quality of lenses.
Does that mean that lenses were not better, than a Yashica lens sold at the time? Of course, not, it only meant that the term better was derived from bench marks in a laboratory condition, not in real life. If you had a slow shutter speed and your image was slightly out of focus due to hand vibration, even a very good lens would be less than sharp.
Today the quality of digitally altered images can be done so well, that you would not be able to tell if it was altered or not. So already there we have a problem, when some try to pontificate about the veracity of the image. Veracity of what? No image is anything other than an interpretation, it can't be anything other than that either.
So when there is this attempt to introduce moral values into the debate, about honesty, integrity, etc. etc. we are already going down the wrong path. By the shear fact that a picture is a picture there is nothing that can be "honest" about it. I am usually shown pictures in black and white when people make references to really "honest" images. As if the world from which they were derived were in black and white. Well, the last time I looked around, it wasn't. Black and White pictures are solely an interpretation, and as such they represent a point of view. A subjective interpretation. Now who is the judge for such work in order to say that this is honest and that is not honest?
OK, you will annotate, that the picture has been altered to introduce elements that were not there... and thus it is not honest. Then if this is so straightforward, how come a number of witnesses to what happened in an event, come up with such diverse stories as what usually happens in court cases.
I took a picture on film which was distorted by the usual deformation introduced by wide angle lenses, which by now almost everyone dismisses as distortion, and then corrected the distortion in the scanned image, on the computer. SO now, which one is the honest picture? that analog one done with the distortion, or the digital one altered by me later in the computer?
There were these planes flying overhead at great speed, and the image which I saw had the planes flying right over where I was standing, only it happened so fast that I could not catch the planes, however I did catch what I was looking at in the desert. A man taking an open air shower next to his trailer. I later stuck those planes into the image. Planes that were actually there but which I had missed by my slow reaction, mainly because these military jets, came so unexpected. Which was the truer image? the one with out the jets, that were actually there at the time of making the image, or the one that I recreated later on?
Someone comes and takes a picture using a flash on their camera, and then is willing to give me a lecture of the truthful nature of what they are doing, conveniently omitting that the light I am looking at in their picture was in fact not real, as in not being there at the time of taking the picture, other than through artificial means.
We can go down this road and it is littered with arguments about digital pictures and veracity, that are just not capable of being held up to scrutiny.
You want to read more about this, you can get a book that I just published which is available at Amazon.com. The name is THE REAL and THE TRUE,
As to the Sony video, I have my strong doubts that the video was done solely with analog procedures (other than editing). Some of the balls rise to such heights that I felt the bounce to be unrealistic. I also felt that the integrity of the mass of balls flowed a bit too even for it to be accomplished only in analog time. In the end aside of these suspicions derived from the debate, I would have never given it too much thought if the balls are real or digitally made, or a hybrid which I am pretty sure was the case. It would never have made me feel different in one way or another about the merits of the video. I felt the video to be cute, good humor, good fun, and all these values would remain the same if the video was accomplished with or with out digitally altered balls.
For me the artisanship ( hand craft) that someone was alluding to, was not with regard to the balls, but with regard to the ideas behind the balls. For many to value intellectual and creative ideas instead of physical goods, is something new, they can not bridge the world of THINGS so readily, and enter into the world of intellectual production.
Younger generations are of course not so tied up with these hang ups about the digital vs. the analog. They just assume that it can be anything their fantasy is able to cope with.
Strangley enough, in the rest of the world we approach the issue of representation in very different ways to the USA. Most of the world could see right through the lies of Bush, and thus never went for all the ANALOG propaganda about the weapons of mass destruction.
Camille Anderson on November 26, 2005 3:05 PM:
In art work there will always be someone who will try to manipulate it and do his or her own thing to it, but you cannot blame the use of photoshop on that. Photoshop can be a very usefull tool when it comes to creating art. Things that are created on photoshop can be seen as a different kind of art, unlike a photograph or a painting. It can be very useful and with proper use can let people do amazing things. Some people may just need to learn the boundries in photoshop. When it is ok, or not ok to alter someone else's artwork. Some people may just need to learn to not believe everything they see.
Tim on November 27, 2005 5:42 PM:
"People have been manipulating photographs since the earliest days of the medium... Haven't photographs always lied? Doesn't any image lie? In that it is a selection, a slice at the expense of everything surrounding it?"
All photos are a lie. In addition to selectivity (on which your eyes are not perfect either), no machine has ever come near the dynamic auto-iso-sensitivity response of the eye. White-balance is invariably subjective - with digicams you have auto-WB which is a total fabrication, or fixed presets that can only ever react differently to your eye given the same scene. Film is also a fabrication: just because it's been around in a variety of forms for decades does not mean that any film is "realistic" (just compare Velvia 100 (non-)F, Provia, Astia and Superia).
Yes, art in particular is a lie. When the potential for accuracy is limited to the width and placement of a brush, and colour-selection comes from a palette, and in fact many painting artists deliberate painted scenes with manipulation built-in, that's never going to be ultimately realistic.
So maybe the solution is to stop calling it a `lie' with all the perjorative connotations thereof, and learn some analytical ability. The digital "revolution" has, like other "revolutions" before it, only caused people to spew more snaps without spending the time studying other people's work for the statements to be found in an image - why has someone cross-processed a particular image? Just because you would never see an image with sharp foreground and blurry background in the wild for yourself, this doesn't mean I shouldn't be asking what the photographer set out to achieve by doing so. As a budding amateur photographer, like millions out there, I actually need a course in artistic appreciation!
Matthew S. on November 27, 2005 5:53 PM:
Photoshop may play a small role in "reinforcing our previous prejudices," I dont feel that our faults being compasionate people can be blamed on a computer program. Simply, photoshop is an amazing program that can digitally enhance artwork. The growth in new technology does not contribute to how people think, but the society that one learns from. Should we blame gossip columnists for altering the truth about celebrities or Microsoft Word?
suzanne Davis on November 27, 2005 7:37 PM:
It is true that Photoshop enables us to change certain works of art that have a high place in our culture, but they are not to be blamed. The people who are manipulating these images should be blamed. Photoshop teaches us a new form of what I beleive is art. It takes a great deal of practice and patience to be able to create something beautiful in photoshop. So to the individuals who are changing and mocking photos taken by others, I would ask you to please create your own works of art.
Tony Ciccone on November 27, 2005 7:51 PM:
First of all photoshop isn't ment for wrong and if peopel are doing that, no onw cana stop them. Someone could easily alter a famous work of art using microsoft paint also, or print it and alter that work of art that way. Photoshop isnt the root of this "evil" and if people really want to alter a famous work of art they can do it different means also.
Sariha Ahmed on November 27, 2005 8:39 PM:
While it may be true that we can lose respect for things that have been manipulation, photoshop itself shouldn't be blamed for the manipulation of pictures. Many people use photoshop to digitally alter or enhance their own pictures. It is a very useful program, enabling its users to create interesting and beautiful works of art. So, the photoshop is not to be blamed for the digital manipulation of pictures.
Golden on November 27, 2005 9:41 PM:
I agree that sometimes photoshop can alter a beautiful artwork to the point of disrespecting it. I also beleive that a photoshopd item can be its own artwork. Who says that a paint brush or a pencil can be the only tool you can use? Like a lot of things there is a good way to use photoshop and a bad way. I am completley against any use of photoshop to alter a news report. Photoshop is really an amazing program but it like anything has flaws. You can not control art expanding into technology so you might as well take advantage of it.
Emily Pedersen on November 27, 2005 11:20 PM:
Although Photoshop allows people to change and re-create photographs, it's main purpose is not meant to destroy famous works of art or periods of time in our culture. Photoshop is helpful for those who wish to restore an old photograph to its original beauty, and is a harmless activity used to edit pictures. Photoshop is not "a vehicle for reinforcing our existing prejudices" because it is merely a new form of art that can be constructively used for years to come.
Alan G. on November 27, 2005 11:32 PM:
Good luck on this risible crusade of yours. Bash those Photoshop infidels! After all, digital manipulation of cultured images is immoral...
Bjammin M on November 28, 2005 12:19 AM:
You tell em Alan G! ...Opinions are great and all but photoshop is used to express creativity and and used as a hobbie. I think there is more of a problem with people spending too much time thinking about weird 'immoral' deeds. We all do something wrong in others eyes. Life goes on.
Lisa Lynch on November 28, 2005 3:36 PM:
Wanted to throw this into the mix -- a Nov 27 post from a visual culture weblog called The Big Picture
With all the rhetoric about pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq lately I have been haunted by media images from the conflict these past three years. Pictures of farewells, bombings, Jessica Lynch, beheaded and burned Americans, tortured Iraqis, legless marines, and the censoring of images showing the caskets of dead soliders all come to mind.
At the same time, a lesser know image has become most troublesome for me. This is an image that appeared on the cover of TIME shortly before the start of the war. The picture shows former Secretary of State Colin Powell arguing his case before the United Nation General Assembly in an attempt to persuade the world that Iraq did indeed possess weapons of mass destruction.
In the picture, Powell is holding a small vial containing a cloudy white liquid. This image was a decisive moment in persuading Americans that we should engage Iraq in war. I think many people may have forgotten this picture. No evidence of weapons of mass destruction has emerged from the conflict, so what was that cloudy white sustance in the test tube?
There is always this rising feeling of skepticism that comes along with any attempt to understand the role news imagery plays in the construction of our perception of reality.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines skepticism as "an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object."
My own skepticism concerning the veracity of news imagery in a digital age has less to do with any act of deception by a photographer and more to do with a sense of how the meaning of images is increasingly becoming co-opted by the power of public relations combined with increasing media consolidation and corporate downsizing.
It appears that so many of the images we consume through the news media are either highly managed photo-ops or they are made based on the preconceived expectations and obligations of media management.
It is not only the fear that the truthfulness of what we see becomes suspect through the ease of digital manipulation, but the irrepressible urge by photographers and editors to conform to an array of predictable visual scenarios in how news is defined for us.
There is no question that our sense of what is real - reality - is mediated for us by a relentless stream of imagery, but what has not be carefully scrutinized is pre-mediated forms of news.
How we define class, race, faith, gender, sexual orientation, politics, and economics is conveniently packaged for us into bytes and bits of pre-mediated visual schemata.
To paraphrase Walter Benjamin's classic essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" our perception of what is true and what is not true depends on the authenticity of our visual encounter with whatever it is we visually encounter.
Daniel Anderson on November 28, 2005 10:40 PM:
Just thought I'd add this observation I had when I first read this post last week. It is telling, I think, that on the same day a photoshop contest was taking place on Fark under the topic "If advertising were 100% honest." Over time, most of the images there will likely disappear, but ones like the hummer or the Wal-Mart manipulation clearly invoke satire that would stand with what Rosen sees as "the deeper truths that the written word alone can convey." Bah. I think Rosen has it backwards in thinking that we lose respect when we manipulate things. Instead, we manipulate the things we no longer respect.
But more to the point here is the fact that Farkers and other manipulators are exchanging ideas visually. The photoshop contests stand out because they are taking place in a discussion forum where we've grown so used to the give and take of alphabetic text. I guess at some level Rosen, and countless others, would acknowledge that the real fear is the new presence of image creation as a mode of communication, a communication in which creators filter, layer, crop, nudge, mask, clone, and perform any number of other sophisticated compositional moves. Couching the fear in terms of truth or respect--as most everyone here has pointed out--really just ignores the more radical transformation underlying the concern. The fear is the loss of the power of the word.
Daniel Anderson on November 28, 2005 11:16 PM:
I just have to follow up with a link to the comment I just made with the images included.
Steph Hager on November 29, 2005 1:22 PM:
I think Photoshop is an art, and like any other form of art it can be demeaning. There is no reason to criticize the whole idea of editing photos because a few people created pictures that offended someone. Nobody's losing respect, people are just expressing their creativity.