The camera never lies is what we’re told, but these days we know that’s not true. Most of us are aware that images in magazines like Vogue and Cosmo are digitally enhanced using software like photoshop - making the models and celebrities we’ve come to love (and sometimes hate) appear way more perfect than they actually are.
Madonna By Steve Klein
Cindy Crawford for Marie Claire Mexico
And it doesn’t just happen in the beauty world. Most, if not all the professional images you see online and in other media have been enhanced - The good ones anyway! People, Food, Buildings, Landscapes, have all been altered in some way to make them look more visually appealing before publication.
As a professional photographer I get asked every week ‘Can you make me look thinner?’ And of course, the answer is yes, I can. I can make you look younger too if that’s what you want - because taking off a few inches and removing some wrinkles and other blemishes is easy when you know how. But there are some people who feel it shouldn’t be done. That using Photoshop creates an unrealistic impression of what ‘beauty’ really is – and it puts pressure on people to live up to those expectations, potentially causing eating disorders and other problems.
But while Photoshop and digital enhancement may be a relatively new thing, altering images to make them more appealing certainly isn’t. The first photographic process to create a negative that could generate multiple copies was invented in 1841, and enhancement techniques soon followed. This enhancement was carried out by retouching the negative, with the first known example performed by Calvert Richard Jones in 1846. Retouching was a laborious process that involved scraping the negative with an etching knife, painting it or drawing on it, and sometimes pasting negatives together to get the desired result. Then, as now, the ethics of the process were often discussed.
1914 "A powerful collision," unidentified German artist. Postcard with an image of a German soldier crushing members of the Triple Entente, WWI. IMAGE: "FAKING IT: MANIPULATED PHOTOGRAPHY BEFORE PHOTOSHOP" AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
It’s Just History Repeating...
Long before photography, those who could afford to, had their portraits painted. These were often a deliberately flattering representation of the sitter, with stylised brush strokes and soft focus painting an idealised picture. It’s quite easy to see why. Firstly, without the hot running water, soaps, and beauty/skin care regimes we enjoy today it’s unlikely that even the wealthy and privileged would have particularly good complexions – and who wants their zits on show in a portrait? Secondly, for a portrait painter wanting to become well known in high society, it made sense to keep your client happy by portraying them better than they looked in the flesh. The unveiling of a flattering portrait in the right circles could well lead to a waiting list of rich and motivated clients. And of course, the same is true with the photographers of today.
Right? Or Wrong?
You can see not much has changed over the years in the world of pictures. And with human nature and our natural vanity the way it is, it’s not likely to either. In fact it’s becoming even more mainstream, with today’s smart phones allowing you to edit and enhance your selfies and other images. I believe and I hope that digital enhancement is here to stay, but I’d love to hear your views on the subject.
So, how do you feel about Photoshop? Is it right or wrong? Perhaps if it’s well known that magazine images are ‘fake’ it’s ok? Maybe it’s ok for advertising images, but not for beauty images? Let me know what you think by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my facebook page www.facebook.com/denisebradyphotography