My six thousand word dissertation/research project which was awarded a first during the third year of my Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design at Cambridge School of Art.
The essay is based on the subject of photo manipulation and whether or not it is changing our concepts of beauty.
All images copyright to their respective owners.
For figures please see embedded Issuu link at the bottom.
Chapter 1 Introduction
“I am far from saying that a photograph must be an actual, literal and absolute fact...but it must represent truth.” - Henry Peach Robinson
In this research project I aim to look into the manipulation of photos from the time periods before and after the invention and widespread implementation of Adobe Photoshop (the most prominent tool for photo manipulation). I will also be looking to see if there have been any changes in how we view beauty in the human body, the natural landscape, the food we eat and the art we admire.
So, what is photo manipulation? The term itself covers a spectrum of techniques that have changed over time, but the two techniques people are most familiar with are “retouching” and “airbrushing”. The two could be used interchangeably although the latter actually refers to the older method of using a physical airbrush on photographs. The Cambridge Dictionary (2013) defines the two as “to make small changes to a picture, photograph, etc., especially in order to improve it,” and “to represent something as being different from how it really is.” It’s interesting that the former includes in it’s definition; “especially in order to improve it”, but this definition is engrained in all of us, we expect that airbrushing is essential to improving every image we see.
Images of the world, and the objects and people contained in it, have been a key source of beauty for as long as there have been images to see, we instinctively capture or create what we think is beautiful, be it aesthetically to the eye or provokingly to the mind. The rise of photo manipulation is at the very least changing this source of beautiful images we see all around us, but are these changes for the better or for the worse?
There is no doubt that photo manipulation is currently a big part of photography, art and advertising today, sometimes it will only be used to “correct” light levels, however images can be, and often are, “corrected” so that the resulting image is completely unrecognisable from the original. Manipulating photos is such a common practice today that we think of it as being implicitly connected to current technology, and we often fondly think of the pre-Photoshop era as a time when photographs were irrefutable replicas of the scenes that they captured. However, it seems that the temperament for manipulation to achieve “perfect beauty” predates that of Photoshop, as I discovered that photographers and artists as early as 1846 found plenty of ways to manipulate their images to get the effects that they desired. Nevertheless, photo manipulation’s origins are in fact strangely rooted in a more innocent desire to create a more realistic and therefore more beautiful image. In photography’s early days artists such as Carleton E. Watkins (Fig. 1 & 2)
and Gustave Le Gray struggled with the limitations of early cameras and their restricted exposures, meaning that in most cases, landscapes would be well exposed but skies would be over-exposed and washed out. They often used photo manipulation as a tool to combine multiple exposures, one of the landscape properly exposed and one of the sky properly exposed, to give a more “realistic” image. It could be argued that the majority of photo manipulation today sets out to be more realistic too; in our minds beautiful women don’t have wrinkles and beautiful sunsets aren’t tainted with litter. However the question is, with easy access to extensive resources when it comes to photo manipulation, are we abusing this tool and therefore subverting the whole point of it in the first place?
Chapter 2 Landscapes
When many people think of landscape photography, most will think of National Geographic, as it has been the epicentre of some of the finest landscape photography since it’s first publication in 1888. Naturally, therefore, we think of it as an infallible source of un-doctored photography, however this has not always been the case. In February 1982, Chief Editor, Wilbur E. Garrett of National Geographic, made the decision to go ahead with an altered photo of the Giza pyramids (Fig. 3) on the cover of that month’s issue, he did so, so that the horizontal picture would fit into the cover’s vertical dimensions and make an arguably more pleasing and more beautiful image for a magazine cover. But when critics and the public found out they believed that this was a “symbol of photography’s waning credibility” (Fineman, 2013, p.38). The reaction that these people had is understandable on some level; for nearly 100 years National Geographic had been the unerring standard for which many aspiring photographers had aimed for, but now National Geographic’s reputation was permanently tainted. Garrett defended himself by stating that the photo could have been “as if the photographer had walked a few feet to the left before taking the picture” (Fineman, 2013, p.28). As manipulation goes the edit was not dramatic, but the effect of the manipulation was taken as more of a cultural symbol of the industry’s changing attitudes and ethics towards photo manipulation, and therefore had a much more wide-reaching effect. At this time in history it is interesting to see that there was quite a public outcry about this, whereas an image edited like that today would probably not make headlines and even so it would barely register in our minds as being unethical. Gradually over time we have become desensitised to photo manipulation and have accepted it as the norm; our standards for more perfected beauty are increasing.
Now National Geographic have a strict set of rules in place for photos used on and inside their covers, as photographer Harry Fisch found out after he won the ‘Places’ category award in a competition in January 2013, with this image ‘Preparing the Prayers at the Ganges’ (Fig. 6). After being told he had won the category and to send in his original photo (Fig. 7), Fisch was promptly told that his image had broken the rules. Fisch had “cloned out” a plastic bag, replacing it with an area of ground with no bag. Fisch argued that:
“A crop, perfectly allowed by the rules, would have done away with the object without further alterations, the bag would have melted with a slight burning-darkening, that it was unnecessary to remove anything digitally (the rule that bans deleting or adding tries to safeguard the spirit or nature of the photograph. Here the nature nor spirit of the original photo was not altered) and, most of all, that the minimal, slight modification did not alter the picture.” (Fisch, 2013)
Here are the rules that National Geographic have in place:
“Only minor burning, dodging and/or colour correction is acceptable, as is cropping. High dynamic range images (HDR) and stitched panoramas are NOT acceptable. Any changes to the original Photograph not itemized here are unacceptable and will render the Photograph ineligible for a prize.” (National Geographic, 2013)
Fisch was told by the Editor Monica Corcoran that he was therefore disqualified from the contest. These rules and the subsequent results for Fisch may seem harsh, but National Geographic is often a target for fake imagery, in their February 2010 issue they published a photo (Fig. 8) by Photographer William Lascelles. Afterwards several readers wrote in to National Geographic claiming that the photo was a fake, the magazine published an apology, but was criticised for not being more pro-active in checking the authenticity of it’s entries and being too trusting of the word of the photographer. In their apology National Geographic state; “So go on out into the world and capture what you see. It’ll be better than anything you can make up and paste together on a computer screen. We hope you’ll keep sending us your shots. We want to see what is real.” An inspiring message for National Geographic fans and photographers, it’s good to see that the magazine is encouraging it’s readers to submit photos with as little editing as possible and showcasing that this is where the most beauty lies, whether this will stop the amount of fake photos being submitted to National Geographic though, only time will tell.
Chapter 3 People
Since images of people (although more commonly women) have appeared in the mainstream media to advertise anything, their faces and bodies have been manipulated to achieve an idealistic and ultimately unrealistic picture of beauty. This is the area where photo manipulation has it’s most worrying effect. Jean Kilbourne states in her film “Killing Us Softly 3”:
“The ideal is based on absolute flawlessness. She never has any lines, or wrinkles, she certainly has no scars or blemishes, indeed she has no pores...If anything this ideal has become far more impossibly perfect in recent years through the magic of computer retouching.” (Kilbourne, 2000)
Many who work in advertisement such as Christine Leiritz, chief Editor of Marie Claire defend their use of photo manipulation by saying that: “Our readers are not idiots, especially when they see those celebrities who are 50 and look 23. Of course they’re all retouched.” (Fortini, 2010)
Fortini also writes:
“The age-old game of glamour creation, from Renaissance portraiture to Playboy centerfolds, has always been one of frank enhancement. Retouched pictures simply claim the traditional prerogatives of illustrations: to exaggerate, accentuate, and improve upon their subjects — basically, to lie”. (Fortini, 2010)
In an interview with ‘PBSoffbook’ Laurent Le Moing of Picturehouse NYC also says:
“I do believe this is a major impact on the definition of beauty, but the trend changes and beauty keeps changing over time. There’s a saying: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, which I believe is true. I think we can separate between the commercial beauty and the artistic beauty.” (PBSoffbook, 2013)
To some extent I can see where Leiritz, Firtini and Moing are coming from; magazine photos are aimed to be pictorial illustrations rather than realistic depictions of people. It is true that the image of beauty has been aimed at fictional ideals rather than realistic depiction for a very long time but this is not something that is made very clear to the public and we see, in the film “Wet Dreams and False Images” by Jesse Epstein, that there are adults who believe that these images are realistic representations of women in society. One of the barbers in the documentary even says of one of his magazine poster girls; “I know that is not airbrushed” (Epstein, 2004), the image is later taken to a professional retoucher who says that, actually, “this has all been worked out”. The barber and his peers are shocked, which goes to show that there are a lot of people who are still unaware of the extent of retouching. There was also a recent study conducted by ‘New Look’ that found out that: “Fifteen percent of 18 to 24-year-olds surveyed, were convinced that the images of models and celebrities in advertisements, magazines and billboards accurately depict what these women look like in real life.” (Vagianos, 2013) Even people in the industry of photo manipulation realise that what they are doing is affecting how people are perceiving beauty, in the film “Wet Dreams and False Images”, professional retoucher Domenic Demasi states:
“This has caused a problem, this is an issue in the world. It’s not like I can sit here and say; ‘Well, you know, well, then if everybody who’s affected by this, they’re...they’re just weak and they’re bound to have social and mental problems.’ That’s not the case. I’m aware that this is something that is at ground level where young people are seeing this and they’re growing up with these being their icons and their images.” (Epstein, 2004)
Campaigners against photo manipulation believe that children are the most at risk from these “false images”, and are unaware of the extent to which people’s appearances are altered digitally and believe therefore that the images should be labelled obviously, so that it is quickly apparent that the images have been digitally altered in some way, the writer of the ‘Disclaimer for airbrushed models’ petition on ‘Global Democracy’ states that magazines with airbrushed models should carry: “A ‘mandatory disclaimer’ to state that a model has had her physical body manipulated on a computer [it] is a very simple step in the right direction to addressing the harm that we’re causing.” (Global Democracy, 2011) The petition has 1571 votes for, to 20 against. Some companies are straight out banning manipulated images, in June 2013 ‘Debenhams’ released a statement stating it’s new direction to use un-altered photos, this was accompanied by an image showing how they would usually alter a models appearance. A spokesperson for Debenhams also stated that other retailers should feel a “moral obligation” (Harding, 2013) to follow suit.
As an experiment, in the June 29th issue of the Daily Mail, journalist Liz Hodgkinson, 73, decided to see what she would look like as a magazine model, she went to ‘Image 1st’, an “upmarket London photo studio specialising in air-brushing” (Hodgkins, 2013). The results were interesting, Hodgkinson said that she felt worse about herself after seeing her air-brushed alter-ego: “I felt utterly deflated. If only I could look like that in real life! I feel that my confidence has taken a real dent. The retouched images have made me more dissatisfied with my imperfect self.” She also warns: “So if you’re considering airbrushing your own snaps, beware. You may never look at yourself the same way again.” Unfortunately though, it is becoming increasingly easy for anyone to access ways of editing personal images. In the Daily Mail’s June 10th issue Linda Kelsey talks about the worrying trend of ‘everyday photoshopping’ “I have a friend who asked Snappy Snaps to smooth her cellulite on her holiday photos, and a bride who went down a dress size in her wedding pictures and even changed the colour of her lipstick because she decided it clashed with her bouquet.” (Kelsey, 2013) This trend is becoming even more widespread by the growth of personal retouching apps like ‘Facetune’ who provide an app for smartphones like the iPhone for almost anyone to use. Facetune takes an interesting stance on it’s ethics and claims that it’s app is empowering to the people: “Every photo could use a touch up. That’s why magazines photoshop everyone to make them look their best. Until today, the rest of the world had to settle for less - but no longer.” (Lightricks Ltd., 2013) I feel like this is a step backwards in regards to more realistic views of beauty; there are groups of people trying to reduce the amount of retouching in mainstream media, but apps like this will reduce the impact of mainstream editing even more, as we will all have access to these technologies, how will mainstream companies agree to lessen their use of retouching if we are all using it ourselves? I understand that there is definitely a market for this kind of technology, people want quick and easy ways to “improve” their photos like they see in magazines, I must admit that I have succumbed to doing so to some of my photos once or twice. The part that I wholly disagree with however is, as Facetune refers to it: “Reshaping Facial Structure”, or the trend in magazines/billboards where necks are extended or eyes are made bigger. To me, removing spots and improving the contrast/lightning is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, on another day of the week those spots won’t be there and lighting improvements help enhance a photo in a natural way that could be achieved by lighting. However reshaping someone’s face or body is completely unnecessary; if you change the structure of your face or body you are changing your basic properties as a person. I think this is where photo manipulation crosses the line with modern day photographs, they aren’t improving people’s looks anymore, they are changing them into completely different, entirely unattainable human beings which is ultimately ruining our idea of beauty.
Having your photo taken professionally and then retouched might seem like a very modern sentiment but in fact it was common practice in the 19th Century and was almost as extreme then as it is now (Fig. 9 & 10). The equipment was a lot different from today though; the only tools they really worked with were paintbrushes, but like today the retouchers would remove wrinkles and blemishes, brighten eyes and refine the shape of the face. Interestingly, the photographers and artists who retouched photos in the 1800’s were far less apologetic then they are today: “[It] should be the aim of the artist-photographer to produce in the likeness the best possible character and finest expression of which that particular face or figure could ever have been capable,” and “Do not on any account forget to touch ladies’ waists in a specially hearty manner, if you want to keep on good terms with them.” (Fineman, 2013, p.38) Here the blame for any unsightliness seems to be on that of the photographer for not flattering the model enough in the finishing stages of the photograph, whereas today the emphasis on imperfection is much more on that of the subject, why is this? Perhaps it is because these days we are bombarded with a lot more manipulated imagery of the human body and face which is therefore changing our fundamental ideas of beauty rather than just being a one-off, personal photograph.
Chapter 4 Food
Before the introduction of Photoshop, if someone said that photographs of food would be edited to make them look “better”, people wouldn’t have just been amazed that such a thing would eventually be possible, they would have most likely have laughed at the absurdity of it. But today, not only are images of people and the surrounding environment around us being distorted, the food that we eat is being changed as well. Food Stylists like Maureen Murray use several tricks of the trade to make food photograph better:
“You can’t use a normal roast chicken because from the second that it’s out of the oven it starts to go wrinkly, so what you do instead is plump up an uncooked chicken by injecting it with boiling water. Then you either use wood varnish or a mixture of honey, Fairy Liquid and gravy browning and you paint the bird to achieve the roasted colour you want.” (Shanahan, 2006)
Throughout the years food photographers have created an extensive list of tricks that makes the food they are photographing look more appetising, because the food doesn’t need to be eaten afterwards these often include bizarre and often inedible items. Dish soap gives milk and soup a fresher look by adding bubbles, bread can be coated with polish to stop it drying out, ice-cream can be replaced with mashed potato or cake mix to stop it melting under hot studio lights, strawberries can be touched up with lipstick to make them look riper, eye-liner can be used to create fake grill marks, white glue can be used instead of milk to stop cereal becoming soggy, dulling spray can be used to make a glass or bottle look cold, fabric protection spray can be used to coat pancakes so that syrup doesn’t soak into them and nail polish can be used on pale prawns to give them better colour (Faulkner, Z. n.d., Forrester, S. n.d., Kissling, K. 2013, McCollum, S. n.d., & Shanahan, A. 2006). Not all food stylists and photographers use these tricks, but those who do say that these tricks are essential to getting the best photographs from the food in a short amount of time: “Food is basically like cut flowers, it’s amazing how fast it dries up and shrinks.” (McCollum, S. n.d.) So not only is our food being edited in post-production but the photographers are mixing the food with all sorts of substances that we would never use ourselves and are completely changing the appearance of the food item. This sounds discouraging but in an interview with Maureen Murray, Food Stylist of 10 years, the Guardian writes:
“Along with this shift towards a more natural style of photography, greater policing by the Food Standards Agency has also led to the industry adopting a more honest approach. ‘There used to be a lot of cheating with the photographs for packaged foods,’ says Murray. ‘But nowadays you have to be absolutely spot on, so stylists have to work with what you get in the package’.” (Shanahan, A. 2006)
McDonalds Canada were asked by a customer why their food looks different in their advertising to how it looks in their stores, in response Hope Bagozzi, the Director of Marketing, shows us in a video the process that their burgers go through to be in their advertising. She enforces that the ingredients are exactly the same, however it is very apparent that the burger she purchases from McDonalds receives far less care than the one created for their advert, Bagozzi states: “While that burger (the one purchased from the store) was produced in about a minute or so, the process we go through on an average shoot takes several hours” (McDonalds Canada, 2012) . The burger is arranged extremely carefully with condiments being syringed in precisely. As an outsider the whole process is almost laughable, with the burger being treated like an expensive model, and even after the careful arranging and syringing the photo of the burger is then taken to a retoucher for further work.
The difference between how fast food advertises it’s food and what you actually get is significantly highlighted in a series of photographs by Dario DiNatale his photos juxtapose the advertised photo of the fast food item and the version that he purchases himself from his nearest chain. On his motivation for this project he states that:
“People around the world know fast food as one of the most reliable distributors of disappointment ever produced by the business world. The places themselves usually plaster their walls with pictures of juicy burgers – often hanging right over your table – so that you need only open your eyes to find something to compare your food with. Rules: I only care about size. I don’t care if my lettuce isn’t arranged like the crown on Caesar’s head.” (DiNatale, 2010)
Here DiNatale reflects a sentiment that most people share about fast food, we don’t care if our burger is messy, it’s the fact that most are not even half the size of those advertised that bothers us. DiNatale also tried asking for burgers exactly as they are advertised (Fig. 11):
“This is what I got when I asked them specifically for burgers as big as the ads. A fast food place can’t flatly turn down a request for a burger as big as the ads. They can’t say, ‘I’m sorry, we aren’t able to make burgers that big.’… so, I wanted to see if my two nearest locations would even try. For both orders, I (very politely) asked if my Whopper could be made exactly as big as the ones right behind the cashier, on the menu. Both times, the cashiers turned and took strangely long, careful looks, as if nobody had ever requested that before.” (DiNatale, 2010)
The food industry seems to be exclusive in the consumer market with it’s attitude towards photo manipulation; you don’t find adverts for the latest phone looking any better than the one you receive on the day you purchase it, or a pair of jeans advertised with bigger pockets than the ones you end up buying, but for some reason we seem to accept that this is okay when it’s applied to food. If this happened with any other part of consumer life, many would likely claim misrepresentation according to the Sales of Goods Act: “the buyer shall be entitled...if the goods are, or are to be, sold by description, that the goods will correspond with the description.” (Legislation, 2013) So why do they get away with it? It seems that the most likely explanation is that, given enough time and care the food would eventually look as it is advertised, however DiNatale posits that: “This setup is bothersome because, if you think about it, it’s literally like letting companies put a picture of Cheerios on a box of Corn Flakes, because, on occasion, you get a Corn Flake shaped like a Cheerio.” (DiNatale, 2010)
Although the food industry has been manipulating images of food for a while now, it is good to see that there are governing bodies who are taking action to reduce this kind of photo-trickery, which is challenging food-stylists and photographers to continue creating beautiful images of food but to do so in a more natural way.
Chapter 5 Art
The biggest argument against the idea that photo manipulation is ruining our idea of beauty is how early photographic retouching, and programmes such as Adobe Photoshop have changed art. From early surreal photography-artists, such as Wanda Wulz and Herbert Bayer, to more current photographers such as Erik Johansson and Giuseppe Colarusso, photo manipulation has been used as a tool to realise a conceptual image within the mind of the artist. The idea of surrealism came from photographers in the early 20th Century experimenting with the limitations of the camera and the idea of capturing images that could not be seen, for example how we think, and what we feel. These kind of surreal images could not be captured with pure photography and were therefore dependent on the process of photo manipulation after the photo was taken. An example of this surreal photography work is Bayer’s ‘Self Portrait’ (Fig. 12) which shows the impossible scenario of Bayer’s reflection pulling a section of his arm out. This image was really a product of the movement as it represented the new separation between what was photographed and what was produced. ‘Self Portrait’ was achieved by painting delicately onto the photograph with powder and a brush, a similar process to that of the early portrait retouchers. Another method used was that of super-imposing; a process where two images are combined into one. This process is seen most clearly in Wanda Wulz’s ‘Io + gatto’ (Cat + I) (Fig. 13) where she has combined a photograph of herself and one of her cat, the finial image representing the looseness of identity in the mind, which Wulz would have been found impossible to realise had it not been for these photo manipulation methods.
Images like these have influenced photographers and artists for centuries and are still doing so today. We can easily see surrealist influences in the work of photographers today, such as Erik Johansson, a photographer and retouch artist from Sweden. Johansson describes his process as using “photography as a way of collecting material to realize the ideas in my mind”. Johansson uses Adobe Photoshop to create his surreal landscapes of fabric roads (Fig. 14) and giant games of noughts and crosses, these kinds of manipulations would have been entirely impossible without the photo manipulation techniques available today. In a TED talk Johansson discusses about how his ‘photography’ is more “about capturing an idea, about capturing a moment,” he also states that he likes to create his own scenery: “I think it’s easier to actually create a place than to find a place because then you don’t need to compromise with the ideas in your head.” (TED, 2012) This principle of capturing ideas and creating without compromising with the constrictions of “pure” photography, are values that Johansson clearly shares with surrealists, but unlike them Johansson has access to more advanced technology which allows him to realise his ideas even further.
Giuseppe Colarusso, also known as ‘Mister Solo’, is a photographer and retouch artist from Italy. Colarusso’s series ‘Improbability’ is a great example of how artists are using photo manipulation today to realise their ideas and in turn create beautiful art. Colarusso describes the series ‘Improbability’ as photographic realisations of situations that are “unlikely but not impossible”. An example of this would be his piece ‘gc0177’ (Fig. 15) which depicts cutlery made of rope, this is not an impossible feat, but would obviously make the cutlery almost entirely useless. Colarusso says “my aim with these images is always to try and make people smile but think about what they are seeing at the same time” (Starr, 2013). Colarusso’s photos show how current day artists are still striving to create surreal images that make the viewer question which parts of the photo are real or not. ‘It’s Nice That’ writes of Colarusso’s work: “He makes rope-handled cutlery, rectangular rolling pins, one eyed sunglasses or a sink with no plug-hole look so clean, so beautiful, so convincingly real that they just should work” (Beber, 2013). This effect of realism is undoubtedly due to Colarusso’s use of photo manipulation. If he had painted or drawn these objects the photographic realism that is essential to this project would have been entirely lost.
In recent years photo manipulation has matured into an art form in itself. wWhereas the subject of photo manipulation has mostly been associated with that of magazine and billboard deception, now more people than ever have been using tools like Adobe Photoshop to create works of art, that like Jeff Huang says of his work; “10-15 years ago I definitely wouldn’t be able to create images like I do today” (PBSoffbook, 2013). I think that this re-acquisition of photo manipulation for for art inside the mind is really re-aligning current day photo-manipulation with it’s roots in surrealist artwork.
Chapter 6 The Future
Looking at current trends it is encouraging to see that natural images which are not manipulated are becoming more popular, this direction seems to stem from a higher commercial awareness; more people are aware of photo manipulation now than ever, as it has become more accessible and predominant in consumer culture. Magazines such as ‘Verily’ have set the standard for un-doctored photography, co-founder Kara Eschbach says “Magazines have such a powerful ability to really hold up what is beautiful, desirable, successful and what it means to be modern women, [so] we don’t use photoshop to alter the face or body structure of our models” (Eschbach, 2011). When asked about her opinion on Photoshop by Allyson Byers of ‘Lean In’, Janet Sahm (co-founder of Verily) says: “There’s nothing wrong with celebrating that kind of beauty or artistic expression, but we don’t ever change the face or body shape, and I think that oversteps the line.” (Byers, 2013)
There is also a growing trend for less-conventional models like the collection of over 30’s male models photographed by Hedi Slimane in ‘Super-Models’ for ‘Dior Homme’ in September 2009. Harper’s Bazaar also included an article on it’s website where popular models from the 1990’s such as Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer are photographed in their maturity, minus makeup and photoshop.
Plus size models and amputees are also making a debut in advertisements like those from Debenhams and magazines like ‘SLiNK’. SLiNK’s Rivkie Baum states in her ‘Letter from the Editor’ on the opening page of the first issue: “While the average size in the UK is 16/18 it seems that magazines are intent on showing trends on figures that quite frankly are frighteningly unobtainable” (Eschbach, 2011). These unobtainable figures are the ones constantly perpetuated by magazine photo manipulation.
Celebrities themselves are also insisting that there is no retouching done to their photos; for a photo shoot in February 2009 with ‘W’ magazine, Brad Pitt requested that photographer Chuck Close be the one to take the photos, as Close is known for his highly-detailed portraits that are never retouched. Close says that: “Maybe a photograph of him with his crow’s-feet and furrowed brow is good for him. It humanizes him. It makes him less of a cinema god and more of a person.” (West, 2009) I think Close’s comment really highlights why this trend of anti-photoshop towards models and celebrities is so popular; we want to see these perceived gods as people, just like us, we want to know that they are humans with human flaws rather than these plastic androids that photo manipulation turns them into.
Looking at the future of photo manipulation in regards to art, Photoshop has become much more widely available with the release of Photoshop Touch for tablets and Photoshop Express for smart phones. Photoshop CC is also available as a digital download, making it easy to access for PC and Macs users alike. The internet also has copious resources, from social media to video websites like that of YouTube, for learning how to use the software.
One of the exciting parts of the future of photo manipulation is the art and technology that is being created, which is inspired from Photoshop and other photo manipulation softwares, like that of ‘3-Sweep’. ‘3-Sweep’ is a photo manipulation technology created by Tao Chen, Zhe Zhu, Ariel Shamir, Shin-Min Hu and Daniel Cohen-Or, which is currently in development. Using the mouse a user draws a shape and extrudes it along the relevant curve, 3-Sweep then transforms this 2D object, like a photo of a chess piece in a photograph, into a 3D model that can be moved around on three planes. This software has huge potential in 3D modelling, making it easier for beginners to understand and learn how to create 3D objects. The development teams behind Photoshop are also constantly adding new and innovative tools to each version of Photoshop, like the higher-quality camera shake and sharpen filters found in their 2013 release that can restore sharpness to photos like never before.
Photo manipulation software is now also used to assist those in a number of careers not typically associated with artistic or creative software. An example of this is Forensic Technicians, who use Photoshop to isolate fingerprints and “enhance crime scene images for law enforcement investigators” (Photoshop, 2013), or Medical Professionals such as Neurosurgeon Dr. Joel Winer: “By combining, clarifying, or drawing attention to portions of images with Photoshop Extended...I can get better consultations from other specialists and help patients understand the rectifying actions and possible complications of their conditions” (Photoshop, 2013).
Photoshop has also influenced music artists like ‘Tanlines’, whose music video is based on the Photoshop workspace; each instrument is a an icon in a a toolbar, the background can be hidden and vice vera, each performer can also be moved and resized. Ryder Ripps, 1/3rd of OkFocus, the team behind the video says: “The basis for that video was; let’s make an alpha channel video site that lets people move them around...and then Jules said: ‘Well this should look like a Photoshop interface’” (The Creators Project, 2013). The culture of “Photoshopping” is so ingrained in our online culture that OkFocus knew this would make their website recognisable and easy to navigate. Photoshop is so well-known that people have even made songs about it. Internet comedy, singer-songwriter and film-making duo Rhett and Link wrote the song ‘Photoshop Your Life’, which whilst the title could be taken as a serious reflection on photo manipulation’s over-frequent use, the lyrics in fact highlight the more humorous aspects of photo manipulation’s use in society, like the common and often hilarious misuse of Photoshop by most people using it: “Say you went to the Alps, in a luxury car, with a Swedish model” (Rhett & Link, 2011).
Don Caldwell, founder of ‘Know Your Meme’, a popular dictionary of sorts for internet ‘memes’, also argues that:
“Photoshop has evolved along with remix culture..it’s become the dominate way to be able to illustrate their sense of humour...what their ethics are, and images are much easier to spread than a blog post...I’d say Photoshop has been empowering for people, it gives them the ability to humble celebrities...or politicians, previously people didn’t have such a way to get their voice heard in these regards. So these tools are really helping users to interact with the media.” (PBSoffbook, 2013)
As our social society is something that is continually developing it seems that photo manipulation will continue to evolve as a tool for communicating as our creative culture develops.
Chapter 7 Conclusion
In conclusion, the answer as to whether photo manipulation is ruining our idea of beauty is a complicated one as it has infiltrated so many parts of creative expression. As we have seen, National Geographic makes the point that the more realism that is captured in a photograph (be it that of a landscape or a portrait) the more beauty is captured too. I think that gradually, more and more photographers are learning that there is a lot more accomplishment and satisfaction in capturing the real world and that their audience is compelled towards images of the real world as we find it easier to engage with.
I believe that photo manipulation has not, as I initially thought, been used as a tool to ruin our idea of beauty in regards to the human body, but I do strongly believe that it is being used to ruin our idea of self-worth by taking advantage of our idea of perfect beauty. However as we have seen, as a society we are gradually embracing the fact that we don’t need to be perfect to be beautiful, and the media is starting to reflect this too. I believe that the empowering ability that photo manipulation gives everyday people to communicate their political ideas, ethical beliefs and creative freedoms balances out this manipulation of self-worth by the media, this is not to belittle this effect on society but the effects of it are decreasing, and I hope the empowerment of photo manipulation will eventually entirely outweigh the mainstream medias use of it as they realise the potential for realistic beauty.
The use of photo manipulation has meant that food stylists and food photographers could be relatively relaxed with their approach towards photographing food, however the new rules and increased commercial awareness of consumers, has meant that food-stylists and photographers alike are now experimenting with brand new ways to photograph food in a more natural style, which is pushing them to constantly improve their craft. Photo manipulation is also pushing and enabling more artists than ever to create art that they otherwise would not have been able to. Not only is this technology being used as a tool to help people realise their art, which as we have seen would be impossible without this technology, but it is also undoubtedly influencing what is depicted in the art today and I think this is extremely likely to continue in the future as this technology develops even further.
We can see that the trends for realism, in regards to beauty created by photo manipulation, have been fluctuating since the invention of cameras, initially there was an emphasis on the real created by photo manipulation because of early camera restrictions. Then there was a period where photo manipulation was embraced as the technology behind it advanced, people used to it to their benefit and exhibited as much of this new technology as possible. Now that the use of photo manipulation with art and photography has become more individually defined as the genres have expanded, we can see that the use of it with photography is decreasing and is increasing for the creation of art. I think this defines a key moment for photo manipulation as an artistic form, it is maturing and becoming more understood, which is inviting more people to be part of the community.
In my research I have addressed my own misconceptions; I have realised that photo manipulation is not as modern a concept as I had originally thought it was, as it has been at the heart of photography since it’s origins. Another is that it is intertwined with more topics and careers than I had ever imagined, I was aware of it’s uses in art and design, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that industries like Medicine and Law Enforcement are making the most of this technology too. The biggest discovery I feel I have made is that whilst photo manipulation has the power to change the advertising imagery we see all around us, it’s recent availability and the plethora of learning material accessible, is not only undeniably educating and empowering everyday people to see the falsity of the images the industry creates of people’s bodies, but it is also showing them the artistic beauty possible with the unlimited creative options that photo manipulation makes available.
Full essay including acknowledgement, bibliography and illustrations: