A few days ago I tweeted a quote by Ansel Adams: "Not everybody trusts paintings, but people believe photographs." As soon as I tweeted -- a fellow photographer on Twitter responded with "interesting, since photos are not truth." And that is it exactly. A photograph proves nothing -- things can be manipulated, cloned, changed.
A day or so after my Twitter experience, I picked up a popular magazine and while waiting for my daughter to get out of a class. On page 147 of the December issue of Better Homes and Gardens was more proof of photos being altered to try to fool you. It is an Elizabeth Arden ad featuring a very youthful Catherine Zeta-Jones. So youthful -- I would not have known it was her unless her name was there in the ad. I laughed out loud to realize that they put her name there to make sure you knew it was her -- the photo is so altered! Funnier yet -- and again causing me to chuckle -- the tagline in the ad is "Seeing is Believing." I am seeing your ad -- but I am not believing a bit of it. The photo is so manipulated it looks like a mannequin's face -- more like digital art than a photograph.
There have been times in fashion magazines that I could find a model in two different ads in the issue. Once instance that comes to mind is Andie MacDowell in a couple ads for L'Oreal. Let's just say -- I think she is very pretty (as is Ms. Zeta-Jones) and really does not need any Photoshopping to look pretty. The ads I am remembering appeared in an issue of Vogue. One ad, for hair color, featured her beautiful hair (and a few crow's feet). The other ad for skin cream still had the hair looking so beautiful -- but the crow's feet were gone -- her whole face looked much more youthful -- and all in just a few turns of the pages!
Photoshopping and photo manipulation is nothing new. What people do with photoshop now has been done in darkrooms before to tweak photos. Beyond tweaking the photo to change the look and what you see -- photos have been set up since the beginning. Photographs by Matthew Brady, famed photographer of the Civil War, have been thought to be set up. Bodies moved to create better composition or to convey what the photographer wanted rather than just capture the scene as it was found. Brady was also not thought to be the photographer of many of the battlefield scenes since he had issues with dead bodies. His assistants took many photos for him -- but all photos were tagged as taken by Brady. I am not knocking Matthew Brady at all -- his work is an important part of history. But it should be looked at for what it is -- the view of someone else. Without actually being there -- you take get their vision -- so remember it is someone else's view. Setting up what is in the frame is one thing -- but also what you leave out of the frame is sometimes as important as what you choose to include.
Ralph Lauren recently was in a mess about Photoshopping a model to unreal thinness. Actually I think there are two photos out on the internet showing freakishly thin models in Ralph's duds. OK, I like Ralph Lauren clothing and shoes. And I am only pointing out about Ralph (and Elizabeth Arden) since these are two readily available examples to me. This Photoshopping goes on ALL the time in ads and especially with fashion. Does anyone believe that model is that thin? I guess we could get into the whole body image thing -- and it is wrong to promote waifishness -- and who really thinks those two photos are attractive? To see the gray ensemble and the plaid shirt with jeans ad -- simply Google "ralph lauren photoshop model."
Whether manipulating the scene to set up the photo, frame your viewpoint, or manipulating the photo after -- can you trust a photo as truth? I don't. I know what little bit I can do well with photo editing software and I know there are those out there better at it than I am. My focus is the photo -- I choose to create the best image I can with the camera. As I have said before, I would rather spend time with my camera than my computer.
Oh -- and the name of the product in the Arden ad -- "Visible Difference."