We Can’t Believe Our Eyes

Two great web pages, one educational and one merely instructional, show what miraculous things can be done to the human face with some Photoshop work and perhaps a little professionally applied makeup.

dove real beauty

The Ponderance blog shows the excellent Dove Real Beauty video (via YouTube), in which a rather unassuming woman is transformed into a billboard model: Ponderance: Real Beauty Vs Photoshop (or: An Important Video for Young People).

salma hayek before and after

The Photoshop Lab presents a quick tutorial on how to instantly add years to someone’s face, using Salma Hayek as an example: Aging People.

Digital manipulation of phototographs has gotten a lot of attention since the exposure of a faked picture of a Beruit bombing with enhanced smoke. Of course, photographers were altering pictures well before the digital revolution. But the ease of Photoshop and other such tools has made the process much more prevalent.

What should be considered out of bounds when it comes to altering photographic images? Are there some things that photojournalists can ethically change? And what about other types of photographers? Is it unethical for model photographers to “enhance” their representations of women? Is it ridiculous to assume that there is any such thing as objectivity when it comes to photography? Is it wrong of me to reduce wrinkles and whiten teeth before printing photos that I take of others?

These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. I’m genuinely curious to hear what people think. So, please, if you have any thoughts about this, leave a comment.

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6 Responses to We Can’t Believe Our Eyes

  1. Diane says:

    I will resist the temptation to put my husband’s photo through the rapid aging process. as i hope he will politely do the same for me.
    i will state the obvious: salma will NEVER look like that, because she will surely be pickled and pulled to always be the same lovely, ageless person she is today!
    but karl, how about posting a nice picture of yourself for us to all practice on?

  2. Debbi says:

    Karl, this was a really interesting entry! I think that in many cases, photographers enhance a model’s image as a form of advertising. If the model looks really good wearing a certain brand of clothes, make-up etc., the consumer will too. As wlith any advertising, a bit of embellishment is to be expected.
    As for you touching up photos, I think that as long as it doesn’t alter the person’s true identity, it is OK. A little teeth whitening is oK but removing a visible scar or birthmark almost changes who the person is. The best way of controlling wrinkles is to use Mary Kay Timewise products! (sorry, had to get my own advertising in there!)

  3. Dad says:

    If a photo of a person is to be used for artistic or commerial purposes, such as advertising, then I would say that anything goes, provided that the legally required release(s) are obtained from the subject and appropriate disclosure is made before the release is obtained. If full disclosure is not made to the subject, legal action could enSUE (you should pardon the yuk). If such photo is not of a person, then anything goes if nobody’s personal or commercial interests would be harmed by it.

    If you alter a photograph of a person (whiten teeth, remove wrinkles, etc.) who is paying you to take it, then whatever you do is at their direction and approval, unless that person
    provides prior direction to use your own judgement.

    In photojournalism, adding an element (such as smoke) to dramatize the scene is poor photojournalism, in my opinion, since it only covers up the fact that the photographer couldn’t “get the shot”. On the other hand, improving or clarifying the image to compensate for poor exposure conditions seems o.k. to me because this better serves the viewer of the photojournalism. That is much more easily done today, but not really different from what’s been done traditionally in the darkroom.

  4. Karl says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Dad. I totally agree with what you wrote about photojournalism. Still, the commercial/advertising portraiture troubles me a bit. I’m not so much worried about what kind of effect the photo manipulation would have on the subject, but more concerned about its effect on our culture, especially girls and young women who are bombarded with images of bodily “perfection” to the point where they feel they’re inadequate unless they meet some ridiculous, unreachable standard of beauty. I wonder if there is an ethical dimension to morphing faces and bodies in photographs to the point of anatomical impossibility.

  5. Dad says:

    I’m sure that women frequently feel inadequate due to the brainwashing effected by the fashion industry (clothes, makeup, etc. used on impossibly-endowed models), but what has happened to mirrors? These days, for example, we see girls and women with exposed midriffs, whose midriffs are anything but the slim, well-toned ones pictured in the magazines. One would think that a quick squint in the mirror would reveal the difference between the photo in the magazine and the image in the mirror, and that a look at their peers would show that most of them are similarly situated. Who’s fooling who?

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