Sometimes clients (and friends) ask me to “clean up” their photos before using them in their websites (or photo albums…) The New York Times ran an article recently that questions the morality – and artistry – involved in this process. I think it’s an interesting question. In an age when we can print out our own cell phone parts at home, why shouldn’t I remove the dark circles from under my eyes before sending out my annual holiday card? Or charge someone else $50 for the same service?
I suppose the question to ask is, what is the purpose of such alterations? And what is the purpose of the images we create for display? If we want photos that most honestly represent our memories, why not erase a blemish or two? In my memories, everyone’s skin looks pretty good. If my photos are for selling a product, why should I not shave an inch or two of the model’s thighs? I’m already attempting to mislead the consumer with the words and slogans I use to describe my product. Now with products like Photoshop, I can mislead the eye as well as the ears.
Just as we must use our brains and place everything word that we read into its appropriate context, so we must read images. Ever since photography was invented, photographers have been crafting their shots via selective angles and lighting. Now there is a new element of post production alterations, but it’s no more amoral than those previously used by these professionals to create a product that pleases their customers and conveys the desires message to the audience. Anyone who has posed for a prom photo or crammed ten family members onto one couch for a reunion shot has created a fictionalized version of reality. Unless your family all tries to sit on a couch together while smiling like a bunch of assholes on a regular basis.
So use your brain. Read between the pixels. And remember that the alterations made with Photoshop are only skin-deep. The smiles in your photos can’t be added with a mouse click.