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Tuesday, 10 March 2009


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If I remember correctly, it was Huxley who said that "they don't sell lanolin, they sell hope". It's no wonder the hope spirals out of control...

Well, this explains why all my self-portraits are so bloody ugly—I lack mad Photoshop skillz.

You mean, that little picture of you on your welcome page...

Oh, no, Mike...

Yes, actually I'm bald as a melon.


This has been happening since the advent of paint and canvas. So what else is new?

Grog to cave painter: "Ooo, ooo. Animal not look like that."

I think it is absurd to legislate morality, or how a photograph should look. The better question is 'what is reality.' What's next - ban Ektachrome? The colors are exaggerated.

I find it amusing for the French government to try to legislate this. Read about the French government and the funeral industry.

I hope you all know about http://photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com/

Exactly what standard is being proposed here? How can anyone enforce any law that requires identification of "degree of alteration" without a sensible way to measure such a thing? And what about, oh, car ads and most "hero product shot" clips in TV commercials, which are almost all completely Cg animation these days?

Putting up obstacles is pointless. Raise awareness instead. I'd much rather see more of Ken Harris describing his technique than listening to Jesse Epstein whining about it.

"Ban websites"? "Censor media"? (her words!) Yeah right.

I wouldn't dump your Adobe stock shares just yet.

Haven't wordsmiths been *PhotoShoping* their stuff for years?

They selectively edit the facts and then they rearrange said facts for that brilliant re-direct!

But that's *different* and ok I guess?

Pretty amazing. There's real talent in making images as clean as we typically see in magazines.

Makes me wonder how people's self images were impacted by the paintings and sculptures of the "great" artists?

Positive? Negative? Who gets to set the rules? Who decides?

Honestly, do you think that commercial photographers working fifty years ago would not have used and abused digital technology if it had been available? The perceived corruption of images for commercial purposes transcends digital technology.

Most photos you see on the web have been manipulated using digital technology. Absolutely true. For heavens sake, they were produced digitally in the first place and manipulated before they even reached the eyes of the photographer. They are displayed on your screen from digital information. For all intents and purposes they are completely digital from the time of capture forward.

I'm not sure exactly what the issue is with digital images from a purist standpoint. Maybe it's that they are digital at all?

Well even if they credit the PS artist for me the problem is the aesthetic canon, which has become a cultural issue.

Millions of years ago it used to be a survival issue, but since we have paintings of idealized characters those are forming the image of what should be on a subconcious level (and not so subconscious). Now the canon is a big fantasay fuelled by magazines, tv, films... and even if they credit the retoucher kids will still believe in that fantasy.



This is the classic: "Evolution", a film by Dove for The Dove Self-Esteem Fund:


Fascinating story. I was introduced to the site 1x.com recently. Many of the pictures look great to me, but most of them look heavily post processed to the point that the key attributes of the shot are dependent on the post processing craft work that is done. The PP becomes the subject. The PP is the art. I don't necessarily take issue with this approach, but it isn't the kind of photography I want to pursue myself. I guess I believe that the best photographs are true to the original subject. When I use PP I do it only to try to make the photograph look the way the scene/subject looked through my own eyes. Footnoting the PP work to me would help differentiate the good photographs from a completely different kind of art-- which is really just graphical design when you get right down to it. I'm not trashing this form of art, I just think it should be disclosed.

Legislation is not the answer. Rather, make your kids media savvy by teaching them media criticism. By the time they are teenagers they should be able to deconstruct advertisements (including altered images), identify bias in news, differentiate between fact and opinion, etc. Today's media is overwhelming and it's only going to worsen.

Kids need to be taught that the SUV ad that highlights people camping in the wilderness isn't actually targeting people who camp. If more people learned media criticism, altered images wouldn't be such an issue. Additionally, fewer people would have taken out second mortgages to buy commercial grade appliances for their kitchens and our economy would be better off for it.

re: Huxley -
The old advertising adage is "you don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle." I wonder which came first....

re: Attribution -
Where does it end? Photographers get the credit because they, essentially, are 'responsible' for the final image, even if that entails directing a retoucher to perform certain digital feats. But, why not, then, credit the Art Director for originating the concept? And the makeup artist for starting the 'beautification' process? And the grip, for knowing where to put the beauty dish and how many layers of TuffSpun to diffuse it with? To me, when you credit the photographer, it's like crediting a motion picture director. Yes, there was a crew of hundreds responsible for various little bits or various large bits. But, one person (supposedly) is the overseer of it all, and should have his hand in guiding/directing the results.

In the end, how is Not crediting the retoucher any different than Not crediting the darkroom technician?

It isn't limited to still photography. I attended a demonstration by a company that de-ages actors for movies. The only clip they can claim credit for is the 20-year flashback in X-Men 2 where the two actors have 20 years shaved off them. It was done with old photos of the actors and re-creating their faces with 3D modeling. The face-models were then married to the actors' performance.

The company says that all their other work is covered by SEVERE non-disclosure agreements. And they said they work. A LOT. And if you think about it, hasn't Jodie Foster looked about 35 years old for the last decade or so?

Have you seen the Dial Soap campaign for real beauty? It is a great video on this for all of us to see the real model and what they have done to her for the picture.

More evidence that the documentary value of photography was obliterated several years ago by the rise of photoshop. Starting with fashion, photographs lost their intrinsic relationship to reality. Instead, it's a variety of the illustrators' art, limited only by the retoucher's taste and imagination.

But it's not limited to the fashion world. Every time I see a landscape shot with unbelievably rich colors, under dark lunar skies in broad daylight, I find it... unbelievable, and therefore uninteresting. Is that photo better because the creator's "saturation" slider went to 11, while mine only goes to 10? Some folks seem to think so.

It's getting to where the final refuge of unretouched photography is pornography, where the haste and haste and economy of production precludes much trickery with the images themselves.

In my bad dreams, I imagine being on scene with a camera when a real live flying saucer hovers overhead. I make photos to prove my historic sighting, but nobody cares. All photos are fake, right?

I seem to recall hearing that many 'Old Master' paintings were largely painted by journeyman artists employed just for that purpose. I don't recall seeing multiple names on any 'Old Master' paintings.

As a family doctor, I can personally attest to the social toxicity of intensely Photoshop'd images of übermodels currently infesting our mass media. Take a genetically outlandish 6' tall supermodel, have her undergo multiple surgical enhancements, then apply a huge dose of Photoshop skin polishing and body sculpting. The result is an absolutely freakish standard of 'beauty' that is poisonous to the psyches of young girls, and almost equally damaging to the judgment and expectations of young males.

The idea that 'full disclosure' will innoculate viewers against the corrosive effects of such manipulation is surely wishful thinking. Disclosure laws haven't been notably successful in reducing corruption in political donations, for example. Still, it would be a nice start if science fiction projects like the covers of most fashion magazines were compelled to reveal that the images were heavily altered.

I don't feel that strongly about the alleged causes of self-image problems, but I do feel strongly about fake things, and I'm proud to report that pictures on Domai.com are rarely retouched. When I do some retouching, it's only to remove particularly distracting zits or stuff like that.

I rarely even look in mainstream magazines, because all the models look like Barbie Girls, wrapped in plastic, made of plastic, brain of plastic.

Mike, you mention the idea of a video to show to middle and high school students...I am a middle school technology teacher and among other things I teach a 3 week unit on Photoshop. After viewing this video, I was already planning on including it in my lesson tomorrow. I would love either a permanent copy of this NYTimes video, or a video such as you suggested.
This video, which I think Brian is referring to above, by Dove, is one I already use with my classes. It hits on the same theme.

I'm surprised by the negative comments directed at the French for even trying to curb an ever growing social problem. Yeah, it may be impossible to control effectively but where are the comments supporting the idea? Remember, the video was about how people, especially young females, are affected by what they see in the magazines they read. You do remember Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa, right? I don't know how any government would go about controlling this but at least the issue has been raised and someone is looking at trying to do something.

And for those who think that crediting the retoucher would "solve" the problem, well, really? Do you really think that a tiny line of fine print saying IMAGE RETOUCHED BY JIM BLOGGS will have any impact whatsoever on how people view the image they are looking at? There is not one chance in a thousand that that would have any effect.

And lastly, I was very surprised by all the comments concerned about retouchers not receiving credit for their work. I thought this post was about the negative impact the advertising industry has on the physical and psychological health of (mainly young) people. Silly me.

Well, we have been down this road before. I seem to remember responding to this same topic awhile back here on TOP. But some valid points have been pointed out this time around too. And just to stir the pot a bit more I offer up Barbie for your consideration.


50 years of unachievable perfection that young girls have had to live up to.


One of the side issues is that lots of people, photographers included, take a high and mighty ground regarding ANY post processing.
A RAW image needs PP but does it need image manipulation?
BTW - there's your two acronyms to attach to photo's - PP and IM and maybe, just maybe, BS.
We're all going to have to take a hit on this one though. Once upon a time it eeked into the collective conscience that smoking didn't hurt you - great lie that it was. If, as it appears, people are being hurt by manipulated imagery perhaps it's time to really address it.

The advertising photo is a photo of the future you if you bought the product. This is the same for any product, insurance, cars, home loans or clothes.
And that future you is always unattainable.

In a U.S. court of law, photographs and videos have NEVER been admissible as evidence unless a person (who can be cross examined) could attest to the integrity of the photo/video. Even before Photoshop!

People should be taught to have this same skepticism of all photos and videos. That is the correct solution to the manipulation dilemma.

A photo or video has no intrinsic "veracity". People should be taught to view images provided without verifiable authorship as fiction.

Thank you David A. Goldfarb for that great site!

Being a libertarian at heart, I don't want any government telling anybody how to do anything. Being a realist, I keep coming back to the observation that the overall quality of human beings is lower today than at any time in the past several decades. That makes manipulation of reality easy to rationalize when the moral compass has no true North. Add the Almighty Dollar (Euro, whatever) into the equation and the cycle continues unabated.

Two more points on the "veracity of photos"...

I contend that I could get one of these guys:

to create a complete realistic but fabricated scene. I could then carefully photograph it with a nice grainy BW 35mm film and no one would ever be able to tell that it was not a photo of a real scene.

My contention is that people with this artistic skill existed in the past. It is quite possible that some of the photos we so dearly value were never real.

Last point...(Warning, I'm committing photographic blasphemy here!).

So how certain are you all that Dorothea Lange didn't pose "migrant mother" and her children to get a more poignant image?

How certain are you all that HCB didn't stage his images?

The people in the production pipeline for a photo are where the veracity is or isn't!

Be skeptical!

I'm in the process of reading the horrifying "The Forever War," a first-person, eyewitness account of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins. Sort of takes the edge off the crisis of young women becoming depressed about body image.



It's funny to me, because I really don't think the retouching needs to be done. I shoot for two weekly newspapers, and have on many occasions done model shoots for bridals issues, special issues, arts issues etc. and other than the regular pimple removal and such I never feel the need to do super modifications because the people are REAL people and most of the time I think they are quite beautiful as they are. In fact, I see so many incredibly gorgeous people in my town, both male and female, I cannot really imagine why these big magazine people feel the need to modify their talent when there should be someone else that could be just perfect as they are. I will be candid that I do admire some of the models in these images, but you know what... I would admire them in real life too I am sure.

Unfortunately, it's not just here. There's a different "truth" in advertising. In fact magazine advertising may not be the worst. I occasionally see a "real" people ad in magazines. But when was the last time you saw a fat person in a McDonalds ad?

Teaching kids is useful, but the seduction of beauty (sex) is so powerful, that society (and the law) can play a role.

Most societies already support restriction on images that can stimulate our passions to dangerous levels (movies ratings, age limits on pornography, rules on violence in children's TV).

Most societies also support labeling of dangerous substances (tobacco, alcohol).

So is the labeling of images a future possibility.

"This picture does not resemble any human living or dead"

People, people. If someone's daughter is being "damaged" by the images in a fashion magazine how will she ever learn to handle the real problems posed by society. Our economy, educational and health systems are failing, the climate is changing, and nuclear weapons are proliferating. I understand this is a photography site, but get a grip. Much ado about nothing, and yes, I raised a daughter, and yes, I post process every image I shoot.

Dear Misha,

"I think it is absurd to legislate morality..."

That's what most laws do. Laws against murder, theft, and fraud are laws about enforcing moral behavior. Even in their subtleties: in this society, as a general rule, you're allowed to kill for personal self-defense or if the government instructs you to, but not for personal gain. Those are moral statements, nothing else. And there have been times and cultures where that didn't apply; they're not even absolute morals.

I can think of some laws that don't have obvious moral components: parking regulations and speed limits, for example. But the Biggies? Fundamentally they're about morality.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Mike,

I think such laws can, in principle, be effective, but if the short video is to be believed this practice is ubiquitous. Which would make such a law pretty much useless. Just about every illustration would have a small disclaimer attached, and unless you want the text of the disclaimers to run longer than the articles (in which case no one would read them, anyway) that disclaimer wouldn't really tell you precisely what had been gone, it would just tell you something had been done. And, if everybody is doing it, all the time, then there's no differentiation that would reinforce good behavior. It's hard to hold someone up to public ridicule when the entire public is being ridiculous.

On the other hand, I see no point in giving credit to the photo retouchers. So far as I'm concerned, they're not doing anything that's worthy of acclaim; I see no reason to reward them with credit lines. They are known within the business; they get enough work that way.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Just my 2c worth but if you think todays generation of juveniles are naive enough to believe the images they see in magasines are real then I think its you that is being naive. (I mean when did anyone, male or female, believe that Playboy centrefolds were un-retouched, even from the very earliest days)
Second cent. Perhaps the French government only wanted to raise the profile of this problem. Get it out there and get it discussed. Sure worked here.

To me it's more like some "artists" want to see their signature. It's a craft and the make-up artist adds to the imagination just like the retoucher or the assistant setting up the lightformers. Better tell the art director to free some credit-space.

Btw, i wonder if the french will also ban ancient bold or botticelli medium venus. They are fictional ideals as well. Maybe historians will reference to this ideal as the catwalk venus.

I think I´ve discussed this stuff with friends for gazillions times.

Actually, it is our very last fault to encourage this kind of retouching. To be very honest, would you buy anything based on its most basic truth?

For instance, Leica has for years taken the photos of famous journalists -as Nikon and Pentax have done- to advertise their cameras. Are we about to sue Leica because it does imply that "if you buy our very expensive cameras you´ll get to those pictures right out of the box"?

You never realised that, usually, when somebody gets an expensive camera they imagine that their habilities are going to improve just because of the equipment? That normal comment of "wow, what a camera! That is a piece of equipment". Then, when showing the results, the OHs and AHs turn to be "mehh"s and "hmmmmmm"s.

The previous adds by Dove show a different approach to ads. Still, they are flawlessly produced [specially the old women ad]. Nevertheless, if any of you have ever been to an ad photoshoot, the most dramatic difference does not rely on the post process.

We do not walk the streets with fans, flashguns, gels, HDMI´s and so on. And those are the elements that most change the image of the model.

This is just one of the reasons I normally try my best not to post process my images. I mean it's cool if digital painting is what I was after, but I am after photography.

- Raist

Just as a comparison, take a look at The sexiest pinups of the 1950s and imagine what would be done to the photos today. Or to this Vargas's pinup (not safe for corporate workplace).

What I don't understand is why this continues to be an issue for debate.

The entire fashion-glamour-advertising-celebrity world is fake and promotes bad values. Everything associated with that world involves illusion and deception, all designed to make people buy things & spend their money on stuff they don't need. No one really wears those clothes, has that smile, is that tall / thin (even before image-doctoring), or enjoys that always-sunny St. Barts-to-St. Tropez on a yacht lifestyle.

So ... why pick on photoshopped images from that world in particular? Isn't it just a symptom of the overall disease?

Maybe I'm too cynical.

The Dove film is a real eye opener since it takes you through the entire process from pre-makeup to the final image. I am particularly distressed by the fact that these images are most often for commercial gain, a blatant example of lying to your target buyer.

I have no problem with photoshopped images as art, with the artist credited, but if commercial gain or "journalism" is the motive then this has become a case of misrepresenting your product or story and therefore should not be allowed. The advertising industry will always use technology to promote their client's product but when it reaches the point that altered images are causing real problems with self image in our most vulnerable group, adolescents, then perhaps we should (at the very least) demand disclosure of that image manipulation.

In the 2007 Sunny Bergman made a fascinating and shocking documentary on the relation between photoshopped body's and the self image called "Beperkt Houdbaar" (translated this would be something like 'limited keep-ability'). You can watch it in on http://www.beperkthoudbaar.info/docu/
Mostly dutch, yes. But take a look at the first 40 seconds, where Sunny is photoshopped herself, and the last part where she visits the USA to visit people who want to get photoshopped by visiting the plastic surgeon.

Having photographers & Photoshop artists talk to high school students is great. What might be even better is for an uber-photoshopper to take a photo of a student right there on the spot, and start working it.

Or maybe that would be too depressing ... being shown your cheeks are too fat, your waist too wide, your breasts too small....

Jeff Hartge asked:

"So how certain are you all that Dorothea Lange didn't pose 'migrant mother' and her children to get a more poignant image?"

Unlike digital, film leaves a trace -- the negatives -- which are almost impossible to manipulate without leaving traces, though "set-ups" are certainly possible.

When that question arises, you then have to ask whether you're dealing with a complete fraud (actors) or simple staging of people who were actually there. For that, you need the corpus of photography done by the photographer, and also personal accounts. This after-the-fact accounting is what took some of the shine off the photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima (it was actually the second raising of a flag.)

Lange said she shot five pictures of this woman and her children, although she probably actually shot six. These are embedded in a corpus of work in which Lange's travels can actually be followed across the countryside. In fact, there are a large number of photographs of the same subject matter (mothers and children) which I find as affecting as these -- some of which were taken by Lange, some by other FSA photographers -- but which never became famous.

After Lange took the shots, two were published in a San Francisco newspaper, which led to relief supplies being sent to this woman's camp. (The family was eating frozen vegetables from the farm fields, and birds killed by the children.) Interestingly, the paper did not select the famous shot for publication -- it only became iconic later.

Lange's account of the encounter reflects a straight-forward documentary technique. She saw the woman and her kids, approached them, talked to them, had the feeling that the woman cooperated with the photos because she thought the photos might somehow help them, and Lange made her shots. While she didn't actively pose them, she used a technique that would be familiar to any newspaper photographer working a feature...she hung around, and made a number of shots, looking for a certain quality. Nothing wrong with that.

One way we know that she didn't set up the "iconic" shot is that nobody can do that. If you could actually create an "iconic" shot people would do it all the time --- and they try to. But the process remains mysterious...There's a nice book called "A Vision Shared" that collects the work of several leading FSA photographers,from which I got most of this information.

By the way, the woman in the photograph was tracked down decades later in California where she confirmed Lange's account.


Geoff Wittig's post is undoubtedly one of the best I have ever read here.

"The result is an absolutely freakish standard of 'beauty' that is poisonous to the psyches of young girls, and almost equally damaging to the judgment and expectations of young males.... The idea that 'full disclosure' will innoculate viewers against the corrosive effects of such manipulation is surely wishful thinking."

Unlike those who would hide in the sand:
"If someone's daughter is being "damaged" by the images in a fashion magazine how will she ever learn to handle the real problems posed by society."

Dave, this is one of the "real problems posed by society." Without positive self-image no young person is going to get out there and fix all the other things that need fixing.

Dear Mike,

I work in an art museum and an analogy to antique prints comes to mind regarding Photoshop artists getting credit. Most artists several centuries ago painted a landscape, portrait or other subject and if the work was well received, may have had prints made of the painting to sell. Typically, under the image and engraved into the plate you will see a name indicating the creator of the image, one for the engraver and sometimes even one for the publisher of the print. Your thought about giving the person doing the photoshop portion of the work certainly has historical precedence.

It seems that having the photo-retoucher credited is just an excuse to have the images discredited/ labelled as "impure photography," or not photography at all. Even further, there seems to be a desire to carry old thinking into the new digital world. It almost seems like repressed secret hatred of digital photography.

The context in which photography is used renders it pretty obvious if a photograph is manipulated. If it's fashion or advertising, or any other marketing field, you can safely assume that the images are altered. If an image is in a newspaper illustrating a story you can safely assume it's not. Documentary photography is "straight" unless the photographer is a fraud. It doesn't seem that amateur photography matters one way or the other: either you like the picture or you don't. The context in which a photograph is used determines what type of photograph it is.

Crediting the photo-retoucher seems like a smokescreen hiding deeper motives. And it is interesting that no one has ever suggested or lobbied for, to my recollection, traditional printers being credited along with the photographer. It seems very fishy, along with being totally unnecessary.

You're very big on the "conspiracy against digital" stuff, aren't you?


Perhaps dangerously off-topic here, Ctein, but while indeed people have moral positions on murder, theft, and fraud, I would argue that our LAWS about them are or should be for the pragmatic reason that they damage individuals and society in sufficiently objective ways that rules against them are appropriate. Of course, that's what some people mean by "moral" or "ethical", too; whereas others use "moral" to mean against some rule in some old book.

I wasn't going to contribute to this post but then I saw this about Caravaggio, well I couldn't resist, there is nothing new under the sun they say. The line between painting and photography just shifted again and I don't think it will be still for long.


I honestly don't think so Mike. It's much more likely if there is a conspiracy it is against film. Digital has proven to be very lucrative.

I can actually see two levels of "manipulations" here. There is the skin smoothing, blemish removing stuff. Always happened, always will. Now Photoshop is being used to replace lighting, heavy make-up and soft focus effects. Seems OK.
The stuff I have more of a problem with is the manipulation of body shape & size. Seems many of the models are becoming little more than a frame for creating digital art.
Interestingly I've just seen a huge poster for perfume at the airport with a rather less re-touched photo than we often see. Model was Liz Hurley, and she looks great!

"Reasonably speaking, "laws" to control this sort of thing would never work, and they would so obviously never work I'm sort of surprised that anyone (um, anywhere...je ne veux pas dire pour offenser) would even bother to propose such a thing."

Don't be silly. If anybody believed such things, we would have laws about what drugs you can take, and how and with whom you can have sex, and dumb things of that sort...

Fabulous: thinking to give credit to the retoucher would also solve the problem of negative effects on self esteem is wishful. It is like "smoking kills" bla. I still smoke.

And since you were curious Mike: I am one who believes that only law can change such things. I on the other hand wonder how there can be anyone who believes that everything just regulates itself. How anyone can believe that you can just educate your children against the omnipresence of ads and marketing. Wake up, they are always one step further, have more resources, more money and more power. And not everyone is a Photoshop Pro who can eloquently educate his children on such topics.

Before I am banned from this site...
I have nothing against Dorothea Lange or HCB. I picked Dorothea because when I looked up "photojournalism" and selected the Wikipedia entry, "Migrant Mother" was one of the images displayed within the article. Further, HCB was prominently featured in the article. I could very easily have chosen any other photographers' work.

That being said...
John Camp, thanks! That demonstrates my point. That is the type of testimony that is necessary to establish the "veracity" of an image. Without such additional information, don't be surprised when you find an image to be a work of fiction.

"Dear Misha,"I think it is absurd to legislate morality..." That's what most laws do."

You're right, I did not write clearly. Deep down inside, I am a libertarian. I should say I am opposed to statutes regarding victimless crimes.

I don't know if this clears anything up, or makes it worse. In any case, I think what the French government is proposing is absurd.


One more thing: the Renaissance painters who used the camera obscura.

They portrayed reality as they saw it, all the time. There has never been reality exactly portrayed, without some form of interpretation.


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