Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Truth and fake truth

Another interesting fight has broken out over the widespread use of faked photos in women’s magazines. Is “faked” too strong a word? I don’t think so: They routinely take photos of women and Photoshop them beyond reality—to the extent that the result cannot be considered real or true.

The folks over at Jezebel have been crusading about this for quite awhile now, and sometimes they hit a raw nerve. When they published a post about the Photoshopping of Jennifer Aniston, complete with undoctored photos from the same photo shoot from which a cover shot was taken, they received a “cease and desist” order from the agency which bizarrely claimed, among other things, that the original, undoctored photo was, in fact, doctored.

To its credit, Jezebel is fighting the agency arguing that the small, cropped image they are using is “fair use” because it is central to a legitimate news story. They’re also, of course, documenting the fight online.

Jessica Coen, the author of the post and Editor-in-Chief, summed up why they’re fighting so hard on this issue. She wrote in the linked post:

“Lord knows that I'm not perfect, that there are days when I simply do not like what I see in the mirror. And there are reasons for that that are deeply personal and reasons that are rooted in a youth spent immersed in these images. On those bad days, it's not easy to give myself a reality check, but I know it's all wrong, that it doesn't have to be this way. And if we don't make a fuss, if we don't scream and shout and pull out our hair every time we find more proof that we are being cruelly had — that's just another day that nothing changes. That's just another day that some young woman is force-fed a lie.

And that, too, is bullshit.”
She’s absolutely right—and fighting an uphill battle. But if it’s wrong for journalists to alter reality by manipulating news photos, is it any less wrong to alter photos to present an impossibly idealised and unrealistic version of “beauty”? Does the fact the latter is selling a product or lifestyle make it any more acceptable or ethical than a photo meant to tell a real-life story? And if the re-touched “beauty” photos make people feel bad about themselves because they can never live up to that image, doesn’t that add a layer of immorality to the act, too?

This is a very touchy (re-touchy?) subject in the graphics industry. As professionals, our motivation is primarily to present beautiful images, but many of us draw an ethical line when it comes to altering reality (a couple years ago I even argued against re-touching personal photos). I believe there’s a difference between making a photo appear as good as possible, and altering it to change reality. I do the former, but try to avoid the latter. I wish more publishers had that same ethic.

I applaud Jezebel for fighting the good fight.

Top o’ the Hat to Twitter pal @paudecanela_nz for Re-Tweeting the link to the Jezebel post.


paudecanela_nz said...

So true. That Jezebel article was the first thing I read this morning and it took me back to my Media studies in University with my ultra-feminist professor. We studied how media portrays "beauty" to great lengths and it was during a time when Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty was really popular in Portugal, where I was studying.

As much as I try to look at it all in a rational and objective way, I still find it so insulting and degrading. There should be laws against this kind of thing because I feel that the effects it has no teenagers (both male and female) is highly under-estimated.

I'd be curious to know what Anniston thinks about having her non-photoshopped image on Jezebel. I personally think she looks way cuter in the "before" shot. Her facial expression is more realistic (because it's real...) and she looks more "human".

Cammie Novara said...

When I navigated to the outrageous hilarious Yes We Scam! B.S. We Can Believe In! Obama Approval Plummets blog I thought that AmeriNZ's commenters must be able to discuss this: http://hubpages.com/hub/Yes-We-Scam-BS-We-Can-Believe-In-Obama-Approval-Plummets