Monday, June 16, 2008

When seeing isn't always believing...

Above is another Victorian cabinet photo that I transformed with the help of Photoshop. While I'm doing these mostly for fun, I’m also hoping that they will illustrate how pervasive digital image manipulation has become a constant facet of our contemporary culture driven by an almost maniacal obsession with being youthful looking, thin, and attractive.

Many people are blissfully unaware that over 95% of all the photographs on magazine covers and in articles as well as both print, web and billboard advertisements have been digitally altered, sometimes dramatically. Those who are aware of it often choose to delegate the fact to some dusty corner of their mind and forget about it choosing to buy into the belief that those on the covers really are that flawless.

The problem is that these images create illusions that many people feel that they need to recreate in their own lives in order to achieve perfection. Anyone who knows their way around Photoshop and has a basic understanding of the layout of the human face can do the same thing to photos (as can be seen by my examples).

I first learned this “skill” in the late 90’s when I was working for a web design firm that specialized in web sites for radio stations. Most of the deejays, at least then, were known only by their wonderful voices and the public wasn’t quite sure what they looked like. My specialty was to shave off pound and years from the DJ’s photos before they were placed on the web site so as not to disappoint, or shock, the listening, often much more youthful, audience.

So, the next time you’re flipping through your favorite magazine, or you find yourself perusing the covers of the magazine rack while waiting in line at the grocery store or for your plane at the airport, ask yourself, does that celebrity really have such flawless skin? Can she or he really look like that now that they are between the ages of 35 and 70? Are they really that svelte and trim?

Once you open your eyes to the manipulation you’ll see it everywhere. And, if you happen to hear a young person exclaim how fantastic that person looks, you may want to unobtrusively inform them that they only look that way because the photo had been altered with a computer. That it isn’t reality.

There is nothing wrong with someone trying to make them self look and feel as attractive as they want, but it isn’t right if they are trying to recreate in reality a look that they are bombarded with everywhere that isn’t based in reality.

The underlying message seems to be that the cover models are more perfect living worry free, happy lives because they are beautiful and wealthy with perfect teeth, wrinkle free skin, fat free abs, thighs and arms. The message ultimately is that these people are better than you and that they will always be better than you unless you become one of them. People, especially young impressionable people, need to learn that it is image manipulation, and not based in reality.

Fortunately, there are more and more examples of the manipulation appearing on the web. Like this article on about a recent cover featuring Faith Hill. Or on this "photoshop" section of

When you get a chance, check them out, you may be very surprised.

Finally, there are some sites that post images of people, which as far as I can tell, haven’t yet been manipulated. One is Visit the site and put the name of someone that you may have seen recently on the cover of a magazine in the search engine and you may be surprised at how radically different they look than the image of them that you noticed on the cover.

By the way, this type of "remake" and manipulation isn't always just aimed at teens and adults. Read this article, especially you parenst out there, about the "remake" of children's favorites from the past -

I remember my sister had the "Strawberry Shortcake" dolls when she was young and she loved them. Look at the "new" Straberry Shortcake now. Perhaps she is ready for her own strawberry cellphone and hot pants.

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