Understanding the Photo-manipulation Beast

by rkett

     We often take for granted how many images we see per day. From Facebook to twitter even walking down the street we see images everywhere, be it of your friends or an advertisement. What we do not realize, or what we do not choose to question is how real these images are. With the development of the digital camera, we have been enabled to take our photos onto our personal computers and alter them at will. With this being said, i’d like to present some ideas surrounding the digitization of photos, but solely focused on the manipulation of these photos. I’ve tried to blend my own opinion with recent events and other opinions to showcase what photo manipulation actually is while posting some questions that might help you to understand how our society has been impacted by what seems to be trivial changes to bits of data.

How easy is it to acquire Photo-manipulation software ? 

     Photoshop is quite an expensive program, $699 USD for the newest version Photoshop CS6.At this price it seems reasonable to think that not many people have access to this program during their everyday lives. This is where we end up being wrong. Although this specific program seems to be slightly less than extortionately priced, alternatives do exist that are considerably cheaper or the best price of all, free.

     The general population has access to many forms of Photoshop, or photo-manipulation software. There is a very popular photo-manipulation program known as gimp. This program is free and is essentially a Photoshop clone, providing close to all of the same features as the original. If you are dubious about downloading a program there are also 2 popular online alternatives, these are: pixlr and an Adobe run site Photoshop Express. There are also mobile versions of Photoshop and/or Photoshop type software. For $9.99 you can purchase Photoshop Touch or their free version Photoshop Express.

     I had found an interesting statistic about Apple and their product the iPhone. It turns out that Apple has sold around 37 million iphones. I mention this to prove that among these iPhone owners some must own mobile versions of photo-manipulation software. With all of this being said about where one can get photo-manipulation software, and understanding how abundant it is we can start to see the implications this has for our society.

The Bad

     Photo-manipulation software has the potential to negatively affect our daily lives. And there are countless examples, some controversial, some not so much. One can go from slightly augmenting an image so as to slightly sway an individual, to changing an image so that its appearance says something completely different. This large scale change can alter the individuals perception of what is really being shown in comparison to the static unedited image.

     I feel that the involvement of Photo-Manipulation in social media has evolved from “Hey, that’s a  neat effect!” to “We need to make this perfect.” A small but interesting article points out that digitization killed fashion photography. In this it is stated by an accomplished photographer that most of his work has gone from being a solo project to more of a group activity.

     There were 2 other articles I happened to stumble upon in my search to understand the topic of photo-manipulation. The first of these articles points out a rather silly situation that an Egyptian newspaper had managed to get itself into. This newspaper had edited a picture of Barrack Obama  and Hosni Mubarak. They switched their positions within the picture of these leaders walking. This was done to present the idea that Hosni was actually leading the peace talks at that time. It was poorly edited as the angle of his feet do not match the position of every other political leader walking with him. The second article is recent, but of less global importance. In this article a group of LSU football fans had crosses that they painted on themselves removed from a picture of them. This picture was used to express the Universities views as being “non-religious”. Personally, I think the need to alter reality in this way to fit a narrative is nothing less than fraudulent.

I think it is ridiculous that some people/organizations need to edit such simple pictures in order to show their stance, view or supremacy.

The good

     Since I’ve enjoyed using Photoshop for about 7 years, I would have to say that artistically, photo manipulation is the best thing to happen to me. I would have to say that I cannot draw, at all. In fact it’s a stretch to suggest that I can draw at all.  A two year olds sketch would look like a Van Gogh in comparison to my best attempts. With that being said, this is where Photoshop and Photo manipulation has come in. I could take many already beautiful pictures and edit them to make it my own piece of art. It started as “Holy! I wonder if I could make EVERYTHING f**king glow!” to “I wonder what I could bring into this picture to alter the flow and give a particular message”. Without making this a history of my Photoshop practices I would like to mention a few more points. From personal experience, Photoshop makes workflow faster in terms of art or images that are accepted as already being altered. For example logo design, package design, desktop backgrounds  phone backgrounds, phone case design among an infinitude of other advertising and display designs. One of my favorite practices of photo manipulation is the creation of surreal landscapes and situations. A few really good examples of surreal design being used before Photoshop is found in this article and in this video . According to the article, photo manipulation and/or editing was encouraged in newspapers. At the time people would never know whether or not a photo was changed. In fact, relation to “the bad” section above, wartime images used to be edited in order to show a biased towards whichever side.  The example given is the exaggeration of prisoners (German) at the battle of Stalingrad. This is far worse than changing the position of a  few political leaders.

First example of my work demonstrating the artistic side of photo manipulation. Disclaimer: I Do not own the font used or the image used.

Second example of my work demonstrating the artistic side of photo manipulation. Disclaimer: I do not own the font used or the image used.

The Manipulated

     I would like to conclude by giving my complete take on all of the information presented. In my opinion, we are moving too fast to even debate technology like photo manipulation. In my daily life I see pictures uploaded by the minute to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. From what I have put, we got to see the effect that photo manipulation has had on the industry that has spawned it, be it good or bad. I gave my experience with this software and how it has affected my life and how it can be used as a good enhancement of the Arts. What I have not shown is the effect that this manipulation has had on our self perception and our memory. Although popular topics, I felt it was worth it to see the direction I have headed in comparing both sides of photo manipulation and its display in current and past media. Perhaps we have become wiser in determining fakes from real. I believe that we are heading into a time of misinformation and complete forgery based on the usage of Photoshop and other photo altering software. Whether or not we choose to accept this fate is up to you to decide.