Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Photoshop, Retouching, and Retouching Disclaimers

 Once upon a time, there was a cave man. His people wasn't as dumb as some people have in their heads that he was. I mean, hello, fire? The wheel? Language? The birth of Human Civilization? Could you have done all that stuff? One day he realizes something amazing. Using ashes, and berries, and sticks, and whatever he has around, he can create visual representations of things that have happened to his tribe!

So, he gets busy, creating visual records of what has happened to those he knows. Using the natural curvatures of the rock inside the caves, he creates breathtaking paintings of the hunts that he has participated in. It is the first 'written' language, the first way of recording their history and of giving others valuable information. The others are thrilled and our cave artist shows them how to do it, too.

But then something happens. Young cave artists start to... ever so slightly exaggerate the size of the last Wooly Mammoth they took down. I mean, cave chicks totally dig good hunters. And it's not like they were hurting anything, right?

But then, other young cave men start to feel inferior. They become depressed, have trouble attracting mates, and sometimes die tackling prey too big for them. The cave drawings have given them a distorted view of reality. Even when the saber tooth tigers painted are bigger than is ever possible in real life, they don't realize it because the distortion has happened so gradually.

For a time, the cave elders debate requiring a disclaimer on the paintings, saying “Cave paintings are an artistic creation and do not represent actual reality.” But this is a problem since they haven't actually invented written words yet.

Eventually, though, it all works itself out. Folks realize that since the artist has total control over what they are painting, and therefore, it's nothing more than artistic license and vision reflecting simply a more badass version of reality. After all, every civilization believes themselves to be more badass than the rest. And the artists' job is to show the qualities that their civilization has decided make a person especially badass.

This continues throughout history. Just look at the Ancient Greek statues. The problem is that these... 'statues' look so lifelike that people mistakenly believe that they reflect reality. So young men overexercise and generally have low self esteem in the attempt to look as Zeuss-like as possible. I mean, those statues looked so lifelike, how could they not represent total reality, right?

Eventually, though, they realize that statues are just statues and the artist can do whatever they want to make them look more badass than is actually possible for real people. And they just accept them as simply art and everybody's happy.

Now fast forward to the 20th century AD. This thing called photography is invented. And after a while, it becomes digital photography, which is cheaper, faster, more convenient, doesn't require darkrooms with chemicals, and is basically pretty awesome. Of course, we have to create software to process these images to replace the chemicals of the darkroom. And before long, folks discover that you can use that software to do a lot more than just process the image. You can fix mistakes! How cool is that? And then, before you know it, artists are using the software to represent the 2000's view of what makes one totally badass. This time around, it's having an impossible waistline and rubbery-looking poreless skin, but hey, who am I to judge?

The problem, though, is that these... 'photographs' look so lifelike that people mistakenly believe that they reflect reality. So youngsters diet, do crazy things to their skin, and generally have lousy self esteem in the attempt to look as Vouge-model-like as possible. I mean, these photographs look so real, how could they not represent reality, right?

So there' lots of hubbub- I mean, these young girls are hurting themselves in the attempt to look like fake pictures! They think that's real! So there's talk about putting disclaimers on the images to tell people they don't actually represent reality. The written language has even been invented at this point! The problem is, though, that it's impossible to process a modern digital photograph without some form of editing touching it at some point, even if just to correct lighting and process it into a format that magazines can use. So it's basically impossible to define what amount of editing requires a disclaimer or not. Not to mention, the photographer can use lighting, photography, and lenses to change a lot before the photo is even taken.

So instead, everybody eventually comes to realize that, even if they might look real, photographs are just another way of creating illustrations that represent a more badass version of people. So they stop harming themselves to try to look like that, and then the standard of beauty changes such that magazines that feature less heavy retouching and more diverse body shapes start to sell better than their heavily retouched counterparts. And everybody's happy.

That is, until 3D photographs come along...


  1. Hi Thank You for this review. For me also is very important how false images of women is used in publicity. Do You know the documentary film "Killing us softly"?
    He goes even farer showing what is the effects on society.
    good luck!
    ps: here are the links for documentary

  2. Hi
    If You like to know more I saw very interesting documentary film on this subject

  3. Guh. In addition to convincing young girls there is something wrong with them because they have 24 ribs and enough thigh muscle to walk, it makes it very hard to find clothing that fits humans. I figure if it does not even look good on the dimensions of the model intended to showcase it, it probably will not look good on me. This is why I prefer Panache to Victoria's Secret. Panache shows models with blemishes and skin affected by bras. Victoria's Secret not only focuses more on Photoshop than quality, but also has been caught using other companies' products on models instead of their own, inferior version.


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