Saturday, September 30, 2006

Heroin Chic and the Power of Photo Imagery Manipulation

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

In my last column I said that within the realm of digital photography there is a lot of room for cheating. Sometimes it is all right to manipulate photographs and sometimes it is not. In the area of marketing and advertisement, most, if not all companies remodel product photos to make them more saleable. The question is how much is too much and what are the implications to the individual as well as to society?

Obviously, sex sells. We all know that. But when we manipulate to our perception of what other people want, we begin to define what they want through our manipulation. It is kind of like me standing up and saying day in and day out that I like warm beer. At some point I will find someone who will agree with me — then another and another, until I gain enough momentum that you feel you have to agree with me because your perception is that everyone else does.

Think about the phrases and trends that have twisted our culture over the last 40 years. “Blondes have more fun” made our culture feel that other hair colors were inferior. The Heroin chic craze has generated more eating disorders than botulism ever could.

That being said, what is the problem with manipulation for the sake selling of things? I found a good example of the kind of subtle manipulation that can be done to tweak your thinking without you ever realizing it. It is this kind of manipulation that can be the most detrimental. It is a form of subliminal mind shrink.

The Girl Power site shows a picture of a fourteen year old girl standing in a shirt and blue jeans. The site then uses Photoshop manipulation to create a magazine cover of the girl to sell the magazine.

This is the same kind of manipulation that is done in every magazine, every brochure, and every product packaging label around the world. To view the process, open the page, select the magazine cover on the left, and click on the “Unveil the Fraud” button on the page.

A few things struck me. The first was that the girl looked fine to me in the original picture. It wasn’t that she was sixty-five and had been lying in the sun for the last 40 years. She was fourteen. She did not need to be “fixed up.” Second was how many things had been manipulated — her eyes, lips, breasts, waist, nose, jawbone, and shirt color. Finally, and most disturbingly, was the fact that I understood why they would make all these changes. If I had been in their shoes, I would have probably approved the changes myself.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong in using a package such as Photoshop to manipulate photos. I do it all the time. Where I have a problem is when you try to sell something that is fabrication as something that is real. It distorts the collective mentality of society in general and usually not for the good.

This is no different than a major manufacturer of soft drinks buying time in the latest action movie to insert messages like “Buy my product now” every hundredth frame. You see the finished picture and you are not aware of the changes that have been made. On a subliminal level, you find the changes appealing. This changes your tastes.

Suddenly blondes have more fun and you feel the urge to purge

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some of the adjustments were unneccesary, some not done. WIdening her face? The tits are too much. Her waist is too narrow. The retoucher should have dropped her shoulders to lengthen her neck.

__ Art Director of a Fashion Magazine