Guilty As Charged.

OKAY, I AM GUILTY! I have lightened the teeth, darkened the skin and zapped that huge zit on iPhoto before uploading an album of vacation pictures to the Internet. My simple tampering is juvenile compared to the photo tampering and editing that has become so popular in the advertising world to manipulate the viewer.


A photograph of Abraham Lincoln’s head and John Calhoun’s body.

Manipulation of a photograph is not a new concept that has developed with the digital technology of the past few decades. On “Photo Tampering Throughout History”, the page elicits dozens of examples that highlight many different types of photos of iconic events in history. Even political leaders have been guilty of this act.  United States President Abraham Lincoln’s iconic portrait from 1860 consists of John Calhoun’s body with the head of Abraham Lincoln. Continuing to scroll down the site, I came across several other photos I recognized. One that particularly stuck out is the Stalin photograph from 1920, when Nikaoli Yezhov was airbrushed out of the photo.

In the last several years, the manipulation of photography has turned into propaganda of another kind. In the marketing and advertising world, the manipulation of photographs has turned into an art. The airbrushing of models has especially become a subject of much debate and scrutiny.  The concern is that unrealistic images are being exposed to the consumer, and that a false reality is becoming the new normal. These extreme alterations may be part of a growing epidemic of body image and self-esteem problems for both men and women.

In the article “Debbie does salad: The Food Network at the frontiers of pornography,” Frederick Kaufman highlights the similarities between the filming of cooking programming and the filming of pornography. The dishes highlighted in an episode are like a work of art, or a masterpiece. Glazed and sprayed to perfection, the foods look like nothing you, nor I, would ever be able to recreate in our own kitchen. Similarly, the purchase of a Victoria Secret bra or bathing suit will not morph me into the doll that these women have been doctored up to look like in a catalog.

So is it ethical and should it be monitored and regulated? Though that is still up for debate, I think that it is safe to say in the world of print ads especially, it has gotten out of hand. I continue to be amazed when I see the before and after effect. More than that, I know that has affected the way we, as consumers, pick merchandise.

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