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Journal of No. 118


July 10th, 2010

Set Photoshop to Thinspiration @ 08:52 am

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It would be easy to make fun of fatness or cosplay, but I wish to probe the philosophical question:

At what point does a photo of you become not a photo of you?

Here is a retouched photo of me from New Year's.
 
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From:jimkeller
Date:July 10th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
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Well, I can't fault anyone who looks like the image on the right for Photoshopping the picture to give herself a more attractive BMI, like the image on the left...

But, seriously, I don't think an image necessarily needs to be Photoshopped to be misleading. I've known models who have made a career on being extremely cameragenic from certain angles, knowing those angles, and encouraging photographers to take advantage of them. These ladies (mostly, so I use the female pronoun) weren't retouched, but if you saw them in person you'd never believe they were the subject of those drop-dead-gorgeous photographs. Similarly, if you shoot a photo from an angle that accentuates your musculature and hides your fat, to the point where people say, "Is that YOU in that photo?" then it's also a misleading photo. Same is true if some random confluence causes a snapshot to look remarkably not-you.

Using Photoshop to remove blemishes, for example, is fine if the subject would not normally have blemishes. But if you're photographic a pizza-faced teenager, who will always have blemishes as long as he's the approximate age he is in the photo, then you're not accurately representing the teenager.

So, to me, the issue is not so much of whether or not you've changed the model or subject to the point of unrecognizability, but whether or not it's appropriate to do so. If the point of the photo is to say, in your online personal, "this is what I look like," then any change that can deceive someone is highly inappropriate. However, if I'm trying to sell you beer and I take a photo with a hot babe hanging on a frumpy guy who drinks the beer, then Photoshopping the hot babe long past the actual threshold of human beauty is not only appropriate, it's good business.
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From:essentialsaltes
Date:July 10th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
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Certainly art and advertising call for different standards of appropriateness. We accept and expect lies like this

I guess what I was getting at (though I confess I didn't really explain my reaction in my post) was that this picture (and the others linked through the picture) weren't intended as advertising or art. Presumably, these are taken at anime/cosplay cons and the subject is having them altered to flatter their appearance and/or better recreate the original character. And then they can say, "this was me cosplaying X at AnimeFetishCon."
But in what sense is it really that person? Say, take this example. That's not her chin, not her jaw, and... er... those aren't hers either. I'm more than happy to overlook the improvement in skin and shaving a few pounds off to produce a more ideal 'me', but these other changes are so extreme that it seems it's no longer a representation of 'me'. It's the character, and perhaps the enjoyment of the picture is knowing that she's somewhere underneath all that (Look, that's totally my belly button!)

Edited at 2010-07-10 07:17 pm (UTC)
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From:chartreusekitty
Date:July 10th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
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That's so incredibly frightening!
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From:aaronjv
Date:July 11th, 2010 10:10 am (UTC)
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I'm not sure this even matters. Online presences are faked for flattery, and we as a species are fleeing into the virtual world because the real one is so ugly, so why not live the lie and enjoy the illusion?

The Cake Is A Lie.

My ass, however, is not.

OK, serious answer (according to moi):
a photo is no longer a photo of you when the finished results would take more than a (normal) day's work*. So skin blemishes can be covered by make up, hair can be colored, platform shoes can be worn, a tummy can be sucked in (maybe even liposuctioned, but not 200 lbs of it), unseemly hair can be removed, tans can be sprayed on, etc.

My def. is pretty liberal, but the above and the link you leave in your comment are beyond the pale. Both would take much more than a day to pull off (a true day from both could be a lot of bandages and an IV drip in the hospital, though).

* work on you IRL with accessible commercial products, not a day of photoshopping or a day at the hands of Rick Baker.
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From:colleency
Date:July 11th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
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First of all, swoon at your New Year's eve pic! Dr. Pookie is a lucky woman. ;D

It's sort of what our society has set up. All the models in media that we see all around us have been retouched so drastically both before the picture is snapped and after, that they are unrecognizable in their natural state. Normal people are made to feel inadequate by the perceived beauty of the supermodel when in reality, even the supermodel doesn't look like that.

For someone who lives in roughly the same way that I do, place, circumstance, etc., it's kind of hard to get away from those images (billboards, magazine covers, internet, television, movies). Yes, I do know the difference, but being bombarded with the false images does make if very difficult to remember that they're not real.

In the picture above, she may have made the costume. The photo might be about the costume more than the person wearing it. Also, the character that she took it from might look unnaturally skinny and odd, like in the second photo. It looks like a version of Alice in Wonderland to me. So what she actually might be doing is showing how close she was able to make her costume to the character it's based on. And to show how fun it would be if she were able to jam her body into the mold of the character as well.

Would it be more of less dishonest if there were a cheshire cat with a giant grin and human teeth photoshopped in, too? More dishonest, because cats don't look like that? Or less dishonest because the cat's fake, so maybe the human's fake, too?

As for the photo of the girl with the extra "those," it looks exactly like what is done to models in ads. I think I'd like to have that done just to see what I'd look like as a supermodel. It could be fun. (Although not as fun if someone lifts your picture and does it on their own...creepy!)

Now, if either of the young ladies is solely posting pictures of themselves with the uber-retouched photos and claiming that's what they look like in everyday life, than that's dishonest and odd. But it really seems to me like they're just having fun.

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From:essentialsaltes
Date:July 11th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
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I really wasn't concerned about the 'honesty' of the photo, at least in regard to others, but maybe something more like self-honesty. Do these people look at these photos and think "That's me!"

I can definitely see what you're saying about the Alice outfit. 'Here is the careful work I did, and here is how it would have looked if it matched the character's dimensions.'

I'm more concerned about the alterations to the face like in the other photo I linked. Do people recognize themselves when they see that image? I can't see how they would. I'm sure the line is very fuzzy, but there must be some line where a photo of you becomes a photo of not-you.
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From:colleency
Date:July 11th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
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In the other photo, it really seems like someone seeing what it's like to be photoshopped in the way that it's done in the media. I would have to compare it to people in the ads. Do they recognize that as a photo of themselves?
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From:hagdirt
Date:July 11th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)

Really?!?

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Frankly, I seriously doubt anyone could think a heavily retouched photo is the "real" them. Particularly if the face is changed - there's a part of the brain dedicated very specifically to faces, and parts very specific to recognizing ourselves, and folks have done fun things figuring these out. For example:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18501639
http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v5/n9/full/nn907.html

Now, most of these cosplay images are retouched to make the subject look prettier, which I suspect is why this bothers people - it seems more dishonest than if they made the subjects uglier, even though it really isn't. I would venture that these retouched photos are an aspirational thing - and cosplay is by definition aspirational. It's a lot of effort spent looking like someone imaginary - and most imaginary people are better looking than we are. Very few of us will exactly match a character even if our costume details are perfect, and for those folks who are into reproduction, why not have a memento that fixes that problem? They're still walking around in public in their actual, non-perfect bodies and their careful costumes - that's the "real" experience, not the photo.

I've spent a sizeable portion of my professional career doing some of these tricks with Photoshop - swapping heads, sure, but mostly fixing shots where the photographer mis-represented the actual recipe. (Which happens a lot - leaving aside the actual food preparation, lighting and presentation can misrepresent something very thoroughly. Photography is never as truthful as we want to believe it is.) And I've actually 'Shopped a photo of myself in costume, including my face. And no, it is not "me."

This sort of work is well past mere "re-touching" and has gone into photo-illustration. It's honest if it's billed as such, and so far I haven't seen any evidence that it isn't. Where are you getting these before-and-after shots?
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From:essentialsaltes
Date:July 12th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)

Re: Really?!?

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Frankly, I seriously doubt anyone could think a heavily retouched photo is the "real" them.

I hope so.

The shots come from some Hungarian website. From context, many seem to be taken at cosplay cons, but I have no way of knowing how the subjects are representing them. As you and Richard have noted, there is a lot of artifice involved in any photograph. The studies you mention support the idea that these subjects would not be able to self-identify with the ultimate product. I hope that's the case.

It's like... I would not be happier if I pasted Harrison Ford's face on this. I'd be less happy. But I think some of these people would be happier if they erased themselves from the picture. Is that because their primary goal is to recreate the character (and their own existence in the photo is simply irrelevant) or is it because they actively want to erase themselves from the picture, which seems more unhealthy?
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From:hagdirt
Date:July 12th, 2010 12:54 am (UTC)

Re: Really?!?

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Hm. I don't think it's a matter of erasing themselves. At least, not more so than usual.

Looking at the site, the vast majority of the people being retouched are female. I think between the beauty-and-fitness industrial complex, and the constant basing of women's worth on their attractiveness, most women are encouraged to have a very fluid view of their physical appearance. (And, also, an insecure one, natch.) Consider the makeover, the crash diet, the facial. All of these are quick, transformative experiences that are supposed to make us the best "us" we can be. In fact, we are often heavily encouraged to participate in this sort of transformation, and have been since a very young age. (I suspect that straight guys are encouraged against this sort of thing - it's seen as suspicious behavior - but gay guys are certainly all over it.)

So, when the women of cosplay have the opportunity to make themselves look closer to the ideal - in this case, the character they're portraying - this isn't such a big issue. If we're always changing ourselves to look prettier anyway, why is retouching a blow to the psyche?
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From:aaronjv
Date:July 13th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)

Re: Really?!?

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I'd say the majority of human beings would like to be or look different than they really are.

From a book I'm reading now (yes, I am reading a fiction book--I'm more surprised than you):

"The American dream is and always has been to shed your old life and start a new one someplace else."

But assuming intent from website photos seems a little supercilious to me. Do you know for sure that the subject asked for the alterations, or did someone just do them?

When I saw the photo of the actual model that Ivan Albright painted, and the result at the Chicago ARt Institute years ago, I thought "Wow, that's not her!"

What about cubism, Picasso, etc.?
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From:richardabecker
Date:July 11th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
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It’s a slippery slope, to coin a cliché, between saying, “Hey, do that cool thing again so I can get a shot!” and “That photo is nothing like the actual person!” Either way, it is not real. At least half of the photos in everyone’s picture album are homemade illusions that don’t really show us what a moment in time was actually like. Not unless we all just happened to repeatedly turn and smile and wave at the same person at the same time, and that person just happened to have a camera in their hands, ready to shoot. In that case, it’s refreshingly spontaneous and weirdly psychotic, all at the same time. Artifice is an inherent part of most photography — it’s only a question of degree. Those photos in our albums are meant to capture the feeling and overall look of a moment. They’re not plaster impressions, they’re sketches.

(Even a candid photo only includes the people and objects the photographer kept in frame and in the focal depth, and the actions that happened as the shutter opened and shut, and the angle that the artist chose to shoot from. They’re selected and culled. In other words, “candid” is not candid. And I would know: I was a regular at the original Fang Club at Orsini’s from opening night until closing night at another venue (Café Luna, I think), fully two years, and the official club photographer took all kinds of shots that seemed to include me at the time—but in fact were always rigorously framed and cropped to exclude me from my groups of friends, even when I was in the middle of the bunch. You’d never know I was there at all, unless you asked people who knew me and were also there, such as the club’s own promoter…)

Even the moment you choose to snap the photo is artifice. Unless you shoot every goddamn thing all the time in a continuous lunatic stream of consciousness, and print/publish every picture good or bad, you’re controlling what the viewer will see. You’re “faking it.”

Many times, I’ve actually seen the opposite of the situation you’re describing: People who insist that if you don’t choose the ugly angle and bad lighting because it’s “honest” (honestly unflattering) and “candid,” then you’re putting up photographic “lies.” There are a lot of people in my immediate circle of acquaintance who become quite agitated if a shot looks nicely posed and makes the subject look as attractive as possible, instead of being “real.” (Apparently because the world is one fugly place.) Any Photoshop work only increases their anxious fury at the “fakery.” To them, photography should be face-on angles, available light or washed-out flash strobing, no retouching, no photographer’s perspective in the shot. They want the security camera/DMV picture school of photography.

Oddly, to me, those photos don’t represent the world as I actually see it at all. That’s probably just my problem, but I find that joyless, non-interpretive photos are like a child’s vague drawing of what my eyes actually present to me, with all the inaccuracy that implies. Probably I just see things wrong.

My experience and knowledge of the art of photography is that all of it is, in fact, an art. There is also photojournalism, which is fine, but the problem with applying its standards to snapshots of our lives is this: If you’re standing around taking photos of things, you’re probably pausing to have people pose for them. If not, you’re probably not enjoying the event or situation yourself, but are “the participant with the camera.” Since most of us would rather enjoy that Kodak moment directly, without a viewfinder glued to our eye socket, a lot of photo ops are lost. (Since we’re not professional wedding photographers or photojournalists.) Be there, or be the guy with the camera.

I suppose I’m trying to say this: Unless you were actually there and saw everything clearly for yourself (good luck with that, btw), you must still trust the photographer to shoot the subject “honestly.” You’re letting them decide what you will see and how you will see it. Obviously, the only way to have a direct experience of a phenomenon is to experience it yourself directly. That’s not photography.

All of that said, yeah, that’s a ridiculous amount of Photoshopping and it’s completely misleading bullshit.
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From:rsheslin
Date:July 12th, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)
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When I did my Glamourshots thing for my birthday last year, the guy selling me the package was shocked that I wasn't interested in paying for retouching. My response to him was, "I'm a woman, not a Stepford wife. I earned these crow's feet, thankyouverymuch."

Journal of No. 118