Selling lies as truth

ANTIGONISH, N.S. (CUP) — Human beings still revere photography as capturing the truth. In courtrooms, photographs are used as evidence as to whether or not an event took place, and in some cases they can mean the difference between a verdict of guilty or innocent.

But in today’s digital age, with increasingly powerful photo manipulation tools at our disposal, the truth of photographic images is that they are anything but reliable.

The leading graphics editing program used by professionals and amateurs worldwide is Adobe Photoshop. With Photoshop, people can modify the images they are working with, either by adding or removing content, or enhancing existing content.

The software celebrated its 20-year anniversary in mid-February of this year.

Photoshop allows users to manipulate photos in a variety of ways. There are tools to reduce redeye, smudge, sharpen or blur parts of images, and a “magic wand” to remove the background behind a subject in an image.

Since the inception of Photoshop, pictures in the media have become more frequently edited to represent a reality that the photographer wants to capture.

This practice used to be the domain of such highly esteemed publications as *Weekly World News* but has since been seen in most newspapers and magazines, albeit with more highly sophisticated photos.

This manipulation of images has raised questions about the difficulties of understanding reality in terms of photography. However, Photoshop was never to blame. Photography has always been like this — Photoshop just made it obvious.

People like to think that photos capture the truth, but in most cases that is a delusional claim. The very ritual of taking a photograph — for example, a family picture — involves one simple word that exposes how fake the image actually is: “Smile.”

Before taking a photograph, we are asked to smile, regardless of our actual emotional state. An individual could be angry, depressed, sullen or surly, but when that photograph is taken, we plaster on a smile for the few seconds until the shot is captured. And somehow this is taken to be an accurate representation of a family.

Posed photographs are another area of debate. Famous shots of sharecroppers during the Great Depression were posed by photographers and hundreds of shots were taken, examined, and the ones that most accurately represented the photographer’s opinion on the matter were used.

This doesn’t accurately depict reality, but the bias of one individual who uses the images to support their stance.

This is much like how university students scan and discard Facebook images they don’t want on their profiles to create an album of themselves that doesn’t quite accurately depict the reality of their lives.

Even without Photoshop, individuals have taken pictures that have tricked others using the simplest of methods.

The famous Cottingley Fairies pictures were a series of photographs taken by two cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, who posed with cardboard cut-outs of fairies and convinced the world that such creatures existed.

Tourists visiting Europe and other countries have their own photographs that depict themselves holding up prominent landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or leaning on the Roman Coliseum. All of these images use illusion and perspective to trick the eye without capturing the reality of the situation.

What Photoshop does is allow for photographs to be manipulated after they are taken, whereas previously they were posed and shaped within the shot.

This has made obvious the apparent untruths of an image, mainly through several silly websites celebrating them by editing and sharing absurd images.

An example of this is the blog "Nic Cage As Everyone," which uses Photoshop to make actor Nicholas Cage’s look like everyone, from Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln to Hannah Montana and Justin Bieber.

Others, like "Selleck Waterfall Sandwich," have composed images that include three random components — in this case, actor Tom Selleck of *Magnum PI*, a waterfall and a sandwich.

Finally, asks users to switch the head of a father and child to hilarious results. The photos may not be real, but they are fun.  

Getting riled up about the apparent truth or untruth of an image is ultimately a futile venture. Photographs can, and always will, be manipulated.

Rather than argue over the merits of Photoshopped images versus untouched ones, we should enjoy the plentiful websites celebrating absurd manipulations of reality like placing Nicholas Cage’s head on everyone, and remember that images are not always real.

//Fraser Turnbull
the Xaverian Weekly

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