Monday, March 11, 2013

What's real anymore?

Tuck in that tummy!  Nip that waist!  Erase that cellulite!  Adjust her cheek bones!  Make her...

Make her what?  Make her... beautiful?  Make her ... perfect?  Make her... what??????

What is real?  Is it an absolute issue that it either is real or isn't?  Is there any middle ground?  What about if it is for art, not commerce or promotion?

Nothing is real.  ― John Lennon

These questions came to up after seeing a self-candid photo of Miz B relaxing in a bath tub.  It was untouched except for a minor edit so it could be seen on Facebook.  Miz B and I started talking about reality and photography.  What is real?

Bubbles - 031113 - Miz B

Early last year I took a Photoshop (PS) course.  I am not much of a PS user, preferring to work in Adobe Lightroom (LR) because it more closely mimicks my darkroom experience.  While I feel comfortable and old school in LR, I hold other trepidations in learning PS.  I worry about changing my photo reality.  In photoshop, I can do magic, some of it dark magic, that can bend reality or create a new one.  I use this term "dark magic of PS" in a layered way.  

As you probably know, a good PS editor can adjust almost any aspect of a photo.  Body shape (from reducing curves and bulges to actually lifting and warping bone structure), skin tones and shading, eye color, and outright using spare parts from different photos of other models to construct a new person and making it all look "real", but are these new fictions to be believed?  Is it ok if they are believed?  Does reality matter anymore due to the degrading belief in the notion that photos are real and real means truth?

Reality can be beaten with enough imagination. ― Mark Twain
One of my friends creates surreal photos of people levitating using PS layers and other photo editing technioques.  He does this to create amazing art that both haunts and amuses at the same time.  This seems like a mostly harmless bending of the artist's whim and creativity.  Maybe he should get a pass for creating these illusions since we can understand allegory and art as creative outlets not purporting to be real.

Another friend of mine does catalog work for two industries - fashion and wineries.  When he creates a wine bottle add, he carefully sets everything up and then takes multiple photos of the bottle, focusing on the different parts of it.  He then composites them in PS to create the perfect bottle where everything from the cork down to the bottom of the bottle is perfect.  Is this now a lie?

When this same friend edits his fashion work, I see major wizardry of dark magic happen.  I am not talking about minor things like removing blemishes, balancing light and shadows appropriately.  Hip bones move up, buttocks are smoothed and curved, breasts get reshaped, skin smoothed, etc.  All of this is to make a perfect wine bottle... err.. I mean person.

Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn't want to live there― Adam Young
I am not innocent of using PS dark magic.  I've smoothed skin a bit.  I reshaped a torso.  I changed color saturations and textures.  I've added grain.  I've created these fictions as well.  As I learn more about PS, I am so very tempted to do more.  Is this bad or just... is?

I've been on both sides of this argument.  In the past, Ive been criticized about my art for creating unrealistic objects of men's perceptions of women.  A few days after that, a model was mad at me (even though I hired her for my purpose, paid her well and got a model release) that I didn't do enough PS magic on her.  

A few years ago I read (wish I could find the source) of photographers making porn or suggestive photos of models (over 18, but just barely) wearing children's and young teens' clothing and photographing them in various poses, each growing more sexually explicit.  In the post editing, they would then use the PD dark magic to slim the hips and decrease bust (as well minimizing other secondary sexual characteristics), adding freckles, etc., so the subjects looked adolescent or even prepubescent.  They were essentially creating fake child porn.  Is this wrong?  Shades of gray??

So - What are the faults/positives of improving images and getting them to the aesthetic we want to present? Are there hard boundaries on right and wrong?  Can they be as real as the straight photo? What is real and is it even important anymore?

Some more quotes about Reality

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.  - Phillip K. Dick
Reality leaves a lot to the imagination. ― John Lennon 
Reality is frequently inaccurate― Douglas Adams
The more real you get the more unreal the world gets.  ― John Lennon
Humankind cannot bear very much reality. ― T.S. Eliot
What if reality is nothing but some disease? ― Chuck Palahniuk

And some Photoshop satire.


  1. If someone is looking at art or photography for a reality experience they are looking in the wrong place.

    I was watching some photography videos the other day and the guy said something to the effect - That photoshop was created by and for people that think reality sucks.

    Photos have been manipulated from the earliest times. Even Daguerreotype and tintypes where you make the one and only positive are not "real". As good as sensors and software are today; you still can't match what the photographer’s eye saw in the scene when the shutter tripped. I think that is what most photographers use or should use PS for, to get as close to what their mind saw as possible.

    What difference does it make what tools you use, dodge and burn, PS and all the plug-ins, HDR, stacking or whatever to make your image? As long as in the end you and the viewer say - I like that - the use of none, any or all is good.

    "Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depend on the arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty." Oscar Wilde

    So take your influences, edit out the ugly, keep the beauty and when the audience sees it they will applaud.

    I’ll leave you with a thought from Jane.

    “I refuse to be intimidated by reality anymore. After all, what is reality anyway? Nothin' but a collective hunch . . . I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it." - Jane Wagner

    D.L. Wood

  2. As cliched as it sounds, "perception is reality". That's arguably a truism in many disciplines. Everything goes under some type of processing and or filtering(e.g. our "Real world" personality versus our cyber persona). It's undeniably becoming more difficult to discern the degree to which something is organic or not. That said in any artistic medium most people are now fully cognizant of the fact that there will be modifications/enhancements. The key factor, from my vantage point, is disclosure.


    1. "The key factor, from my vantage point, is disclosure. " - That is a very interesting idea. Should certain peaces need a disclaimer or disclosure? - SideB


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