Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Picture Perfect

Malindi Robinson

We now live in a world where almost everyone has at the very least, a novice knowledge of photo editing and manipulation. Social media applications like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter have built-in filters and effects to provide for a flawless picture. We now have the power to drastically alter reality with simple keystrokes via software like Photoshop. Photo manipulation and altering is nothing new, but the ease of access and use of software to achieve the perfect picture is worrying many journalists about the ethics of photojournalism in the digital age.

In AJR Archives' Distorted Pictures article, the case of former Toledo Blade journalist Allan Detrich is discussed. It was shocking to learn just how many photos the award-winning journalist had unethically altered, and he's not the only one. Many, like Detrich have compromised their careers and credibility in attempts to digitally enhance their photos by adding and/or removing objects. I don’t think a little saturation or brightening of a photo is crossing the line, but I do agree that adding and removing aspects of the original photo is dishonest and should not be allowed. Transparency and truth are cornerstone ethics of journalism, and tampering with photos to that extreme does not honor the public’s right to honest news.

 Should this sentiment apply to magazines as well? I believe so. In New York Times article Who Can Improve On Nature? Magazine Editors, it is made clear that photo altering is just a part of the business. Photographers openly share their techniques and experiences with Photoshopping images. The efforts to simply enhance a photo for better aesthetics and outright manipulation are becoming more difficult to distinguish and many people are speaking out about it.

Singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat recently made a statement about Photoshop in her music video for the song “Try.”


The singer bravely faces the world make-up and edit free, the video gained her a VMA nomination for best music video with a social message.

The bodies of female celebrities in particular have fallen under the digital knife of Photoshop for decades. While editors of magazines and photographers may feel this makes for the perfect picture, they must also keep the needs of the public in mind. Many young women and girls are constantly assaulted with media messages telling them how their bodies should look, what they should wear and so on. The most dangerous of these messages are the unrealistic photos doctored up by photographers and editors for these publications. This is unethical dishonesty as well. Though the NY Times article cited examples of celebrities who demanded photos of themselves to be altered, there are many who feel that the digital fixing has gone too far.

I personally feel that skin lightening is one of the worst Photoshop offenses performed by magazines as often times this happens with people of color's skin. While body size and shape are often called out, skin color facial features are also manipulated. There was a big controversy with Beyonce’s L’Oreal ad as the cosmetics company had allegedly lightened her skin. While L’Oreal denied the claims, it’s clear there was some edit done here.

Photo courtesy of

With the pressure to produce perfect photography in all branches of journalism, can we truly trust the images we see?

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