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Photoshop at 20, and a few chuckles

Twenty years ago I was asked to appear on The Today Show to discuss a very new software, Photoshop, that was capable of seamless image manipulation. I argued that the widespread adoption of such software would eventually erode the credibility of the photograph in society by making the medium increasingly suspect.

To me this was no small thing, but the people at Photoshop were not similarly concerned. And, demonstrating that their beliefs have not changed, Adobe has just published an anniversary video excerpting the beginning of that Today Show episode (while significantly editing it to remove various gaffes made during the taping - Photoshop did not function smoothly when one of their executives pushed the wrong button, and the Today Show producers mixed up two of the panelists). Adobe kept in the part where I raise ethical objections, but  for the rest of the nearly twenty-minute video, highlighting a reunion of Photoshop creators, the ethical issues that I raised are left unaddressed, dismissed by a few chuckles.

One wonders why they even bothered to begin their own anniversary video with my ethical objections, and even more why they avoided talking about them except in the most casual manner. For many photojournalists and documentary photographers whose photographs are now greeted with growing skepticism, as well as enormous numbers of people whose images have been reshaped (particularly women), such manipulations are hardly a laughing matter. A democracy is diminished when its citizenry does not know what is going on, and Photoshop has not made such knowing any easier. So why the chuckles?

2 Comments

  1. Tim Warnock wrote:

    In as much that the camera raised ethical issues, I suppose Photoshop does as well– and while I’m sure everyone appreciates your line of reasoning, it raises chuckles because

    1) you haven’t fully defined the problem, what ethical objections and how are the makers of Photoshop responsible?

    2) you’ve assumed that you’re correct without providing any evidence (not only a logical fallacy, but should be met with laughter)

    3) and most importantly: Photoshop has proven its success, completely redefining the field of photography. It has empowered photographers and photojournalists to do far more than they could a few decades prior. Adobe knows this, and the audience to that video also know this

    If you’re somehow suggesting that Photoshop is the reason that people may be suspect to the authenticity of an image– then good for Photoshop. The authenticity of images prior to the release of Photoshop should be met with equal skepticism — it’s absurd (and yes laughable) to suggest that image manipulation was not occurring prior to software.

    Monday, March 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  2. fredritchin wrote:

    I am not sure that your accusations are well founded, given that I have written two books on the subject, In Our Own Image in 1990, and After Photography is 2009.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

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