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Photoshopped Babies

Design Your Baby

Design Your Baby

Last week New York’s Daily News headlined on its front page a local clinic that was said to be planning, in the next months, a service that would allow parents to choose the eye and hair color of their future babies (for a fee). Since parents can already select the baby’s gender, why not a more made-to-order child? While some critics say that the science is not there yet, the headline is not all that premature.

For a quarter-century many of those in photography have been creating an increasingly hospitable environment for such designer children. We are ever more surrounded by advertisements and lifestyle magazines that typically change the way people look by modifying the pixels. The retoucher, in many cases, has become even more important than the photographer. If it can be done with digital code, why not with biological code, or DNA?

The clinic’s director Dr. Jeff Steinberg, after a flood of indignant calls triggered by the front page story, was reported to have rethought his encouragement of cosmetic choices and decided to focus on the needs of “families with histories of albinism, color blindness and several other genetic disorders.” His clinic withdrew an ad for “predictive genomics,” surely a growth field in the future

The longterm problems that arise from Photoshopping photographs are not just the profound ones of undermining documentary credibility - did the event depicted actually happen - or of encouraging anorexia among a generation attempting to imitate models who, in reality, do not exist. The pervasive use of the software has also helped to create a climate that may well deeply impact the next generation even before it is born, as well as successive generations of people who will inherit these artificial traits.

Soon we may realize that “Photoshopping” is, and always was, what its name applied: shopping. A product of a consumer society, Photoshop encouraged us to choose what we want things to look like, to override what the camera recorded. Reality, we thought, could be remade in our image. A superficial perfection trumped our own appreciation of life with all its many flaws. After all just look at the other artifact of our burgeoning image society, featured in the picture to the left of the Daily News clinic headline.

Perhaps concern for future generations might inform what has become an out-of-control consumerism. (Look at the top headline on the Daily News cover.) Maybe the anti-Photoshop is the new green?

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