A Photoshopped Justification?

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A Photoshopped picture of a hawthorn tree

There should be bruises coloured like an application of the solariser from a mental kicking for putting off buying photoshopping software for so long. Like several years. Idiot. It's been like gaining another pair of hands and arms and legs. Learning to use it's been as fraught as that would be; ungainly, cack-handed, head-bangingly frustrating, and air-punchingly 'yessss!'. It's fantastic, I love what it can do.

My sister doesn't love it. Photoshopping in principle that is. She says you can't believe that anything is as you've been shown it anymore. She's disappointed that what is in a picture was not actually seen for real.

A photoshopped picture; is it inaccurate representation, a con, cheating, fantasy, an artwork? It's fun to do, that's for sure. A con or a cheat? Well definitely there are contexts when that would be so. In personal photographs though, what then? Thinifying the bride in a wedding photo? For me that's pointless. Might as well cut photos out of a magazine and put them in the wedding album. It's not real in a way that matters. Using a diffuser, bit of gradient mist to make a romantic atmosphere? Yes, the cliché aside, yes fine. The day was romantic, more romantic than an ordinary hard, bright photo-snap's going to represent.

See, that's it. What are you representing? Unshopped, or unprocessed, photos are not an accurate experience of what you saw just because they're unshopped. When you look at something, your mind filters out the 'noise' of surrounding stuff you're not interested in, it adds in the distance it knows is there, translates perspective, might even affect the attractiveness of something depending on your state of mind towards it. It even adds colour when it thinks it knows better. (Ever driven a distance in a car with tinted windows then wondered if something nuclear had happened when you found the whole world tinged pink before your brain caught up with the fact that you'd just wound the window down?)

To illustrate - take a photo of a swan in late, low, golden afternoon sunshine on the edge of the water at the mere. It turns out really in focus and the colours are beautiful but there's a horrible black triangle in the water, like a shark fin, close to the swan, totally changing the ideas the picture generates. And it completely lacks the sense of scale of the real place, it has no depth.

Photoshop to the rescue. The shark fin is obliterated by application of the magical spot-mender and adding slight gradient haziness over the far shore gives distance.

So now it's not real. It's too altered for reality, but it's also too representational to be artwork. It therefore has no point. But it does, see. The shark fin was never noticed until seen in the photo. It had been mind-shopped out. And the photoshopped version feels like that afternoon, the flat original doesn't. The photoshopped version is good to look at, a more enjoyable experience, one more likely to inspire to get out the house to visit the mere. One that adds a touch more of joy to the world.

Perhaps I'm wrong about the thinified bride? That her photos should give joy is good, outward appearance isn't what matters and her inner person may be perfect in every way. And yet, it seems a time when you have to be you, your real self. For better, for worse etc, and all that. When it comes to the central characters, it's no occasion for pretence or fantasy. Is it? So in this case, is it a case of don't do it if the dream's not one and the same with reality? Photoshopping your partner's dangerous, he/she won't live up to your photoshopped version. It's not fair on them and you wouldn't want a partner who only wanted a photoshopped thinified you. Except to the extent that love does the magic spot-mending...

Know what? Getting back purely to photography again, when it comes to the wedding photos, it's her choice and none of my business to make judgements about. But there are occasions when there are alterations that shouldn't be done. The obvious one is obviously that of pasting Mel Gibson (1990's vintage) over the groom. That's a fantasy too far. In this particular context.

Going back to going beyond photography, photoshopping is not restricted to photos.

You can photoshop reality: people, events, history, facts. Are the issues the same? Flat facts are not necessarily an accurate representation of what they are the facts about. Stripped of the emotional experience, or contexts of experience of what they are the facts about, they should not necessarily be taken as truth, whole truth and nothing but truth. They are not the whole picture and need interpreting. And then are interpreted against our own contexts and experience, adding a second layer of untidy, possibly non-verifiable, sometimes deeply buried in our subconscious and invisible to us, non-factual stuff.

And flat fact lacks a dimension. Perspective. No matter what the starting point of the facts, there will be a dimension, a distance, missing just because they have to have a starting point.

There are of course contexts when anything other than fact is a lie, a con and a cheat and when decoration and alteration creates an unreliable, maybe dangerous, maybe manipulative fantasy. There was recently an argument going on on a thread on h2g2 over China's actions in Tibet. Both sides were very positive in their belief in distinctly different histories of Tibet. Different values were held with equal conviction on both sides. At least one of these histories is photoshopped, and the picture is being seen with different perspectives.

But there are other contexts when photoshopped facts are the better representation. Better in many senses. And certainly when they can be a damn sight more fun1. Well, this is what I plan telling my sister. She will likely be horrified. She wears a white coat for work.

Perhaps I should call them photoshop-interpreted facts. My sister will be less horrified, I think, if I add that I believe that if you're aiming at creating something that has truth to you, what you come up with, however it's done, will also have some sort of truth and that's what justifies its existence. Gives it its own life in a way, makes it worthwhile.

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