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The terminology thread 3: Photoshopped and Doctored


Dan Margulis
 

Recently a right-wing U.S. congressman put out some advertising supporting Trump’s tougher line on Iran and accusing Obama of having been too soft on that country. He illustrated it with a photo of a smiling Obama shaking hands with a smiling president of Iran.

The handshake never took place. The Iranian had been pasted into a real photo of Obama shaking hands with somebody else. Confronted with the proof, the politician would not apologize. “Nobody said it wasn’t Photoshopped,” he retorted.

The quaint idea that campaign photos should be considered falsified unless explicitly stated otherwise prompted a newspaper to investigate the entire topic. They apparently did not wish to use the word Photoshopped so they substituted doctored. I personally understand these two terms to mean the same thing, but as the article demonstrates, they are used in vague ways in the real world.

Certainly there is no dispute that the Obama picture was not just falsified but was intended to deceive. The article cited a similar example, this time of a Republican; her opponents altered an image to have her extending her middle finger at, presumably, all of us.

These two were clumsily done and wouldn’t have fooled any of us, I don’t think. They might fool a less sophisticated audience, which is why everyone condemns them and calls them doctored or Photoshopped.

Unfortunately, these terms get thrown around too loosely, which the newspaper was guilty of. One topic that did not come up, but which has come up several times on this list, is the amount of retouching and sharpening applied to the faces of politicians. This was particularly controversial in the presidential campaign of 2008, where each side alleged that certain magazine reproductions of the candidates’ faces were made to look particularly good or bad by choice of retouching technique. 

In one case the allegation was true. A photographer admitted that she had deliberately lit a cover portrait of the late John McCain to make him look unappealing and had followed it up with retouching to emphasize it. The magazine used the shot but refused to pay for it when they found out. Is that a doctored image? Hard to say. But in all the other cases the magazines retorted that they were just applying the normal kinds of retouching that they would to any face. Unless we can read minds, it’s hard to argue with them—but people called them doctored and Photoshopped just the same.

Then there are the following categories, campaign trickery that has been around far longer than computers have.
*Running cartoons or other caricatures of the opponent.
*If a photograph of the opponent must appear, choosing the most unflattering one possible.
*Taking something the opponent said out of context, so as to attribute a belief to him that he doesn’t actually hold.

I don’t take any of these to be doctoring or Photoshopping even if there’s some peripheral involvement with a computer. The article seems to disagree. It shows two disagreeable images of Nancy Pelosi, a frequent target of the right wing—but nobody would ever believe that these images were real, the way they might with the Obama shot. No, there was no attempt to deceive. These are political cartoons that happen be based on photographs, not, as the article would have it, doctored images.

I don’t want to trash the article further but note that politicians themselves can be just as sloppy. A couple of weeks ago one Democratic candidate for president attacked another for, he said, having circulated a “doctored video” attacking him. My ears pricked up at this, because I thought he was talking about something along the lines of a video circulated by the White House last year, altered subtly to suggest that a reporter was behaving aggressively at a news conference. But no, this one merely was a snip taken out of context to falsely suggest that the candidate took a certain position.

I can tell the candidate that this happens to color authors, too. But the video snippet itself, though used unethically, had not been altered, not doctored.

To sum up my three posts on terminology in our field, accurate use is a worthy goal, but… 

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Dan Margulis


Henry Davis
 

Alice found herself in quite a world . . .

The alarming thing about this kind of mass deception is that the mere possibility of something is now enough to give it credibility. A number of times I’ve heard this, or something similar, as a response when a news source has been caught: “it could have happened”. Possibility has itself achieved an ontological status. This is a new low for truth lovers. Photoshop along with other technical advances has helped to bring us to this point.

“It could have happened”, “it’s possible that this may be the case”, “it has been said”. That's all garbage. If something is only a possibility that should be said in the frist place. As for unnamed sources - expect more and more anonymous people and entities influencing our decisions.

Is the number of people persuaded by this kind prevarication on the increase? Is that why photoshopping and the like are on the increase? Is it because it works? Of course it works and because of an assumed honesty photography has gained a broader influence. Like any tool, Photoshop can find itself in the hands of deceptive people.

Humpty Dumpty’s exchange with Alice brings to mind this saying: “it isn’t pretty being easy”. One might expand that from the individual to say that a society is pretty or ugly and that's tied directly to how easily it is decieved.

Who can be trusted to assign Pinocchios for news photos? Is trust even possible?

Deception can’t be stopped, it can only be pointed out.

Henry Davis

On Mar 1, 2020, at 11:28 AM, Dan Margulis via Groups.Io <dmargulis=aol.com@groups.io> wrote:
<Snip>

Recently a right-wing U.S. congressman put out some advertising supporting Trump’s tougher line on Iran and accusing Obama of having been too soft on that country. He illustrated it with a photo of a smiling Obama shaking hands with a smiling president of Iran.
. . .
The handshake never took place. The Iranian had been pasted into a real photo of Obama shaking hands with somebody else.
. . .
Certainly there is no dispute that the Obama picture was not just falsified but was intended to deceive.
. . .
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Dan Margulis


Jeff Smith
 

Photojournalists allowing personal influences to subtly alter images is not a new phenomena spawned by technology. I recall as a young photography student attending a presentation by W Eugene Smith, one of the greats of photojournalism who used his talent not just to inform but to influence. But to get it by the editors who were fussy about such things was often the game. Gene Smith was not a tabloid journalist in the vein of Weegee, but a dedicated journalist who used imagery to tell stories he considered important. One series of images that he was proud of was from his reporting on the KKK. A shot of group of klansmen at a cross burning, in their white robes with the hoods pulled back or removed, faces exposed. Gene, a master printer in black and white printed his own images. He went on at some length about how difficult it was to keep detail in the highlights while keeping the mid-tones balanced. The result was an image of clansmen that ran in Life magazine where the skin tones of all the klansmen were very, very dark, suggesting that the differences between the members and those they persecuted were in reality, not that great. When the Klan complained he suggested that the technology was to blame, but look at the glorious detail in those highlights.

Gene Smith (no relation) considered his role as a photojournalist not just to document, but to influence as well, not by altering the visual content - after all, reality is reality, but by subtly bringing the viewer’s eye to the guts of the story. His goal was to tell the story and to influence the viewers reaction and attitude to the situation pictured. Wether it was clansmen in the south or the victims of pollution in Minimata

Today we see modern tabloid ‘journalists’ giving no thought to creating and using images not to describe reality but to invent a reality that doesn’t exist to influence opinions. Some won’t see a difference or a distinction. More’s the pity.


Jeff Smith
1124 Berry Way
Lummi Island, WA 98262

cel: 206-579-3233