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Just Say No To Crack

November 5, 2009

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Our fireplace shortly after the last quake. Viva California!

I think I just had a thought. Wait, yep, I did. Okay, here it is.

We hear so much these days about the demise of journalism, about how newspapers are dead, ratings and subscriptions are down and hundreds, if not thousands of people are out of work. This truly sucks.

Now there is great journalism being done out there, in places, and there are some tremendous pieces being written, filmed and photographed, but there is also a lot of schlock being thrown at us, and if I had to say, I would guess the schlock far outweighs the great journalism.

Case in point, TV news running the “bear in a tree” story, which they have done in Southern California at least three times in the past few months. I know, I saw it. It’s pathetic, lazy and there is no excuse, with all that is going on, to do this. It proves that they, the media, think we are pretty stupid, and need to be “entertained” more than informed. Also, newspapers covering celebrity events for no real reason other than there are celebrities involved and they want to sell papers, news, whatever. Same with magazines who run celebs on the cover, regardless of the inside content or photo magazines putting supermodels on the cover, regardless of inside content. In my mind, you deserve to lose subscriptions.

But, something even more poignant just peaked my interest, something I think reaches the DNA level of what is wrong with our “media” or journalism world.

Wait for it…wait for it…

The retouched journalist headshot. Am I the only one who finds this REALLY odd.

So let me get this straight. You’re a journalist, and you write the news. You cover issues with “truth and an impartial view,” but your headshot is fake? Now this might seem like nothing to most people, which is precisely why I think it is a big deal.

The journalist is selling an untruthful representation of themselves, but only writing the truth? How does that work? I know, I know, it might seem really inconsequential, but what it does in my mind is get the ball rolling in the wrong direction.

And when I say “retouched” folks, I’m not talking about 1985, blemish removal, I’m talking total cerebral reconstruction. If you don’t know what happens in the world of retouching today, just so you know, we left Kansas a long, long time ago. Gone are the days of blasting away zits, and in are the complete recreation of human beings. Think I’m exaggerating, stop by a retoucher and ask to see the before and after images. You will be amazed, or horrified. In many of the celeb images we see today, there is nothing untouched from head to toe. Heads are reshaped, necks, backs, legs, etc, even hair and feet. Nothing is real. I’ve even seen this disease creeping into the kid photography realm, which in some ways is even more alarming. Let’s get our kids thinking about a completely unrealistic vision of themselves, right from the beginning! That sounds really healthy.

As you can tell, I detest even the idea of retouching. It’s fake. And for me, it stands for precisely the opposite of what photography, or journalism for that matter, is all about. For me the math is simple, camera + moment = reality.

And now I see the same being done with the headshots of those we hold to be “watchdogs of the people.” Well I don’t buy it.

I think the problem with journalism can be traced to this exact thing. Doubt. Suspicion. Skepticism. Misrepresentation.

How can you misrepresent your own image, and ask to be believed?

Are you a celebrity, like the folks you are writing about? Are you part of the news? Or, are you strictly a vessel of delivery?

Me, I think many journalists have become part of the story, and that is where the foundation shows signs of a major crack. In my mind, you can’t do that. If you do, gone is your credibility.

I shouldn’t hear you. I shouldn’t see you, especially a fake impression of you, but what I should see and feel is the only the power of your work. And I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that what you say is the truth, or as close to the truth as you could possibly get.

I don’t feel that right now. I see those glamor shot mugs and think, “What’s next?”

This really strikes a nerve with me. To me, journalism is sacred, not casual, nor should it be cowed to the level of entertainment shows, and frankly I think that is what is happening. Me, I’m going to boycott any report, story or project that is accompanied by any perfect skin, perfect teeth, 30 pounds slimmer than they actual are, anchor, reporter, photographer, etc. I’ll probably be left without my news, but there are worse things in life.

I’ll leave you with one last experience. Last night I found a documentary on one of the few channels I get. It was really good. I only watched a few minutes, but what I did see was well done. Then suddenly we went to commercial. And there she was. A well known celebrity, only it really wasn’t her, it was some bastardized, digitally retouched, motion version of her, and I mean REALLY INSANELY OVERDONE OVERTOUCHED GHASTLY HORRIFYING VERSION OF THIS POOR WOMAN WHO UNDOUBTEDLY SIGNED OFF ON THIS HORROR SHOW. I was mesmerized as this creature stared back at me with lifeless eyes, or at least what was left of those eyes, and skin that was completely devoid of, well, skin. It was the orangeish, plastic looking stuff that is left when retouchers take all the human parts of the person away. I felt like my soul had been discarded in a roadside bin.

Is this really what we want people? Really? I can’t imagine this is where we all thought the ship was headed. I’m so glad we developed these tools, they are so perfect for overpowering nature and providing us with completely unrealistic material.

Me, I’m going to write a letter. Yep, a letter, specifically NOT an email. And I’m going to send it to the company that made this horror flick. They need to hear it, from at least one person. Might as well be me.

Onward and upward.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Leigh permalink
    November 6, 2009 4:41 pm

    Well firstly I must say your preaching to the choir here. We live in a country where the way things and people look and are perceived is far more important than reality. It’s all smoke and mirrors or as I like to say the “Disney” effect.
    A little tweak here and a little tweak there…reality improved just a bit to make life a bit more palatable and sellable. Even what is touted as “reality” isn’t really reality. It’s edited and packaged and marketed…think of all the reality shows out there.
    The machine has even distorted the idea of reality. It’s enough to make your head spin like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.
    I personally like real people warts and all. There is something so much more satisfying and beautiful about what is rather than the idealized version.
    It reminds me of when I was a little kid and I was given an elaborately decorated piece of birthday cake. The kind where you have visions of diving head first into the sugary fluffiness of it all. After about the 4th or 5th bite the whole idea of the cake starts to make you look for a place to upchuck.
    But alas our country is much more attached to perception rather than life as it is. It’s sad really keeping up appearances instead of living fully in the reality of it all.
    You ask at the end of your blog “Is this what we really want?”. I am afraid to say the answer for most people is yes. I however prefer and will continue on the “real” road less traveled.

    • November 6, 2009 5:20 pm

      Great analogy about the cake. And I also agree about the easy road, and technological, surgical means of overpowering what nature offers. I think the celebrity portrait is perhaps the most glaring example. Look at the work from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. PACKED galleries when this stuff hangs. But the new stuff, the controlled, over retouched, over processed, over stylized. I’ve seen a dozen of these shows, and after about ten minutes after leaving the gallery I can’t remember a single image.

  2. November 6, 2009 5:49 pm

    What we have created for ourselves has become unplatable. When you don’t want to see your world as it really is you create a retouched buffer bubble of unreal reality. Better to live in a dream bubble and have a dream world in which to dream. The crack we are in widens as the scapel cuts and stitches heal our purchased perfection. Where do we go from here? The earth destroys itself when deep, down under its surface the pressure gets too great. Dream on.

  3. Leigh permalink
    November 6, 2009 6:41 pm

    I don’t think it’s the new technology itself that makes photography in the here and now any better or worse. It may have contributed to a laziness which has contributed to the delusion of self importance. You know: If I own a camera and shoot it whatever I get must be significant and therefore the world must see it.
    Most people who call themselves photographers lack 2 fundamental things: [1] A lack of respect for the art and craft of photography itself, most haven’t taken the time to study the history of what came before them in the medium they say they admire. [2] And most also don’t do the unglamorous grunt work of diving into and sticking with their subject matter long enough to create work with any amount of depth. I’m not saying nobody does it as there are some really great photographers doing moving work out there.
    Maybe it’s just that an awful lot of people like the idea of being called a photographer and it has nothing to do with the work in the first place.

    • November 6, 2009 6:45 pm

      I agree completely. I think the idea of learning photography has been transplanted with, “if you buy such and such, that will make those pictures for you.” After having been to a trade show recently, this idea was front and center. Sometimes when I’m teaching I find that students don’t want to bored with the basics, light, timing, composition. They just want to shoot nonstop and immediately see the images, as if that will make them better. There’s no time for learning. Just do it.

  4. David Wissinger permalink
    November 6, 2009 10:10 pm

    Time for a technical interlude:

    Dan, you said, “…I detest even the idea of retouching.”

    Does that mean that you do NOT retouch your photos, even for clients? You do NOT own a copy of Photoshop?

    The reason I ask so pointedly is that I resent every moment I spend trying to learn Photoshop. I never like the results, possibly because I’m bad at it. Maybe I’m like the parent who cannot see that his children are ugly, but I always prefer the originals of my images to the “shopped” ones.

    If people – paying clients, for example – are still going for unretouched photos, I really want to know. Because then I’m going to stop with the Photoshop torture sessions.

    • November 6, 2009 10:29 pm

      Hey DW,

      No, I don’t retouch for clients. I dodge, burn like I would in the dark, but as for removing things, doing that stupid technique that eliminates pores, skin, wrinkles, etc. Nope. Won’t do it.
      I don’t believe in doing that. And I would NEVER do that with kids.
      When I see those images, and I see a lot of them, they just look so fake. I don’t understand using photography, a means of showing reality, then changing things.
      You can say the same for dodging and burning, but even with that, I try to leave as light a footprint as possible. With PS, you can dodge and burn to a level that also looks completely unrealistic. I see this a lot with photojournalism today. Faces glowing from places where there was no light. When you look at an image and see light doing what it would NEVER do in real life, that is where I have to draw the line.

      • David Wissinger permalink
        November 7, 2009 12:34 am

        Ah, OK, now the pieces are falling into place. Right now I’m using Lightroom 2 way more than Photoshop because it has almost all the “old school darkroom” tools in it. Dodge & burn, plus the digital conveniences like exposure and light temp are all right there. No layers necessary. What do I need in PS that I don’t have in LR2?

      • November 7, 2009 1:41 am

        I actually don’t know. I don’t use Lightroom. I have it, have tried it a few times, but only works for certain things I do and not for others. I’m, at the moment, looking into database programs more than imaging programs.
        I’m still using PS CSII because my new Mac tower only runs CS4 for about two weeks before crashing and not opening it anymore. I’ve loaded it, had it twice, got tired of trying and went back to CS2.
        I use layers when I dodge and burn, but there are many ways to get from point A to B.

      • David Wissinger permalink
        November 7, 2009 8:10 am

        As I remember, back in the good ‘ol analog days, there were fewer ways to get from point A to B. Back to the PS tutorials.

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