P ho t ography was an essential part of my life as a teenager. Not only did it allow me to express myself creatively and receive recognition for my work, but it was also a way for me to bond with my father. Also having taken up photography when he was young , his experiences helped shape my passion and appreciation for the art of looking.
Aside from formal classes, I have not been able to fully immerse myself in photography as a college student. But during my time at Penn — specifically in art classes where students of other disciplines are also enrolled — I have found that digital photography is consistently demonized by others. They argue that photography is invasive, deceptive and that digital photography especially has been used to manipulate the public into believing lies.
Because photography is such an integral part of our lives publicly and privately, we hold it to a higher standard, separating it from the art world. We are exposed to images — be they in the form of journalism, advertisements or otherwise — every day. It seems that because photography captures real life subjects, keeping images as they were taken is necessary. Even though we do not hold other creative depictions, such as drawings, to these standards, we insist on photographs that mirror reality, ignoring the nuanced perspectives of the photographer.
The biggest concern people seem to have surrounding digital photography is Photoshop and its use in the media. Because it allows for relatively easy photo editing, it can be used to create problematic media representations. People are concerned about the implications of photo editing in journalism and how it may contradict the field’s desire for objectivity, but it is advertisement that is subject to the strongest criticism, especially regarding female body image. Women are increasingly unhappy with their bodies and view themselves through the unattainable standards of media images.
However, the solution many propose, which tends to involve the ban of Photoshop, has limited practicality, not to mention alarming implications for a country that supposedly values freedom of expression. What parts of Photoshop have to be banned? I would assume that airbrushing and recontouring are off limits , but what about changing the exposure or contrast of a picture? Who will supervise this process, and how do we know media moguls are really ceasing photo editing?
Even when companies pledge to stop photo editing, this decision is made solely with profit in mind. Public pressure to abandon photo-editing led to Seventeen magazine’s announcement of its Photoshop ban, for example. But even without Photoshop, the same ideals continue to inform their image selection. America consistently sees beauty through a lens that has nothing to do with cameras — one that excludes people of varying classes, genders, sexualities and races. Models’ dropping BMIs are indications of a much larger societal desire to confine beauty. Photography and other forms of media cannot spontaneously create cultural views; they are shaped by context and represent the society that they are created in.
The idea of corporate imagery is negatively affecting the views surrounding photography as artful documentation. But even more problematic is the use of technology as a scapegoat. Historically, new medias have always introduced fear — parents worried that video games would turn young boys into criminals; social media was accused of creating a generation of spoiled children. But these arguments do not lead to productive debate. Instead, they brand the technology as the problem without addressing the source truly worthy of blame: the environment that shaped these technologies.
Instead of trying to police photography, we need to focus on creating an educated public. People that are well-versed in media imagery and corporate techniques will view what they see with a much more critical eye, both as consumers and as citizens. We need to be honest with ourselves about how we are a part of the media cycle, not merely victims of it. Unpacking the ways in which we have constructed our notions of beauty and confronting the uncomfortable is the only way to solve the issue. Photoshop is just a dist raction.
Katiera Sordjan is a College junior from New York studying communications. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Melting Pot” appears every Thursday.
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