Susannah Frankel writes in today's Independent: "The adage that 'the camera never lies' is as unreliable now as it ever was." Sure, there's PhotoShop and other means of digital manipulation, but even unretouched pictures often do not tell the complete story. Nick Knight is responsible for dozens of global advertising campaigns and fashion editorials. "People say I'm a photographer, but that doesn't sound correct to me any more," he says. "Manipulation is a slightly charged word, though, because it implies deceit. A skilled photographer totally manipulates the reality they have around them." Frankel points out that even Marilyn Monroe was airbrushed. So since when have we ever believed what we see?
The truth is, we love a pretty image. And Vogue (and other magazines) render celebrities practically unrecognizable because they know that humans are attracted to a thing of beauty. (In fact, early covers of Vogue were literally art.) Even in the early days of photography, a photograph never told the whole truth: It was black and white. Then there's the context and baggage we bring to images. Did anyone ever see the London police ads that pictured a black guy running and a white police officer running behind him? In today's cultural context, it was easy to assume the cop was chasing the black guy. But copy at the bottom of the ad told the true story: Both men are police officers, chasing a suspect who was cropped out of the picture. The black guy was undercover.
Not only do photographs lie — captions and descriptions often lie as well. Joel Stein has a story today in the LA Times about the paparazzi in the City Of Angels. He notes how, when interviewing Jason Bateman, he and Jason stopped at a car wash. Stein writes: "As we were leaving, we spotted a guy hiding behind an SUV taking photos with a telephoto lens. Of Jason Bateman. At a car wash. The next day, a blog ran photos of us under the provocative headline, 'Guess Who Sneezed?' The sad thing is, he was actually blowing his nose." Sneezing, blowing your nose, who cares, right? The point is that we're living in a world where the truth is more blurred than ever, and we're used to it. And, Susannah Frankel says, we're guilty of it:
We may not, like Elizabeth Hurley, go to the trouble of using Photoshop to tidy up our holiday snaps. But which of us is not guilty of editing them, of casting aside the pictures showing extra chins, blotchy skin and wobbly bits? Of making sure that only the loveliest, happiest, glossiest versions of reality are left behind for posterity?
If we're so interested in the truth, why don't we start with ourselves?