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Steve Lunetta: Pictures are a distortion of reality

Posted: May 19, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 19, 2014 2:00 a.m.

My wife is taking a photography class over at COC right now. This is actually rather humorous since she often sees one of our sons on campus who is also a student.

Imagine his mortified embarrassment when Mom comes over in the quad to him and his buddies and chirps out a cheerful “hey, sweetie”! We are taking extreme sadistic pleasure in this.

Trish had to do a written assignment on a photograph and she selected an Ansel Adams picture of Yosemite.

Hopefully, most of us know the work or Adams and his amazing pictures of the west that were taken during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

We were discussing the assignment over dinner and she shared an amazing epiphany with me. The work of Adams (and most photographers before the digital age) had to be composed before they were shot. A photograph was “truth”.

Now, what does that mean- truth? It means that whatever appeared in front of the photographer was how something actually existed. El Capitan in all of its majesty was captured by the photo. The Grand Canyon was actually grand at the moment of the shutter snap.

Oh, sure, there were some photographic tricks back in the day. But, all in all, the photo was giving the viewer a sense of how something appeared at that moment in time. It was truth.

With the advent of the digital age, however, a photograph is no longer truth. In fact, it is often a distortion of reality that is intended to trick or deceive.

For example, in this photography class, Trish has learned how to remove imperfections and flaws such as red-eye (when a flash bounces off the retina of an individual) and bad lighting. In essence, a photo becomes a distortion of reality.

You might be sitting there saying “so, what”? But think again. There are dark aspects of this practice.

A photographer can be asked to take a picture of a business that will be used for promotional purposes. Let’s get rid of those oil stains in the driveway. What about that hole in the wall? Let’s patch that over digitally. How about some flowers in the front and a nice light blue sky?

This makes the picture much more appealing. You want to do business there, correct? What a beautiful place!

How about an actress or singer? Can’t have those acne scars or off-color splotches showing. In the old days, we would use an airbrush but now that application is right in photo-shop software. Look, perfect skin! But it doesn’t stop there.

Recently, Vogue magazine altered a picture of a singer named Adele to give her a much different body shape. Let’s just say she was given a much bigger body shape in certain areas.

A Redbook cover of Faith Hill in 2007 was also very revealing. Redbook changed much of Hill’s body shape making her appear extremely slim. In fact, much of the alteration made her look almost anorexic.

Is this really healthy for our society? I know we have many more important things to worry about these days but why must we always be surrounded by images that simply are not true?

This is not a news-flash for most folks but this increasing trend to lie through images, video, and all other media is not good.

Of course, we can discuss how these “idealized” images of women actually hurt teens and young ladies by forcing them to aspire to visions that are simply not attainable.

What about young men? Are they looking for a digitally altered Rihanna or Scarlett Johansson who don’t even look like that in reality? What kind of pressure does that put on both sexes?

What about the news story that needs to be supported by a photo for the paper or a website? Maybe certain aspects of the image are “inconvenient” for telling the story or “detract” from the point that the author is driving home.

It almost seems like an image should print a “% alteration” number in the bottom corner to tell the viewer how much the image has been modified from the original. But, this would require government involvement to “force” this requirement which runs against my conservative values.

Maybe I should just stick to looking at old pictures. “Honey, where is that Ansel Adams book”?

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Placerita Canyon and was once a pretty good amateur photographer. But now, he has Photoshop. He can be reached at



Lotus8: Posted: May 19, 2014 3:59 p.m.

Do you refrain from watching movies and television now, since many special effects are done using computers these days? Were things like red eye, bad lighting and an inconvenient photo bomb really all that great? Were Roman artists guilty of affecting the women of the day by creating marble statues of the goddesses that were publicly displayed? Have you asked a professional photographer how much more cost effective and better their job has become thanks to being able to shoot a thousand shots at an event without blowing cash on film, selecting the best shot, and being able to fix tiny stylistic things with the click of a mouse?

You have always had painters, sculptors, photographers, movie directors and their like creating images that support their view of the world. How empowering is it now that artistically inclined folks are able to use digital photography and computers to go in new directions for art and film. Your article sounds like a classical guitarist lamenting the advent of the electric guitar and all of the crazy effects and sounds it is able to generate. I shudder to contemplate Eddie Van Halen playing his Eruption solo on an acoustic guitar!

Embrace the new my friend. Change is the only constant.

stevehw: Posted: May 19, 2014 4:53 p.m.

"The work of Adams (and most photographers before the digital age) had to be composed before they were shot. A photograph was “truth”."

Two words.

Moholy Nagy.

ricketzz: Posted: May 20, 2014 7:09 a.m.

There are things done when printing a photo like moving your hand and or a sheet of paper between the enlarger and the print paper, to change contrast and shading. People have been manipulating reality forever. That's what we do.

If you want a true to life photo use a pinhole camera. Looks downright digital. Same goes for recording sound, one omni microphone.

EgbertSouse4U: Posted: May 20, 2014 3:48 p.m.

Retouching has been around pretty much since the dawn of photography. The only difference are the methods used. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. If you like photos with glowing eyes, I have a few hundred of my dog for you.

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