My Photoessay Melted Into One


Photo Manipulation In the Media

The concept of photo manipulation is not inherently malicious or harmful to the viewer/society. Although there are instance where companies or artists have manipulated images in order to create a lie, there are more benevolent uses for editing. There is an artistic value to the manipulation of photos, as it can help unify the overall theme or message of the photo/s. For instance, when the Economist published an edition with Barack Obama on the cover during the BP oil spill crisis, they removed two individuals from the photo and left only the president and an oil rig in the frame (Can you believe your eyes?). The reasoning behind this was for the viewers focus to be Obama. In this instance of manipulation there wasnt an inherent “lie”, there wasnt a false story created. Rather, this form of photographic framing sharpened the purpose of the image, the article contained within the edition, and potentially the magazine itself.

Jean Kilbourne is a dominant voice on the negative effects of advertising on society. She has been quoted saying, “The problem with advertising isn’t that it creates artificial needs, but that it exploits our very real and human desires. Advertising promotes a bankrupt concept of relationship. Most of us yearn for committed relationships that will last. We are not stupid: we know that buying a certain brand of cereal won’t bring us one inch closer to that goal. But we are surrounded by advertising that yokes our needs with products and promises us that things will deliver what in fact they never can. In the world of advertising, lovers are things and things are lovers” (Jesus is a brand of jeans). When the examples Kilbourne gives are closely examined, one can recognize a correlation between the increased use of photo manipulation and the increase in the negative effects she refers to. As photos are manipulated to serve the interest of profit driven corporations, we see the association between products and human beings. There is a subliminal message that our peers are simply products. In particular, women are being depicted negatively and in contemporary ads are THE product.

(Jesus is a brand of jeans-

In the photo above the woman and the product are one. Individuals like Kilbourne immediately recognize the adverse effects such ads have on equality in society. By depicting women as products it seems as if advertisers (and potentially society) view woman as something other then human, they are products not equal to their male counterparts. This is entirely unethical and degrading to both women and the human condition. Viewing any individual as a product only hurts the meaning of humanity and the quality of life for all. There has been a shift in contemporary ads towards an equality of men and women, but this equality is in the wrong direction. Now, men are even being depcited as products. This is not the equality Kilbourne, nor any other equality advocate is fighting for. There must be a standard, a high standard to which society holds advertisers and those who work with photographs.

(“Are we coerced into gender roles by media and advertising?”,

The practice of photo manipulation is not by itself wrong or corrupt. There are artistic and benevolent benefits to editing a piece of work. The negative side of manipulation comes up when the motives behind such action are more “dark”, such as advertising. However, I would even argue that manipulation used in advertising is not inherently wrong; editing the lighting or contrast of an image only makes something more visually appealing. What I take issue with are the more unethical practices of manipulation; infusing individuals and products, slimming down models, changing the ethnicity of individuals depicted, etc. These actions send a visual signal that individuals are not “good enough” in their natural state. By creating a false reality of visuals, such as thinning down models, the world is falsely presented. Those wo view the photo then see themselves as “against the grain” and in need of change. Yet the truth is they are most likely average or normal and by extension beautiful.

In order to stop this downward slope of standards and view of humans as products, there must be a code of ethics for advertisers and those that work with photographs. Rather then just a code of ethics, it appears that there needs to be a constitution of photo manipulation, guiding principals by which all who function within the realm of the arts must follow.