The intent of this essay is to explore how digitisation has affected photography, photo shoots and post-production editing; also looking at how this has affected public views, as well as the messages conveyed. Through the research conducted, there are both positive and negative affects of digitisation explored. Sturken and Cartwright have delved into these ideas through their book ‘The Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture’ (2nd Edition) (2009), specifically looking at their chapter on ‘Reproduction and the Digital Image’ (2009: 212-220). Furthermore, other authors, photographers and artists have investigated this area including: Michael R. Peres, Liz Wells and William J. Mitchell. Moreover, they have examined the development of photography and how this has had an impact on industry and advertising.
Within the aforementioned chapter in Sturken and Cartwright’s book ‘Practices of Looking’ (2009), it focuses on various aspects of developments in photography. This includes the move from analogue photography to digital. For instance, both authors have noted the ways images are taken and then stored stating: ‘The digital camera has no negative, no “original” storage medium’ (Sturken, Cartwright 2009:212). This only focuses on the digital camera, but it does note how analogue cameras would have something material (like a negative) to relate back to as an original image. From this, it becomes clear that analogue photography is deemed to be truthful which William J. Mitchell regards as: ‘casually generated truthful reports about thing in the real world, and which could be distinguished from the more traditionally crafted images’ (Mitchell 1992: 225). Furthermore, when studying how the images are stored, Sturken and Cartwright note the various digital options there are including SD Cards, Micro SD Cards, Hard Drives or a Compact Flash. Additionally, this allows for the photographer to gain instant gratification through the images they’ve produced. In comparison, analogue images would need to be stored in photo albums, boxes or within photo frames; furthermore, when analogue images are copied, they’re prone to degrading which Sturken and Cartwright pick up on noting: ‘when a film negative is copied, there is degradation of the “original” image’ (Sturken, Cartwright 2009: 213). When both examples are places side by side, it’s clear which style of storage has more capacity, reliability and less likely to come to degradation over time. Thus, digital photography can be deemed as a more reliable form of photography regarding storage and accessibility.
Leading on from this, post-production on photography has changed dramatically. Previous to the digital age developing, the majority of work would have been conducted within the darkroom with minimal allowance for editing. Some photographers have experimented with editing within the darkroom with negatives with the most impressive result being created by photographer Henry Peach Robinson. The magnificent image was created through Robinson laying 5 negatives on one another, with an example of the final image seen in Fig. 1. This is a very early example of editing and puts the ideology that analogue photography is a representation of the truth into consideration, showing how images that the public could trust could be compromised. Now through digitisation, the development of processes and programs to conduct the post-production work now allows photographers to enhance and alter digital images too; this adds to the moral panic that images are being altered to the extreme and damaging the meanings that can be created and portrayed.
Through the specific research into how editing software including Photoshop has affected the meanings generated through images, Liz Wells questions the integrity of photos stating: ‘Had the application of the computer and digitisation to image-making brought an age of ('false') innocence to an end?’ (Wells 2000: 131). In the light of this question, Wells summaries that the ideology - the act of photography being ‘innocent’ and truthful - has now come to an end. Through Wells expressing that there was already a ‘false innocence’ within photography also connotes that even though there has been a progression of post-production software, images still displayed some form of distortion. This could be due to the use of minimal editing techniques within a darkroom, however, it still allows for images to be altered. This, in affect, corrupts with the messages being communicated to viewers, leaving the viewers to be falsely conscious to what is deemed real and true. In turn, this brings forward to debate on morals and unrealistic expectations. Through Photoshop, a hyper-reality is created, with goals of both men and women being thrown out of proportion, which can be seen here in Fig. 2. The National Advertising Division has banned this advert due to the highly editing image of Julia Roberts. Within the US, they have similar situations where the boundaries between actuality and an unreachable objective. Consequently, Photoshop has tainted the viewers’ ability to accept an image as truthful. From this, we can link Stan Cohen’s theory of moral panics into view.
Through further research, Angela McRobbie and Sarah L Thornton transferred Cohen’s theory of moral panics (focusing on the violence within the media – particularly video games) into a multi-media platform. Both authors note, ‘It has become a routine of making youth-orientated culture products more alluring…’ (McRobbie, Thornton 1995). The example that they have used is with music, however this same concept could be noted for the use of Photoshop and the desire to keep looking younger; this is the main focus for all the beauty campaigns and cosmetic adverts seen today. Correspondingly, this has caused both physical and mental heath issues in both men and women as the use of Photoshop is causing them to look at their ‘flaws’. The most severe health issue caused, seen particularly in young girls is anorexia with many newspapers and blogs writing articles and journals about the impact this has on children and teenagers. Extending from this view, it has caused issues regarding communication between consumers and producers as well as meanings taken from these images. Meanings produced are no longer depicting the veracity of the product but enhancing what the product should do.
As a final point, there have been many campaigns to ban photoshopped images from public view. Because of this, for a few years there have been many beauty campaigns that attempt to ‘fight’ against the norm and standardised sexual images created through the media. One example of this is with the Dove ‘Natural Beauty Campaign seen here in Fig. 3. The women used in these images are different shapes and sizes, looking at how each body is different but still beautiful. Moreover, it looks at women as people and not sexual objects seen through the male gaze, a theory that has been explored by Laura Mulvey at how women are depicted as sexual objects for the male audiences and viewers. As a result of this, the meanings conveyed though images is telling women and girls that it’s good to wear minimal clothing to gain attention from men. On the other hand, there is also another campaign by Victoria’s Secret that has been named ‘Love Your Body’. The images used for this campaign, seen in Fig. 4, are of women who are all sizes 2 – 6. This may make some women feel empowered if they’re similar sizes, however those who are of a larger size may feel uncomfortable looking at these women. In addition to this, the Dove beauty campaign could make smaller sized women feel distressed, making them feel inadequate to other women who are more voluptuous. With these images, both sets could be digitally enhances to make the women seem flawless which causes problems for both campaigns. There is constantly a style of beauty created that is unrealistic and a lack of communication of what is truly considered beautiful.
In summary, this essay has explored how digitisation has allowed photography to develop as a subject in both academic means as well as advertising and within the media. It also looks at how the progression of post-production mediums has allowed advertising companies and media giants to alter images to their desired look, enhancing the use of products such as makeup or other beauty campaigns. Furthermore, through digitisation, images no longer depict veracity and have a distorted view of reality, causes a lapse of judgement within the consumer culture. In addition to this, it has delved into the beauty campaigns created by modelling agencies and beauty products and/or producers bringing to light how these images are creating a false sense of security for the public. Overall, the communication through the digital age has caused a further corrupt view of what is ‘true’, generating a hyper-reality for consumers to live in. Moreover, the meanings created are causing rifts between advertising agencies and the consumer culture; the media are creating images and stimuli for men and women that are false and potentially harmful towards the viewers.
Anthony, Sebastian (2011) US Watchdog Bans Photoshopping in Cosmetic Ads [online blog]in extremetech.com at http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/109375-us-bans-photoshop-use-in-cosmetics-ads (Accessed 25.03.14)
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McRobbie, A, Thornton, S. L. (1995) ‘Rethinking ‘Moral Panic’ for Multi-Mediated Social Worlds’ In: The British Journal of Sociology at http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/591571?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2134&uid=2480878953&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3&uid=2480878943&uid=60&sid=21103925722893 (Accessed 03.04.14)
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Fig. 1 – Henry Peach Robinson, Fading Away 1858, combination print from five negatives At: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/collection/photography/royalphotographicsociety/collectionitem.aspx?id=2003-5001/2/23282 (Accessed 25.03.14)
Fig. 2 – Anthony, S (2011) ‘US Watchdog Bans Photoshopping in Cosmetic Ads’ In: extremetech.com [online] At: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/109375-us-bans-photoshop-use-in-cosmetics-ads (Accessed 30.03.14)
Fig. 3 / 4 -- Angela Shetler (2012) Photography and Truth [online blog] at http://www.angelashetler.com/tag/beauty-myth/ (Accessed 18.02.14)