It is hard to go a day without experiencing the effects of digital manipulation. Filters come preloaded onto smartphones to make sure you get the perfect shot. A sidebar ad with an extremely altered model pops up as you check Facebook. Perfect faces stare out of glossy magazines at you in the grocery store checkout line. Figures, edited beyond physical control, are thrown in your face at every turn. The computer generated, ideal image is everywhere you look. The fantasy is mistaken for reality, and reality is taken as failure. It would be easy to blame the Photoshop artists for our misconstrued version of reality, but did the changes really start in postproduction?
Lighting. Camera angles. Poses. Clothing. Makeup. They all affect the image in dramatic ways. The right lighting can erase wrinkles instantly or create an exaggerated jaw line. The photographer’s position relative to the model can make a double chin vanish or a forehead shrink. A slight three-quarter turn or the right outfit instantly slims. A few layers of makeup can make you look like a totally new person. There are thousands of tiny tricks to get the perfect shot at a photoshoot. And all of this happens long before a photo even reaches your computer.
“Image” manipulation has been around long before the computer, or even the camera, was invented. People have been altering the way the look for centuries. Women applied a flour based paste to their faces to appear paler during The Middle Ages. The ancient Egyptians wore perfumed wigs as a sign of prosperity. Romans coated their hair in goat fat to lighten the color. What caused this inherent want of acceptance and beauty? How are we to fill a need that has been a part of the human race since the beginning?
Adam and Eve bit it to the fruit and immediately wanted to hide how they looked. Since that moment, the moment we were no longer worthy of our place in Paradise with God, we have been striving for that perfection we lack. Although we may not consciously acknowledge it, our need to be accepted is derived from that longing that will not be fulfilled by any physical creation.
With the passing of time and the creation of new technology, the ways in which we attempt to fill that need has changed. The 1800s had corsets and hoop skirts; today we have Lightroom and Photoshop. The digital manipulation of photographs was just the next step in the long time tradition of attempted self perfection. It is the latest version of hiding your true image to present a more acceptable one. It is the continuation of a search that has existed as long as humans have. A search than can only be fulfilled with the truth.