Friday, November 18, 2011

Line between reality and fantasy increases as ethics erode

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours photographing the We Are IT conference at Edison Community College this past week.

For those who may not be aware, each year Edison hosts area high school girls for a day of learning about cutting edge technology careers that have been, for many, considered male-oriented fields.

Students could choose between sessions that featured hands-on experiences in robotics, digital animation, forensic computing and even testing for DNA.

One of the things that I noted as I made my way between sessions was the number of technology careers that rely on Photoshop and related programs to create a finished product.

The possibilities are endless. The only boundaries are the limits of one’s imagination.

The final session that I visited was on media and marketing, taught by Edison’s director of marketing and community relations, Ryan Honeyman.

Honeyman showed participants a slide show on marketing and many of the ploys used by manufacturers and their ad representatives to boost sales. The gist being that what you see is not always the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

A number of examples were shown of ad campaigns where well-known and not-so-well-known models were manipulated to provide a more “appealing” image on the printed page. Some of the examples highlighted inept attempts at adding or removing people and body parts from images.

As I was driving back to the office, I began to think about what I had seen. I was struck with the feeling that we have become a society that is part of a fantasy land.

We are increasingly developing into a world where “reality” is computer-generated. The alarming thing about that is that, while most people do understand the difference between reality and fantasy, there are some out there — too many, who fail to differentiate between the two.

Granted, altering photos, goes back to the days of film. For example, most of us know, or at the very least suspected, that the Playmates featured in Playboy Magazine have, for decades, been airbrushed to a level of perfection that does not really exist. The introduction of Photoshop and digital photography have only changed the means to arrive at the same end.

Most magazines at least gave lip service to ethics in photography. Now, the phase, “adhered to accepted industry standards,” is thrown out every time another publication is caught using an altered image. That phrase has a gray area the size of a battleship and is getting more gray all the time.

The examples are becoming too numerous to mention. Time Magazine’s altered image of O.J. Simpson and the Photoshopped image of a computer-aged Princess Diana “walking” along side her new daughter-in-law are but two examples of an increasingly unscrupulous “media” who care only about sales. The word “ethics” disappeared from their vocabulary years ago.

All of this adds up to such a blurred version of “reality” that many cannot find what is real and what is not. Sadly, fewer and fewer numbers of people seem to even care that they are not looking at something that is real.

How can we make hard decisions on so many important issues when we never know if what we are seeing is real … or a computer-generated version of “reality” meant to sway our opinion?

We need to get a better handle on reality. We need to, once again, understand and live by ethical standards that we will not compromise for any reason — before it is too late.

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