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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



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