Jessica Helfand | Essays

Pretty Pictures, Bad Judgment

Now that the new iPhone 4 gives you the option to photograph yourself without holding the camera in that bizarre, stilted position known to teenagers all over the globe, we can say goodbye to a kind of picture-posing that will, in future generations, read as an early twenty-first century visual cliché.

But it doesn't make a huge dent in the bad judgment people use when taking and posting, pictures of themselves.

I've begun creating an informal taxonomy of the kinds of visual tropes that find their way to the screen, of which the duck face may be the most horrifying. If you're old enough to remember the plastic-surgery train wreck known as Jocelyn Wildenstein (pictured above, right), then no amount of pouty pictures of Angelina Jolie (above left) are likely to lure you into the botoxsphere any time soon.

On the other hand, a recent story in The New York Times revealed that parents frequently pay to have their childrens' school photos doctored. A facsinating debate: does doing so boost confidence, so that a kid with an ill-timed blemish or two doesn't go down in history as having catastrophic acne, or are these parents sending the wrong message — reinforcing the idea that you're only as good as you look?

Which brings us back to bad judgment. If a picture's worth a thousand words, a publicly broadcast picture is amplified, multiplied and cast out into a world where it can go anywhere, be seen by anyone, a virus in the making. Broadcast pictures can be brutal, even lethal. Even the iPhone 4 can't fix that.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Photography

Comments [3]

I don't suppose you've read t stoppards view on the matter?

I am guessing they've been doctoring images on yearbook photos for as long as there has been yearbook photos. As editor of my college yearbook way back in 1977, I recall a trip to the company that we had contracted with (a big slimy business full of backroom dealing and probably illegal perks BTW) and saw how the photos were retouched with pencils and brushes to eliminate zits, yellow teeth and girlie mustaches.

Just because Photoshop and digital photography has made the practice ubiquitous, and the school photo companies have made it a price point instead of a service doesn't mean it is new.

Besides, these photos are for posterity, removing a blemish or a scab isn't the same as making celebrities appear preternaturally young nd thin, a regular occurrence in most consumer magazines.
Robert Sugar

Part of the problem isn't that they are simply removing blemishes (which has been going on forever) but we're talking about the option to slim and accentuate features. Similar to what happens in the fashion industry only on a smaller scale. No child needs that kind of retouching.

Jobs | July 23