Have you ever looked at a beautiful photo but you’re quickly left wondering what parts of the photo, and the person in it for that matter, are even real?
Today I came across a photo of someone that made me take a second look and I realized that the person had digitally added eyelashes. EYELASHES. Now fake eyelashes come in various forms so I’m unsure if digital eyelashes are just the latest and cheapest enhancement we’re all aware of and cool with, but it felt a lot like photo editing meant to be perceived as real which can be a dangerous thing.
It struck me that in a world claiming to be more candid and real than ever we’re actually taking the time to digitally alter even the smallest details in order to post pictures to our personal profiles that depict our casual “everyday” lives. I know what you’re thinking…. this is an interesting conversation to be having with a photographer who edits photographs for a living. How hypocritical of me, right? But this is not a new conversation within the photography community, nor is it a new conversation in general. Beauty industries have been getting a lot of heat the past decade and ethical editing processes have been defined, blurred, and redefined time and time again.
In no community is a serious alteration of a photo, meant to portray reality, more debated or more of a faux pa than in the photojournalism community. A community that has heavily influenced the work of Mannix Company. Contradictorily, our other heavy influences come from myth and magic. From books and films about the fantastic and the unrealistic. So where does that leave us? As people who capture and alter photos for a living, what right do we have to be so deeply troubled by something as simple and seemingly harmless as a person who digitally adds eyelashes that aren’t actually their own?
It’s a solid question. And it’s one we’ve tried to answer over the past couple years as we’ve searched for our voice and style. When trying to define ourselves as photographers we’ve repeatedly come to the same crossroads:
“How much editing is TOO much editing?”
Our answer lies someplace between the expected hot-button issues, the perfectly curated Instagram lives always flooding our feeds, and the reality of what we’re teaching our children with our behaviors.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about this yet but our kids will be able to look at social media self-documentation of more than half of our lives…. yeah… scary. Bet you weren’t thinking about that when you posted entire albums of your drunken college escapades with ridiculous names like “Buy me a DrAnK spring break 2008” (I didn’t do that, you did that…). With the rise of influencers and Instagram, the amount of curation that now goes into our “candid” digital footprints is astounding. We are in uncharted parenting territory. Our children will never know a world without social media and it’s certainly not news that heavy social media use has been linked to depression, anxiety and a slew of other issues our kids will face like never before in history. So the real question behind those silly harmless digital eyelashes is, what are we telling our children about our self-confidence, our honesty, and our values when we alter everything from our faces to our photos beyond the reality of ourselves that they recognize and love? How can we instill in the next generation the strength to navigate this social media dominated world we made for them while also creating and sharing fake versions of ourselves? Today the answer was suddenly resoundingly clear: WE CAN’T
There has been a change in the tides of childhood. The integration of the digital social world into the real world means our children no longer experience childhood the way generations before them did. We have a new kind influence competing to mold the minds of our youth, and how much power they learn to give it is totally up to us. If we want our children to intrinsically value what is real and tangible and honest then we need to show them that what WE value, and what we share is real and tangible and honest.
What does this mean for us as Photographers?
Participating in different mediums of photography requires you to wear a lot of hats and different mediums call for different levels and types of editing. We know that we are artists and some things we create will be our artistic interpretation of the world. We know that we are storytellers and some stories we tell aren’t meant to be realistic. BUT we’re not always just telling our stories, we are also telling your story. That makes us journalists. That means we have an ethical responsibility, we want that story to be authentic. Photography is immensely important to how we see the world and ourselves. Photography documents history sets standards and starts trends. It’s how your children will see you and a world they may not have known or may have been too young to remember and it’s immensely important, to us at least, that we portray it truthfully. So what can you expect from MCo.?
As artists, we use our vision to heavily influence tonality and the overall feel of a photo. As story teller’s we use angle’s, light, locations, and posing to tell a story with a photo. But as journalists, you don’t have to wonder if your face or your waist is really that thin. If your lips are really that plump or your butt is actually that round. You don’t have to question how much of the “you” that you see in our work is real. We promise it’s actually you. Beautifully authentically YOU, down to the very last eyelash.