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Chernynkaya On April - 20 - 2010

Isn’t reality hard enough to deduce without Photoshop? Don’t believe your lyin’ eyes. Every month or so, another expose crops up showing how some celebrity’s image on a cover shoot was Photoshopped. People get all jiggy about it, and fairly so, I think.  We are being lied to; seeing is no longer believing. A picture is now worth about a dozen words when we were taught it is worth a thousand.

My husband has a side business as a photographer for some magazines and for glamour shots. He uses Photoshop extensively, and not only for fashion shoots but for his artistic photography. I’ll admit I’ve been tempted to have him ‘fix” me. And he has –for my avatar, which originally included my son’s cheek against mine. But that’s where I draw the line (heh). I figure, “Why?” What’s the point of even using a photo then, as opposed to, say, a picture of Ingrid Bergman?

Photoshop, as you may already know, is a retouching program that uses a system of layers, each iteration subtly altering the original image, altering what we perceive as the truth. There is already the problem of everyone’s individual perceptions– of the fact that a photograph is already an altered image because it is unnaturally frozen in time in a way we never see with our naked eyes. There is a theory known in physics as “the observer effect,” which basically states that the very act of observing an object or a phenomenon alters that which is observed. How much more so with Photoshop!

Our life in the industrialized world is Photoshopped in so many ways. Our media ‘shops the news, filtering out the total picture and focusing selectively on the “reality” they want us to see–like the old movies we see on television without Letterbox. We miss the scope of the event.  (Remember those rallies in D.C. that Fox news Photoshopped? They used Barack Obama’s Inauguration stills and claimed they the anti-health care demonstration. They could just have easily used Photoshop to clone sections of any crowd.)  And the media also layers a variety of contexts onto the raw story, depending on the bias of the network or the corporation behind it.

On the simplest level, we Photoshop ourselves—or at least, women do. We take our middle-aged skin and hair and add layers of cosmetics or dyes. We layer our bodies with deception—push-up bras, waist cinchers and sheer stockings to make our legs appear smooth and even-toned. We cap our teeth, get face lifts and boob jobs and hair extensions. What you see is not what you get. Underneath their clothing, everyone is naked. Do they know they’re naked under their clothing or have they identified with their clothing as opposed to their nakedness?

Aside from the distortion that our Photoshop mania does to reality, it also has consequences to our perception of ourselves. Most teenage girls can’t tell if a model in a magazine has been Photoshopped. The perfection is unattainable, yet they see it and futilely strive for it, making themselves miserable.

The Photoshop Diet!

We Photoshop our personas with possessions. “I am an intellectual—see all my layers of books.” Or, “I am cultured—see my paintings and CD’s.” “I am a success—I have layered an abode with architecture. I am contemporary, or traditional, or eclectic.”  We begin to believe our own Photoshopping and forget our own essence. We pile on layers of artifice.  Seeing is not believing.

Since we no longer grow our own food, we see only the Photoshop versions. Not only literally—on the labels of the food we buy–but on the actual fruits and vegetables, coated with a waxy substance to enhance their appearance. Artificial colors and flavors are added routinely.  Food is genetically Photoshopped so that it looks beautiful, packs easily– and tastes neutral.

Being a meditator, I can also use the Photoshop metaphor—meditation is like reverse ‘shopping. Little by little, I try to gently peel away the layers of thought and fantasy from my mind until I have a blank slate. I used to employ the mental image of my thoughts floating away inside soap bubbles; now I might try imagining them de-layered one by one, ‘shop-style.

What could happen to our perception if we reversed all the Photoshopping in our minds—beyond the normal state of thought and below it? Above the many layers of our physiology we might find the level of the pre-programmed automaton in us. We walk, we eat, and we perform numerous other complex physical tasks without needing to consider the minute details of every little movement. The conditioned, automatic layer also includes our personality, the whole complex pattern of thoughts, emotions, and mannerisms that comprise the person we believe ourselves to be. Living in our personality, we react in our typical and idiosyncratic fashion to all the events of life. Our personality operates as a restrictive, deterministic program, reacting to sensory inputs while harboring an illusion of initiative and freedom. Yet all these necessary skills embodied in our trained and habitual behaviors serve us quite well at a functional level.

At the next layer beyond that, some believe there can be found the sensitive energy, through which we can be aware of our thoughts, emotions, and body. At this level we already have some limited freedom from our pre-programmed personality: We can make real choices. The sensitive energy serves as the substantial basis for much of our inner work, as we collect, contain and transform it into our being.

Maybe we could find true consciousness in the next layer. This level of stillness and cognizance enables us to be both fully ourselves and fully in touch with the world beyond ourselves. Consciousness underlies and permeates everything everywhere. Like the air we breathe, we can open, through stillness, to this unbounded yet immediate vastness which makes us whole. When we feel ourselves to be fully present we might begin to touch consciousness. Uncovering layers and layers.

The layers beyond (or beneath) consciousness include creative energy and love. By emptying ourselves of ourselves, forgoing egoism, we may be able to surrender to something Divine. All these layers of reality and unreality impinge on the here and now. With limited vision, life seems flat. Photoshop makes it worse.

Categories: News & Politics

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

37 Responses so far.

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  1. LiseLives says:

    Oy -- don’t remind me Cher -- (v. good post btw) 😉

    All I know is that my domestic equivalent to Photoshop magic is : when I look in the mirror WITHOUT my reading glasses :

    “A beauty” ! (I sez to myself) : “Ms. Thang” !
    “A true work of art” ! ….singing : “I’m too sexy for my jeans” --

    Then I put on my reading glasses.

    EEEEEKKKK ! Who is that ????
    You don’t live here, now, just git out of my bathroom !!

  2. Questinia says:

    Wonderful post, Cher.

    However, I’d say creativity and love are the ideals that we naturally Photoshop onto our consciousness.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Thanks, Q. That means a lot. I see what you mean about love and ideals being added on-- if you mean to our reptilian brains. That’s another paradigm, and I hold to that too. That’s certainly a more scientific and behavioral way to say it. But I also see it the spiritual way. Neither is the truth, completely. But I think they both are true.

    • LiseLives says:

      Nicely put, Q -- quite the poetess I’d say 😉

      • Questinia says:

        Hi Cher and Lise,

        Since we did our “Three Graces Doing a Danse Macabre” yesterday, I added one final photograph at the bottom.

        It really lets you know how lucky we all are.

  3. Kalima says:

    Brilliant Cher and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In a few days I will be reaching what is loosely termed as “middle aged” that would be all well and good if I lived to be 100.

    Often if and when I do go out, it has become such an effort to sit in front of a mirror to put on my make up and realize that what I used to do for myself, I now do for other people instead. I used to enjoy all that, now I don’t. Fulfilling others visual perceptions of me is no longer gratifying, the “bad girl” in me wants to go “au naturel” with my handbag full of pictures to show when I say, this was/is me.

    Sorry, I’m in and out of a viral stupor and didn’t realize until I read all the comments that we had already chatted below on the thread. 😳

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Kalima, please don;t apologize for a new comment-- heck, that’s what writers love.

      I know how you feel about make-up. I used to enjoy it so much, loved buying and trying new shades and products. Now it is really a chore. I do it for a couple of reasons: One, because my husband and family like it,and I do look a lot better. I am one of those people who is transformed by make-up. But second, because in this society, I am not honored for my years. Just the opposite. In order not to be discounted and ignored, I have to try to look younger. That is really sad.

      But Kalima, it sort of saddens me to hear that you feel your younger self was the “real” you. I do know what you mean, because inside, I am still about 30. But I also know that you are always the “real” you. We just have to let ourselves settle in our new (not older, actually newer) skins. I haven’t quite yet, but I am optimistic I will find myself at home here soon.

      • Kalima says:

        Oh gosh no Cher, what I meant by that is that it’s still me. Younger, older, inside is the same.

        We are in a business where outside seems to be more important than inside and the people who have known me on the business side, expect me to make an effort, I do but only for hubby. I’d hate to ever let him down.

        If I had the choice, I’d move into the country somewhere, I’m a little tired of big city life, beginning to feel a bit jaded, you know, been there, done that.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Oops-- so sorry, Kalima, I misunderstood!

          Now I know what you mean and believe me, I get it. I so desperately dream of living in the country and becoming an old, wise woman, wearing lots of beads and a long braid and and whatever weird clothes I feel like wearing and be considered slightly dotty.

          • Kalima says:

            Exactly Cher, long flowing dresses, dangling earrings and a very silly hat, maybe no shoes either. :)

            Oh btw, I posted some delicious looking and sounding potato recipes on the 1st on MB.

      • LiseLives says:

        Hear, hear Cher --
        The older I get (and now that I don’t generate nearly as many turn-of-the-heads), the less important looks is to me --
        I very rarely wear make-up & feel that, if anything, it can be a distraction from the important stuff that’s happening inside --
        I’d far rather be noted for something more profound that mere looks --

        Having said that : Kalima, you exert inner beauty & I bet you’re still a good looking woman 😉
        Of course, you too Cher ….

        • Kalima says:

          Thank you Lise, hubby thinks so, in fact he prefers me without make up, strange really, considering the business we are in.

          I’ll take it! :)

        • Chernynkaya says:

          HEH! Don’t let my avatar fool you, Lise. It looks like me only if you already know me. If you never saw me, you’d realize it is as much like me as a police sketch artist rendering.

          • LiseLives says:

            LOL -- but all kidding aside, I love signs of laughter & even some hardship : character !
            They say it looks better on men, but I don’t agree -- as long as the heart & soul shine through, some wear & tear can be beautiful --

  4. zizyphus says:

    As one who has worked in Photoshop since it was released, I found your article interesting. It is very simple to create a visually compelling image without a single grain of truth in it, or to create a scene with many grains of truth surrounding one big lie. No, we can no longer believe our eyes when comes to photographic “evidence”. For that matter, even eye witness testimony can be called into question in the light of recent studies that show that we only see what we expect to see. Even the so-called double blind experiments, the holy grail of science, must wither when we examine them with the a new lens, one that includes the observer effect….so what is reality? Where exactly does it reside? Somewhere between what we hope, want, or expect to see and the events themselves, which will be interpreted uniquely by every viewer. SO, there is no objective reality.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Zizyphus-- hey-- thank you! I agree about objective reality, save for a few basics: Like, it is daytime, nighttime--stuff like that. You bring up an excellent point about eye witness accounts too. They are usually unreliable. As a kid, I used to wonder if other people saw colors the same as I did. People would call something “purple” but I saw it as maybe mauve, or magenta or whatever. And that could be because of lack of vocabulary or due to a difference in optical perception. Whichever, it made me realize that we didn’t see things the same.

      With Photoshop, reality is even harder to figure out. Sometimes I wonder if what I see in magazines or on the web, or even on new casts is actual.

  5. HITO says:

    And the truth shall set you free…or at least it’s supposed to.

    I agree completely with your sentiments, Cher. It’s becoming a world of expectations of whatever the current “norms” are, with little attention to the respect and honor the newly classified “abnormal” should elicit.

    Look into the mirror honestly: physically and spiritually, and deal with it. Whether that view prompts a change to be made, or a reassuring nod of appreciation that you are OK.

    The community where I grew up was chock-full of bricked two story homes situated by the beach, with a couple of huge old style farmhouses, which were the first to have been built in the 1800s. The newer homes of my childhood were a couple of 60s contempo styled California-ish flat roofed homes directly off the beach…they were the oddities and reflected the latest styling values.

    Over the last 40 years the community has been “shopped” with emphasis on bigger is better, so level the old house, put up a 3 story contemporary and make sure you have enough room for 4 cars to park in the driveway. It’s horrible. But it reflects the taste and cultural norms currently in play, with no regard or respect for the past.

    We need to be careful what we “shop”. More emphasis on what is considered visual perfection for the moment is not the sign of a healthy society.

  6. javaz says:

    Would the “Balloon Boy” story also be considered a photo-shop moment?

    It certainly should have embarrassed the corporate media!

  7. whatsthatsound says:

    This is such a good article, Cher. We live in a world of such technical wizardry that authenticity seems to be bleeding out of our society to the point where we may never even notice it when it’s gone. Think about what movies are able to do now. It’s mind blowing. Then go back to the stunts that Chaplin and Keaton used to pull. There is one of Buster Keaton on the front of a locomotive that stands out for me. No blue backgrounds, no stunt doubles. The risks those guys took was amazing! As was the art they were able to create.
    We can see where all this is going, too. Virtual reality devices that enable our spouses to “look like” Jessica Alba or Johnny Depp. We’ve come full circle perhaps. 500 years ago it was a rare occasion to even look at ones image in a mirror, and now we’ve become so obsessed we are moving toward “mirrors” that only show us exactly what we want to see (Mirror Mirror on the wall, make me the fairest of them all!)
    It reminds me of those old radio ads for Buick. The only thing missing is YOU!

  8. WLA says:

    Electronic “Photoshopping” has been done since the early days of the ironically named “Hell” machines of the 80s, then to become Hell/Linotype. Less and less skill is required to do passable alterations with every new version of Photoshop. Even to a 22 year veteran of print advertising like myself, it is troubling.

  9. dildenusa says:

    Prior to microsoft and adobe gobling up software companies to push their vision of the future, photoshopping, if I may call it that, was called “air brush out” and air brushing negatives was a high paid, high skill profession. So whatever you want to call it, years ago it didn’t take software. Of course the problem today is that for what it costs to buy the photoshop software, one person could retouch 1 photo with an airbrush. But with the software one person can retouch thousands of photos much more cheaply and nobody will know.

  10. Kalima says:

    Heard about photoshop years ago, don’t have it and I think that it might have been cruel to Mac users. So many places I go to, hate Mac.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I have tried to become proficient in it, Kalima, but it’s not my thing at all, although i appreciate the artistic capabilities if offers. I never had the patience to really learn it.

      • Kalima says:

        It sounds like fun Cher, an ex art student as I am, I would think that your talent comes from contact to paper, that is how it works for me anyway. Give me a pen, charcoal, a crayon or these wonderful water colours you can add water to in a pen and I’m there, if only my hands could draw a straight line, that is something I miss, that is something my condition took away from me. I can still write nonsense though.

        My dear Cher,
        I wish I were as affluent as you were.

        I’d climb high mountains and not take a breath,
        dying like a fool with too much stress.

        You make me think, you make me smile,
        living here in Tokyo seems to be worthwhile.

        Thank you for all of it!

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Kalima-- I adore those pens. And you make me blush-- many thanks.

          I browse art supply stores and when I find something new and ingenious like those water color pens, my week is complete. And absolutely-- I need to use some tactile materials. I am also a lover of various papers and mediums. My secret obsession though, is glues-- one for every single usage!

          Kalima, you write exquisite word pictures, as if an angel blessed you with that talent to compensate for the times your hands fail you.

          • Kalima says:

            I love you, what else could I say except Je t’aime. :)

            One day I might paint again, who knows. Do it for me in the meantime, ok?

            • Chernynkaya says:

              You’re the best, Kalima-- I love you too.

              I’ll do my best. I am working on a picture book about my mother’s life. It’s an ongoing thing. Do you know the book of art called “Charlotte”? It was my inspiration.


            • Kalima says:

              Just read the intro, wonderful, could I ever put Klare into words, I really don’t know. I have to admit I envy you though. Go at it Cher, I feel the tears falling already and thank you too. You know where I am and I thank you.

  11. KQ says:

    Fantastic insightful piece Cher. It was an utter joy reading it. You bring up so many good points and express them far beyond my capacity. I think the layers you mentioned talking about in photoshop is brilliant metaphor to relate the complexities of modern society.

    One of the biggest way people photoshop ourselves is how we present ourselves to the blog world. I’m sure many bloggers present a facade to the world that is unrecognizable to people who know them in real life. I always think how can you hate people even right wing trolls when you really don’t know them. I’ve said many times I’ve encountered far many more conservatives since moving down South. Some of them are still my good friends. In person the vast majority of them are not the evil people many of us including me sometimes stereotype. But get them in the battle arena in the blog world and a totally different person comes out. This depersonalization is probably a big factor in this country remaining divided even though we need to work together the most dangling on the precipice of the this country’s future.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I am honored, KQ! I was reading my husband’s Photoshop Magazine and was inspired.

      I think you bring up some really good points there.Our avatars--in most cases-- are a way to ‘shop ourselves and as you say, we don’t leave it at that, but also feel we must apply layers of characteristics onto other bloggers. I was just over at HP and was again struck by the monikers and the avatars people choose-- who would want to be called “PartyLine Dummy”? Or use as an avatar someone in blackface, like an old minstrel player? They are inviting shrillness.

      And you are so perceptive about one of the things that divide us--that we are looking at each other not as real human beings but as caricatures of people. In my life, I’ve never met a caricature--just some interesting characters!

  12. javaz says:

    I really like this article, Cher.

    It’s thought-provoking and thoughtful.

    I think the ACORN non-scandal is the most recent photo-shopped story that has been proven false, yet the MSM failed to mention that fact, and by the time the non-scandal broke, it was already too late in dooming ACORN’s reputation.

    I think maybe the Van Jones debacle is another example perpetuated by Glenn Beck.

    Would you also consider the misquotes by some pundits and politicians as a form of photo-shopping?

    For example, Sarah Palin misquoting President Obama’s speech at the Nuclear Summit?

    Or McConnell misleading the public about finance reform and previously HCR?

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Hey Javaz--thanks. Yep, those are definitely examples of ‘shopping the news! To paraphrase the famous quote: There are lies, damn lies, and Republicans!

  13. Chernynkaya says:

    C’Lady-- I hadn’t even considered those implications, and as you say, they are extremely worrisome! I don’t even know if experts can tell if a photo has been altered if done by someone who is an expert at it.

    And I never knew those Magli shoes were ‘shopped! I remember that well.

    Of course, there are many instances where “news” outlets have photoshopped images-- especially by cloning sections of crowds to make them appear larger, and even putting someone else’s head on a body. I don’t know how we will discover this.

    • choicelady says:

      Cher -- that happened with the photo of the Dems walking to the Capitol to vote for health reform -- the tea baggers were all shown, but there was a large crowd of people including clergy standing on the other side. The Dems shook hands and talked as they walked -- all carefully cut out of EVERY photo I saw. The ONLY photo of the pro-reform people was one of a large guy with a mohawk meaning, IMHO, the people supporting reform were wackos.

      And the teabaggers weren’t????

      As for the Magli shoes -- the ‘expert’ on the altered photo did not do well on the stand so the testimony was largely ignored. But I saw the photo myself, and it WAS SHOPPED! And the guy who did it was smirking proud of it!

  14. choicelady says:

    Hi Cher -- very informative and kind of scary!

    I have yet to recover from the “photo” of John Kerry with Jane Fonda -- totally photoshopped since the original photographer had the negative that was “Fondaless”.

    The capacity for deception became evident to me one time when I was testifying against some very prominent clergymen who had obstructed a women’s clinic entrance in violation of a federal court order. The video (their side’s) had been altered to the point WE had to get a video expert to testify about incompatible something-or-others. One of the men went to federal prison for that. But it was heavy lifting on our part!

    I will say that my first STILL camera photoshop experience was also scary awful -- do you remember the famous photo of OJ supposedly wearing the Bruno Magli (sp?) shoes? It secured his civil conviction. Well, it was phony. There was no such photo. It was done in a photo studio by someone I know who’d done the “makeover” who was SO proud of falsifying the evidence he had it displayed, and it frankly scared me that someone would do that to the point I said nothing. It was months after the verdict in civil court, I could not prove it, and I had no idea whom to tell. I was and am horrified at it all.

    If photographic “evidence” cannot any longer be trusted, then whatever we admit in court must itself be on trial. It’s one thing to smooth skin tones and improve hair -- it’s quite another to “prove” one thing or another in court -- or the court of public opinion -- with phony, doctored materials.

    Brave, new world…

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