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.