Here’s the thing about photo manipulation: I cannot un-see what I’ve seen.
Though I may train myself to spot fakes (The Deceptive World of Photo Retouching) and become wary of ads claiming to portray authentic, natural beauty (Were the Dove Ads Retouched?), I will never be able to remove those images from my mind. While I may tell myself that heavily photoshopped men and women are not real, it is a much greater step to believe they are not ideal.
I found the use of photo manipulation in Benneton Unhate Campaign effective, yet disturbing. I had a difficult time looking at these images. Instead of putting me at ease and causing me to think positively or humorously about the relationships between the kissing subjects, my discomfort about their relationships skyrocketed. I became acutely aware of the animosity between them and maybe even felt a little violated for them. I do not necessarily agree with the intentions of the campaign, and this may have contributed to my uneasiness about the images.
It is exciting to see artists like the ones in the “Reality Bytes” article use photo manipulation in sophisticated ways. I believe this field of work is in its infancy and will gain great popularity. I especially enjoyed Gutschow’s surreal lanscapes which had a greater impact on me than I expected them to and Lux’s subtle, haunting portraits.
Photo manipulation plays a significant role in our interpretation of politics and perception of history. Because it is difficult to un-think the thoughts implied by a photograph, even an obviously doctored one, visual culture will always present itself as a battleground with territory worth claiming.
Images are especially powerful because we cannot un-see what we’ve seen, and we cannot un-think what we’ve thought. While we can analyze and criticize the message an image has sent us, we cannot erase our exposure to that message.