Sunday, 21 November 2010

"My perfect child"

Over on the New York Times site there's an article about the Photoshopping of school photos – a service offered by the photography companies that takes the photos.

Being both photographer and designer I've done a share of Photoshopping. Mostly (apart from when it involves fashion and models) it's a presentational thing: minor stuff, post-photograph tweaking akin to the pre-photograph physical checking of the hair, cleaning the teeth, maybe sucking in of the stomach, tightening a belt or choosing your better clothes. It only makes sense because the photo will be somewhere else where it'll be your public image for a while.

But surely school photographs aren't that. For a start the above are adults, and for when it involves an element of "PR" not portraiture. Secondly, surely school photographs are a memory of where you are/were at in some stage of your youth. In the picture the NYT uses to accompany the article, a scab from a playground scrape is Photoshopped out (see the detail above.) An "ugly" scrape, but looking back, surely one would say, "ah, that was the year you had a tumble", rather than, "oh look, perfect again". (Seems the background is your choice too, judging by the green-screen behind the boy in the left photo.)

What are children thinking about themselves if they or their parents opt to remove a birthmark, shorten hair etc. What are we doing, choosing to present ourselves this way? (David Mitchell, writing about something else, had a good take recently, wondering why we've changed to smiling constantly in photos from the Victorian straight-face.) Now some can even choose to have our children present a "perfect" face – the only plus side is that so far it's only a very few who do.

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