Apple’s official product announcements are the most highly choreographed events this side of Olympic opening ceremonies. So it was something of a surprise last week when Apple and partner company Adobe caught significant grief after a demo segment that many perceived as sexist.
In the demo, Adobe executive Eric Snowden demonstrated his software’s precision by tweaking an image of an onscreen female model to make her smile. Twitter went supernova within seconds. “DUDE WHY ARE YOU STILL TRYING TO PHOTOSHOP LADIES?” tweeted one observer. “We don’t have to smile for you.” This was among the more polite responses.
The incident was certainly more than a little tone deaf, considering that the model was the first female image to appear onstage at the event, and that tech industry has been having some very public diversity issues for a while now. But in terms of photo manipulation scandals, it’s relatively low on the egregiousness scale.
Like Xerox and FedEx before it, Photoshop is a brand name that’s gradually became a generic term, bestowing upon us the cultural artifact known as the photoshop scandal. Interestingly, the phenomenon of the photoshop scandal even predates Photoshop, which is a neat trick. It’s the spirit of the thing, you see.
A year before Adobe officially launched its flagship graphics program, photo editors at TV Guide made this delightfully dubious decision, pasting Oprah Winfrey’s head atop a publicity photo of Ann-Margret.
The frankenphoto looks impossibly sloppy now, particularly for, you know, a national publication and all. A rhesus monkey with smart phone could do better these days. But one of the enduring hallmarks of the superior photoshopping scandal is a kind of bizarre, carefree indifference toward damning visual evidence.
Consider this specimen of Kate Winslet from the British edition of GQ:
If the estimable Ms. Winslet looks improbably slim, that’s because her image has been nipped, tucked, and vertically stretched. Exhibit A: The photo editor didn’t bother to manipulate her reflection in the mirror behind her. Nigel! You had one job!
Photoshopping scandals occasionally drift into politics as well, with entertaining results. In 2004, The George W. Bush campaign ran this infamous image in a TV spot.
Eagle-eyed watchers from the opposition campaign quickly noted that the crowd shot had been rather conspicuously manipulated. Either that, or DARPA’s cloning research is farther along than we think.
Another classic photoshop scandal involves Egypt’s biggest newspaper, Al-Ahram, and its decision to move President Hosni Mubarak to the front of a line of world leaders, including Barack Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II, and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Further evidence, if we need it, that under the cool facade of international diplomacy lurk the subtle dynamics of a fifth-grade school cafeteria line.
Ethical issues around image manipulation back to the dawn of photography. If you’re really interested, you can follow the thread, from a few years back, of filmmaker Errol Morris’ obsessive investigation into Crimean War photos. Beware – it’s a rabbit hole, but this is a good place to start.
Clearly, with last week’s event, Apple and Adobe simply brushed up (heh) against an issue with a long, strange history.