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Photos and Little White Lies

Published in ChicagoNow, February 18, 2015

“The camera never lies.” When photography was invented in the mid-nineteenth century, the photos it produced were supposedly objective and inalterable. They captured a moment in time. No one is sure of the origin of this statement about the “truthiness” of photos, but in 1895, The Evening News of Lincoln Nebraska stated, “Photographers, especially amateur photographers, will tell you that the camera cannot lie.”

While professional photographers have always been able to modify their images, most of us amateurs just dropped off the roll of film at the drug store and tossed the pictures we didn’t like. But now, everyone who has a camera phone can crop, enhance, and retouch every photo they capture.

Digital photography became very popular around the time my first grandchildren were born. And, I also got my first Mac, complete with basic photo editing. Much to my delight, I discovered I could now improve photos, leading to a digital collection of little white lies.

Of course, little kids are amazingly cute. But they also secrete all kinds of unsightly fluids. Now I could erase snot from colds, drool, and food residue from their adorable faces. So, is this a little white lie? When I look back at their early years, will my grandkids seem too healthy and clean? I’m not sure. I guess I would have deleted the original picture featuring my grandson’s cold all over his face. But with the magic of photo editing, I’m happy to have the version above in my memory bank instead.

I feel a bit guilty about my next group of photos that contain little white lies. I discovered down the road that I could also improve pictures of folks my age, and especially of me, by ironing out a few wrinkles here and there.

Even more importantly, I could look younger and more refreshed with a little touch of erasing under my eyes. True confessions time: I have always been unhappy about the dark circles under my eyes. This bothers me in photos even more than pictures that make me look fat. So being able to improve this flaw has led to more photos of me that do not end up in the trash. I guess this is a bigger little white lie than removing the evidence of a cold from under my grandson’s nose.

I think I can rationalize these improvements by reflecting back to the pre-photography era. People commissioned artists to paint their portraits, and most of these artists knew they would be paid more if their subjects liked how they looked. Different artists’ portraits of the same person varied considerably.

It’s not as if I am totally photoshopping pictures of my family to achieve a perfection that would land us on the cover of People magazine. I’m just making little improvements that make the pictures worth keeping. I guess this qualifies as a little white lie, but is it really that bad?


by Laurie Levy
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