Sunday, February 23, 2014

Realism in Images



A picture says a thousand words, but does Realism make the list? While photos are meant to portray unbiased truth, the myth of photographic truth still lingers in our culture today. Digital editing software allows normal photos to be altered in both positive and negative lights. According to the French theorist, Roland Barthes, “...myth is the hidden set of rules and conventions through which meanings, which are specific to certain groups, are made to seem universal and given for a whole society” (p.20).

Option 1: In Figure 1, Time magazine darkened the skin tone of then suspect, O.J. Simpson because of the “...historical convention of using darker skin tones to connote evil and to imply guilt” (p.25). At the time of the release of the Time magazine, Simpson wasn’t even on trial yet, and before he even had a fair chance, was viewed as a murderer because of his darkened skin tones, stereotyping him as a criminal. 
As a starting point, some of these questions may help you think about how color and digital editing affects our culture. Why do you think a world renowned magazine, such as Time, went to such lengths to darken Simpson’s skin tone? Do you believe the darker image makes him look like more of a criminal than that of the lighter image? Do you think American’s would have reacted more positively to Simpson had the original image (on Newsweek magazine) been placed on news stands? How do you think the colors affected readers of Time? If you saw this picture as an adult in 1994, would you view Simpson as a criminal? Why or why not?

Figure 1, Digital editing done by Time and real picture on Newsweek magazine
Retrieved from: http://jonmwessel.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/oj-simpson-time-magazine-cover-controversial-darkened1994.jpg?w=604
Option 2: "To explore the meaning of images is to recognize that they are produced within dynamics of social power and ideology. Ideologies are systems of belief that exist within all cultures. Images are an important means through which ideologies are produced and onto which ideologies are projected" (22-23). Looking back to last week, where we focused on how women are portrayed by the media, take a look at Figure 2, and apply this week's reading about images, ideology, and representation. Why is photoshop used to alter the appearance of models? What does it represent for companies, products, and society? This is a still taken from the below video, Figure 3, that goes through this process. What does this say about the ideology of our society?

Figure 2,  before and after photoshopping, still from video
Retrieved from: http://dslrs.net/dslr/dslr-photography/movie-shows-photoshop-body-retouching-taken-to-extreme/


Figure 3: Photoshop makes anything possible video
Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cPnfjwKfkSk

"Image Authentication and Forensics | Fourandsix Technologies - Photo Tampering throughout History." Image Authentication and Forensics | Fourandsix Technologies - Photo Tampering throughout History. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. 

Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. "Images, Power, and Politics." Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ., 2009. 1-46. Print.

25 comments:

  1. Posting in response to Option 2:

    The representation of women in the media, especially when images are photoshopped, is conveying a message that photoshop is required in order to create the "ideal" beauty. Looking at Figure 2, the woman's eyes are made larger, her hair looks more full, her arms are lightened, her stomach is trimmed, her legs are trimmed and also lengthened, and the curve of her buttocks is made more prominent. The woman, before the photoshop, would still be extremely attractive and rightfully so, yet the media is destructive by photoshopping her body because they are trying to create an ideal that is impossible to achieve without modification (especially digital modification).

    The ideology of our society, especially because men run most of the media, is skewed to impossible ideals. Companies, including the example of Abercrombie & Fitch, want only the most attractive people wearing and representing their companies due to the disgusting notion that ONLY attractive people WILL wear their products. In the aforementioned Abercrombie & Fitch case, the owner was asked why the company did not make larger sizes of their clothing, he had stated that he did not want overweight/heavier people to wear their clothing. Nobody is perfect, and the ideology of our society tries to embed the idea that people should strive for the vain intent of being as attractive as possible, even if that means body modifications (breast enlargements/reductions/lifts, crow's feet, love handles, liposuction, collagen, botox, etc), most of which are completely cosmetic.

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  2. In response to option 1, I think that the lighter image actually makes Simpson look more like a criminal than the darker one. His face is completly exposed and lit making him known to the world. In America, we like for the people that are considered to be "bad" to be know by everyone. The darker image for me, is like Simpson is hiding or being ashamed maybe. It is also slightly more blurred than the lit image making me think that there is the possiblility that Simpson is not even the suspect. The whole cover for Time Magezine seems unsure. The large red TIME over his forehead pushes him back in the image, making him seem not so important and on top of that, the title of the issue is not as intense or eye-catching as Newsweek's.

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  3. option 1
    I believe that Time magazines cover does make OJ look like a criminal. In the Time magazine cover, OJ looks like he's hiding in the shadows, trying to avoid the public eye. There's a halo of light behind his head, as if someone has found him and is shining a flashlight at his back. His face around his eyes are slightly highlighted and they look unemotional, as if he had no sympathy and no fear. The Time logo is forefront, almost trapping Simpson behind bars.

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  4. I agree that Time Magazine is depicting OJ as a criminal by darkening his face.
    What about Newsweek? Do you think that this image is incriminating as well?
    In both magazines, the same photo is used- a mugshot. Time Magazine simply chose to alter the image.
    Why don't you think Newsweek altered their cover in the way that Time did?

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  5. Good observation on the halo of light around his head. If you were an adult in 1994, would you think OJ was guilty?

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  6. I agree with you that the lighter image makes Simpson look more like a criminal than the darker one. At first I thought the darker image portrayed him more of a criminal, but re-looking at it and reading your post, I think that the lighter image is more shocking than the darker image.

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  7. I'm glad you brought up Abercrombie & Fitch, I think that is a very good example of companies who are guilty of misrepresenting both men and women. The sizes at Abercrombie are even worse than most stores as all of the sizes are skewed. I'm not sure if you, or anyone else, has been in the store lately, but an extra-small t-shirt looks like it would only fit a preteen girl before puberty, one that is extremely tiny. And the size large t-shirts are a normal small/medium size. This company is making girls think they are bigger than are actually are, and I'm sure other companies do this as well.

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  8. I think both images are incriminating, but in different ways. The darkening of his face in the Time image I believe is meant to instill a type of fear and reinforces the idea of dark being evil. In Newsweek, I think that not darkening the image is symbolic of portraying things as they are. To make us feel that OJ was guilty, there was no need to darken his face because the words do that for us

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  9. I agree that both of the images are incriminating. Do you think this has to do with the fact that they are both the same mugshot? Although Time altered the image, both covers used the same photograph.
    Looking at the words, I would also say that they are both incriminating, but I think that Newsweek is a little more blunt with their title. Do you think Newsweek's wording is more or less incriminating than Time's or do you believe they are both equally incriminating?

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  10. I am also glad that you brought up Abercrombie & Fitch Justin. The owner goes on and on about how he wants only the coolest, skinniest, most attractive people to wear their clothes and work in their stores. The sizes are totally skewed and make perfectly normal sized girls feel like they are too big to wear the clothing.


    Another point to make when looking at the case of Abercrombie is to look at the owner himself. He is not the "ideal" image of beauty; however, he bashes other people for being too fat, too pale, too short, and otherwise to ugly to wear his company's clothing. Do you think that he is effected by his own message? Is his message similar to the message that society as a whole is putting out through the media?


    Although advertisements don't say right out "you can only wear our clothes if you are 100 lbs, 5'10, and blonde" they often send out that exact message. This seems to be what Abercrombie is doing. Is what the owner said so openly the same thing that the media is trying to hide within their advertisements?

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  11. Well, the title "Trail of Blood," juxtaposed with Simpson's face makes me think of a trail of clues leading to Simpson. The cover page implies that Simpson left a trail of blood (and, indeed, traces of blood in the crime scene and on clothing were integral to the case). This, along with the fact that they decided to illustrate the article about the case with his mug shot, suggests that Newsweek wanted to present him as a criminal.


    The other cover title, "American Tragedy," suggests that the story is sad (as opposed to a murder mystery), and that perhaps the sadness of the story has something to do with "America." Instead of featuring images of the victims in the case, Simpson's somber face is adjacent to the phrase "American tragedy." This could prompt viewers to pity him or to think that the whole situation is pitiful. He was an American icon--a well-known sports figure who appeared in television commercials and movies. Or, the "American Tragedy" could suggest that "America" is implicated in this tragedy, perhaps prompting adults to consider if there is something wrong with our culture.

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  12. Here is where the method of visual cultural critique is useful for thinking about why Sturkin and Cartwright would forward the argument that Time darkened the skin tone to "connote evil and imply guilt" (25). This claim is supported by the fact that there is a longstanding cultural practice or convention of using darker skinned characters to represent "evil." As another example, in old Westerns, the good guy wore the white hat, while the bad guy wore the black hat. Sturkin and Cartwright demonstrate that this practice reflects and produces a racial ideology that sustains the belief that darker skinned people are more likely to be criminals. At the time of the Simpson case, tension between people of different races was high so it is an important aspect of the representation to consider in this rhetorical situation.


    In my discussion of the relationship between the titles and images on the covers above, I did not consider the ideologies or cultural practices represented in the titles. If I wanted to practice visual cultural critique, I might research the conventions used in representing criminal cases in order to determine whether there is a pattern (or convention) of representing alleged criminals differently based on their race, sexual orientation, nationality, gender, age, etc. Or, I might consider how these covers reflect other cultural issues going on at the time.


    Does that make sense? Are there any recent controversial magazine covers that you all can think of and share? Perhaps we could practice reading those for what ideologies they seem to reflect.

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  13. I think this is the perfect way to describe how both covers are incriminating, but in very different ways.
    Time is making him out to be a criminal, who murdered his wife and left a trail of blood behind him.
    On the other hand, Newsweek does seem to allude that an outside person (or many persons in the case of society as a whole) was involved and ultimately responsible for OJ committing the murder in the first place.
    Although many of us consider both of these covers to incriminate OJ, do you think this would be the overall conclusion that the public came to when they looked at these covers in 1994? After all, OJ was NOT found guilty of the murder.

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  14. Hi Justin,

    I agree. I think many companies that photoshop their models are conforming to the unattainable "ideal" conceptions of beauty within our society.

    Companies such as Dove and American Eagle have recently stopped using photoshop on their models. The companies want every woman (and person) to feel beautiful in their own, digitally unaltered skin. Dove and American Eagle are, much like Jennifer Siebel Newsom, striving to change the way women are portrayed and perceived in the media.

    Do you think these campaigns will alter the "ideal" ideologies we have for women? How would the public's perceptions change after witnessing these happy, photoshop-free, and beautiful women?

    -Brittany

    Citations:

    American Eagle:
    http://www.ae.com/

    Dove Campaign for Real Beauty:
    http://www.dove.us/social-mission/campaign-for-real-beauty.aspx

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  15. That is terrible! I had no idea Abercrombie & Fitch was that bad. I am glad I have never stepped into their stores (I find the outside of their stores annoying--there is a whole visual cultural critique needing to be done there as well).

    To answer the question about what ideology these representations seem to support, I would say that they seem to reflect a gender ideology (a system of belief about what it means to be a "woman" or "man"). One particular ideology is "patriarchy," meaning the rule of the father. This is a way of thinking that positions men as the figures of power, stability, order and women as support figures for men and children. It is a belief system that structures institutions (family, school, work, church) to privilege men. In some ways, representing women over and over as impossibly thin and young supports an idealization of a weak, dependent woman who seeks only to be looked at and admired (supported) by men. Thoughts?

    Or, Justin mentions that the digital alteration including whitening the model's skin. What kind of ideology (again, system of belief) would support the idea that to whiten something is to make it more beautiful/desirable?

    What about other ideologies like consumerism? capitalism? Are those reflected in this representation?

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  16. Hi Professor Vinson,

    Could the lightening of the model's skin color relate back to Sturken and Cartwright's theories? In the textbook (and in your earlier post) it is mentioned that darker skin tones were historically used to "connote evil and imply guilt…darker skin tones nonetheless continued to be used as literary, theatrical, and cinematic symbols of evil" (25-26). Conversely, pale skin was used to convey benevolence, trust, and honesty. Through whitening the woman's skin tone, perhaps the advertisement is trying to suggest the model's holiness and purity?

    -Brittany

    Citations:
    Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright's "Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture"

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  17. Yes, I think you are right Brittany. The lightening of the model's skin seems to reflect the same racial ideology that the darkening of OJ Simpson's skin does. I would use the term "white supremacy" to label this ideology--a system of beliefs and practices that privelege white skinned people (as always being represented as the most beautiful, "honest," "benevolent" or "pure" ones).

    This reminds me of the movement (began in the 1960s) called "Black is Beautiful." See more about its history here:

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/video/black-is-beautiful/

    And a current take here:
    https://www.myblackisbeautiful.com/#imagine-a-future-intro

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  18. After reading these comments, if I were an adult in 1994, I probably would have thought OJ Simpson was guilty. The way that he is portrayed and pictured on the Time Magazine is pretty convincing. Also, the way that people thought back then is very different from now. People were not studying why Simpson is shaded, they were only concerned with the fact that he was and what is meant for them.

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  19. I think this is a good point. We are looking at the cover as a piece of visual rhetoric. People who have not studied visual rhetoric may not look into the shading v. not shading between the magazine covers and would take it for exactly what they saw. They most likely would have viewed OJ as guilty just by the way he is portrayed on the covers of these magazines. It is convincing and at first glance, I would have seen OJ as a criminal without even having to read the story inside. You have to take a step back and look at how the magazines altered his image and why.

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  20. Brittany, I love that you brought this up. Recently American Eagle and Aerie have decided to stop using any photoshop or retouching of their models! They are featuring beautiful, happy, confident women in different shapes, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds and all of the "imperfections" each one of them has (including freckles, moles, scars, and tattoos).


    I am hopeful, as I assume companies like American Eagle are, that this will be the start of a new ideology. That we are all beautiful BECAUSE of our imperfections and that there is more than one type of "ideal" beauty.


    I would also think that people would cheer on these types of companies. Young, impressionable girls who shop at these stores are going to be able to look at these models and identify with them, rather than compare themselves to someone who is photoshopped to perfection. Hopefully, this will boost the self-esteems of young girls and make them see that they don't have to be a size zero, tall blonde to be beautiful (but if they are, they are beautiful too)!

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  21. It makes me wonder if the jury on his case ever saw these covers. As a juror on a big case, you are told to stay away from the news and any other from of media that your case is included in. I feel as though if the jurors had in fact seen these magazines that maybe the verdict would have been different.

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  22. Funny that you mentioned old Westerns, my father is currently watching an old Western movie called "Track of the Cat" and group of bad guys have black hats on. I never would have picked up on this.


    The first magazine cover that came to mind was the Rolling Stone issue with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Boston Marathon Bombing). The cover makes him look like rock star rather than a cold blooded murderer. While Rolling Stone magazine got a lot of bad publicity for this cover, they obviously did it for a reason, I'm just not sure what that reason was...

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  23. It's comforting to see companies like AE (who rivals Abercrombie and Fitch and considered a "lower end" version of AF). Less than 5% of the world looks like the models in magazines and even the super skinny ones before photoshop are still being photoshopped. I think marketing specialists of these companies are realizing how unattainable a size zero is, unless you are a petite girl to begin with. While theres absolutely NOTHING wrong with being a size zero, the average girl does not look like that. It makes me happy to see AE put girls who are a size 4 or a size 6, (which is still small!), un-photoshopped in their ads, it makes me feel as though there is a healthier hope for females in future generations

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  24. Option 1
    One of the elements of the two covers that really stood out to me was how color plays a role in communicating a certain emotion. After learning about the background/psychological association of color through the class, it was interesting to see how to color red is a dominating factor in the two images. The only other color that seems to make itself present is the color black, particularly in his suit jacket and in the ominous shadow effect used on the Time cover. Both of these colors are associated with power and authority, black being more mysterious and red typically being violent and tense. These colors become more apparent thanks to their contrast with the flat white backgrounds. Do you think that the color usage here may have created an unintentional persuasive outlook to those who looked at the cover?

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  25. These are all great ideas! It's strange to see the shift of the male gaze develop into a now recognized "female" gaze when it comes to movies and advertisements that seemly objectify the male body as opposed to the female body which of course, we typically see on a regular basis on all forms of media. I think it's an interesting idea to see more male models and scandalous male movies such as Magic Mike, since the roles of the gaze can be obviously seen as reversed. But I think this conveys the message that it's okay to objectify BOTH female a males, and that we should strive towards equality and respect for both. On a feminist view point, these examples of the male gaze moving into a new realm, just support the objectification of people in general - reversing the roles doesn't solve the issues women has dealt with for years, it only adds to these known problems of these stereotypical ideologies and our current cultural knowledge.

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