Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: April 2008

Women are demanding that photographs should not be airbrushed and digitally distorted to represent celebrities as they truly aren’t.

This notion that we should ‘tell it as it is’ seems to be a little selective.  All this takes place as London’s Hayward Gallery is showing an exhibition of the work of Soviet photographer, Aleksandr Rodchenko (Spelling academic when translating from Russian) sponsored by that nice Mr Abramov.

Rodchenko was a pioneer of the manipulation of photographs, having, in the service of the Soviet State, manipulated photographs of the building of the White Sea Canal during the nineteen thirties to convey the impression that it was an heroic and admirable achievement.  It wasn’t.  The Soviet regime used the construction project to work over 200,000 prisoners to death.

Nonetheless, Rodchenko is championed as a groundbreaking photographic artist.  Much as was Leni Riefenstahl, who put her talents as a photographer to use in Nazi propaganda.

People are falling out of love with photographers.  The Papparazzi are demonised for involvement in hounding Princess Diana to death.  Nobody needs professionals any more since the advent of digital cameras and bundled image editing software.  Now everybody can make their own image.

Apparently it infringes our human rights if someone else tells lies about another somebody else in order to prop up the ‘proper’ social order, but it’s ok for us to tell little fibs about the desirability of our own propositions.  Like the vendor of a car who ‘tidies up’ the photograph he puts on e-bay to remove the odd blemish or two.

Where does it end?  Enhancing one’s CV? (Resumé for US readers)  Or maybe where does it all begin? Shaving off one’s beard? Cutting one’s hair into tonsorial topiary? Putting on make-up?  Shaving one’s legs?

I don’t know about you, but I find it rather sad that fashions in beauty are such an insidious part of everyday life that natural phenomena such as body-shape go in and out of fashion and lead to ridiculous efforts amongst the population to conform to the ideal.  It’s by no means a new thing.  Corsetry and surgery was used over a century ago by women who would have ribs removed to achieve an eighteen inch (45cm for metric readers) waist.

I must admit that the plague of obesity currently burgeoning in the UK does make me wish I hadn’t put my harpoon-gun into the car-boot sale, but I still hope that people could be taught to feel more comfortable about the way nature (or God, for religious readers) made them.

I do think that there is a link between beauty and Truth.  Artificial objects just can’t match up to natural creations.  We can try to modify or improve nature until the genetically modified milk producing units return to the collection depot, but we will not succeed.

When it comes to Art (capital A for observant readers) all creations are artificial.  But I do think that artists have a moral responsibility to show a view of Truth.  Some images of Truth, especially those which depict human behaviour, are far from being beautiful.  In photography one thinks of journalistic reportage of death, warfare and destruction – a tradition that numbers Goya’s horrors of war amongst its predecessors.  Of course, images of negative behaviour are often condemned as ‘obscene’.

What might be construed as more obscene is the manipulation of an image in order to create a false impression.  Such as Rodchenko’s lies about Soviet atrocities.  And maybe the creation of false ideals about what the perfect woman ought to look like.

Photography is one of the tools of pornography.  Pornography also tends to represent an image which does not match the reality, and unfortunately affects a lot of people whose ideas of everyday human behaviour get modified by the images they see.

Pornography often presents images of women, infantilised by shaving off the hair they grew when they ceased to be children, apparently enjoying the gratification of men by fellatio and anal intercourse, and almost never shows couples genuinely enjoying ‘conventional’ consensual sexual activities in which each gender plays an equal part.

There could be no better propaganda for the sort of men who wish that adult women were not their equals.  The insistence that women wear make-up, shave their legs and armpits and even their pubes seems to betray some kind of paedophile longing in the men who want to see women with the hairless bodies, rosebud lips and large eyes of little girls.

Such is the power of the bland propaganda of the mainstream media, that most women seem eagerly complicit in their own image manipulation, and few would not be horrified by the thought of giving up shaving their legs, bleaching or epilating facial hair, and presenting themselves ‘unretouched’ in public.

We should watch carefully how our images are presented, lest we start to try to become like the images rather than to insist that the images present a true likeness.  Even if we don’t yet feel comfortable with our own likeness.