Monday, April 20, 2015

Photoshop Ethics

A friend of mine who is a professional photographer wrote to me with an interesting ethical dilemma. She had already resolved it, but was curious about my reaction. Here's what she asked me, having put the same question to a group of fellow photographers:
Had a Senior Prom session last night and the most stunning girl, after her photos, she asked me to [Photoshop] her arms and belly. Flat out not joking--said her arms are disgusting, and her belly isn't flat. This made me VERY uncomfortable. She is beautiful and perfect and my gut says DO NOT DO IT. She may not love the images, but her mother is my client and I feel like one day she'll look back and think DANG! I looked so great back then . . . I just think it breeds insecurities and perpetuates the fight for the unattainable "perfect body." Now if a mom asked me to help her out with her belly post babies I would do it. Is this a complete double standard? Do you feel like we have a responsibility in this area?
She was surprised to hear a lot of her peers tell her to just go ahead and do the requested Photoshopping, and she described the outcome to me like this:
After many 'everyone wants to be Photoshopped' I replied: I just think it's getting crazy! What's next? Hey, can you make my boobs bigger? Can you make my butt bigger and waist unattainably small? I don't know. I agree with grown women who want a little help. But are we here to make naturally beautiful girls into porn stars? I don't know if I can do it.
In the end, my friend refused to Photoshop the pictures. Personally, I agree with her decision. But the final call regarding the "rightness" or "wrongness" of such a thing is less interesting to me than the existence of the line itself, because that line exists in every profession.

There are lawyers who won't take certain cases, because they find the client's behavior too horrible to defend or their claims too preposterous to advocate. There are physicians who won't perform abortions, for moral or religious reasons. And there are physicians who actively seek to provide that service, knowing that abortion is a controversial procedure and thus often difficult to obtain. There are bakers who won't print homophobic messages on cakes. Conversely, there are pizzerias and auto-body repair shops that actively seek to cater to and profit from bigotry by declaring that they won't perform certain services for the LGBTQ community out of a sense of moral or religious conviction. There are journalists who will edit out information on request, as happened recently with PBS and Ben Affleck regarding a documentary in which the actor wanted to hide his ignominious slave-owning ancestry. There are other journalists who would refuse to make such an edit.

And there are places, like this situation, where the law and codified professional codes of ethics leave a vacuum, and there is no universally "correct" answer, although I personally think there is a "right" answer to all of the above--at least for me. What makes the answer "right" though, I suppose, depends on your perspective and your values and your internal moral compass.

My friend was OK with Photoshopping an adult who requested that service. Recognizing that it was a bit of a double-standard, she nevertheless drew the line at an adolescent who demanded that her body be Photoshopped to "perfection." For her, this was a slippery slope that made her professionally complicit in something she found objectionable. 

We still live in a free society (at least in theory) and that's a good thing. Because in the end, all we have is our own gut instinct and our own standards about what we will and won't do for a paycheck. 


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