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Dubois: A good catch by a reader, and an unsettling explanation

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 4:04 PM

By Carl Dubois / Special to the American Press

I remember when people said "the eye doesn't lie" and meant it as a reminder that the eye of a camera shows the raw, unedited truth. Since technology started giving us ways to manipulate photographic images, we've been chipping away at that truth.

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The magazine Down East edited out the utility poles and lines from the cover shot to make it look better. That's bad enough. But the explanation? Troubling as well.

When we see a scene in person our brain automatically edits those types of things out and we experience the beauty of a locale without their distraction. When we compress a scene into a one-dimensional image they stand out and the eye tends to focus on them instead of filtering them out. So yes, sometimes we do remove these distractions to make a scene more appealing to a viewer.

Sorry, but if you do that, you're doing a photo illustration, not photojournalism.

And about our brains: When we see a magazine cover our brain automatically accepts the image as being an authentic reproduction of reality. Or, we should. Perhaps we no longer see that way. After so many years of hearing about cover models being airbrushed and Photoshopped to have smaller waists, sexier cheekbones and an even more ripped body, we've automatically stopped believing "the eye doesn't lie." We know enough to know girls with negative body images sometimes compare themselves to unrealistic magazine photos, images that have been retouched to the point of creating a person who doesn't actually exist. We know we have to tell these girls, "That model doesn't really look like that in person."

Heck, we can Photoshop our exes out of photos, so perhaps we assume everyone pretties up every photo for one reason or another.

But no, I'm not buying the explanation from Down East magazine. What it did was misleading. What it did was untruthful. It lied -- with its morally flexible eye.

Just think of all the bridge landscapes and wonderful vistas out there that suffered low self-esteem by comparing themselves to the altered view of the bridge from Great Island to Orr's Island. There are trees that now need a hug because of this deception.

OK, I kid, I kid, but only as a wink to let you know I don't think this is the most serious problem in the world today. But let me be clear: Down East magazine should suffer the credibility hit it's taking in journalism circles today over this decision, because it was wrong. As photo illustrations go, it's lovely -- breathtaking, even. As photojournalism goes, it's a lie.

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Carl Dubois, a former American Press reporter and assistant sports editor, is a journalist and editor now living and working near Portland, Ore.

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