Browsing Slashdot for my dose of tech news (and something to write about in this space, of course) when I ran across an interesting news item. Researches at Dartmouth University have come up with a new software algorithm that can analyze a photo and determine just how Photoshopped it is. This might have implications for law enforcement but I'm not sure how photographic evidence gets handled these days when anyone with some decent 'shopping skills can fiddle with a digital image on their home computer.
However, the real thrust of the project was intended to shed light on just how over-edited images in mass media are. If you've seen a poster for an upcoming movie like Sherlock Holmes 2 or a photo spread of the latest fashions in Vogue - you've undoubtedly seen the long arm of Photoshop working that magic that superimposes Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law on a dark London street or touches up the blemishes on that supermodel's skin.
Basically, they want to bring more attention to the fact that mass media has long been believed to promote an unhealthy self-image for women, given the constant influx of media focusing on making women as attractive as possible by erasing any and all discernible flaws in the photos we're presented with. The proposed software would analyze a photo it's presented with and give a ranking from 1 to 5 based on the level of alteration, rather than just flagging a photo as "altered" or "not altered". I definitely agree with this - we definitely put way too much emphasis on physical beauty standards that can't be achieved by everyone. There's certainly plenty of truth to the saying "If you look good, you feel good" - eating right, getting exercise and taking care of yourself is important, but trying to look like the flavor of the minute in your favorite fashion magazine is not healthy, especially when they've probably got an army of personal trainers, makeup artists and photographers making sure they look exactly the way the magazine wants them to.
At the same time, there's also a push for legislation by certain groups that would require altered photos to be labeled as such. I'm not so much a fan of this - it seems like a slippery slope towards "Man receives 20 years for altering photo of his kids" or something. Truth in advertising is important (like the good old days of 1950s cigarette commercials that featured doctors puffing away and praising the benefits of smoking) but I would say it's much more important to raise public awareness of the fact that Photoshop is used in the media so heavily. The article I read did mention that women's magazines are getting more responses from readers asking for celebrities to "look good, but real," so we may be seeing a backlash finally that will carry more weight than any attempt to legislate it will.