Video: Hurricane technology

By Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 8/30/2006 1:51:58 PM ET 2006-08-30T17:51:58
COMMENTARY

Katie Couric’s extreme makeover, complements of a computer program called Photoshop, is front-page news in New York.  But perhaps it’s less the tabloid appeal driving the story -- first reported by the blog Cablenewser --  and more the utter horror some of us feel when we hear, “Say cheese.”

Let’s call it photophobia -- that feeling that causes you to run like a cockroach from any flashbulb at family picnics or holiday cocktail parties.

Photoshop is pure magic, a kind of “focus pocus” for the photography world.  It’s the sole reason why we drool in envy at all the photos in Vogue.

Trust me, no one really looks that good.

But why wait for a tech-savvy friend to doctor the photo in the cyber ER when you can have flawless images straight from the lens?  There are cameras out there now that will do all the work for you.

The Photosmart digital camera from Hewlett-Packard reduces pixel sizes on the image and elongates the subject, creating a thinner look instantly.  That old adage that a camera adds ten pounds is no longer true.

The HP camera costs around $400, but it’s cheaper than liposuction.

If you’d rather drop 10 years than 10 pounds, the Panasonic Lumix cameras have a feature that smoothes all the images, and reduces lines and wrinkles dramatically.  Some cost around $250, and they are perfect if you want that Vaselined lens, Barbara Walters on “The View” look.

These digital cameras and Photoshop tools certainly solve problems for photo editors and amateur scrap bookers alike.  Everyone wants nice photos.  

The technology also poses problems-especially for journalists and lawyers.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we were knee deep in coverage of some doctored Reuters photos taken in Beirut.  A photographer used editing software to make an Israeli air strike seem even more dramatic than the original photo portrayed.

While that journalist was suspended and the case investigated by Reuters, the scenario casts a pall over photojournalism in general.  If one photo can be altered, so can all photos.  Photojournalism is about capturing life as it really is, not twenty pounds lighter or two explosions bigger.

As for legal implications, consider this.  John Mark Karr, the recently cleared suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey murder mystery, was not likely in Boulder at the time of the murder as he was celebrating Christmas with his family in Georgia.

While his ex-wife stated that to be true, she could not produce a photo showing Karr with a drumstick in his beak or a cup of nog in his hand.  No photos of him existed from that day.

Photoshop could have easily changed all that.  With the right software, a person can suddenly be where he never was, or not where he was supposed to be.  Like Katie Couric, a person can suddenly be twenty pounds lighter or wearing a darker suit.

This renders photographic evidence in a courtroom virtually useless.

In his book Technopoly, Neil Postman states that technology solves problems, but it also creates them.

Killer bodies on one hand, credibility gaps on the other.

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