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What you see . . . February 27, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Students.
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space   Photographs can lie, and it’s a good thing too, sometimes. In this month’s Sky and Telescope magazine, the editor began his editorial reminding us of this fact. Images of nebulae are so much more spectacular and intriguing when photographers add false colors and tweak the limits of the spectrum to bring out previously unseen features.

I thought about this recently as one webmaster tried to show how deceptive and deceitful a politician was by bringing out a campaign photograph that had been taken with his cat on his shoulders. Someone had removed evidence of a collar and leash on the cat using some very basic digital photography tricks. The point was being made that the politician was a deceitful. Using a simple editing tool, the pundit brightened the photo to reveal blocks of black added to remove the leash.

It gets better. I looked for the same photograph online and the only ones I could find all had the leash in full view. Who was being deceptive? One is left to wonder just what is real any longer. We trust our eyes but our eyes can easily mislead. Editorial judgment can crop the truth right out of a photo these days.

And then there are the photographs I have on our family blog of our recently deceased dog, Peppy. In conversation this evening with my wife, it dawned on me that I was only including the photos I took in which she looked better than she actually was. A little cock of the head suggested playfulness so I included that photo. In reality, she was probably tired, cranky, and ready for me to stop bothering her with the camera flash.

Together, we looked through some of the photos that never made it to the blog and realized that she really and truly was a very old dog. One hundred years in doggy terms. Looking at them and at the truth they conveyed, reminded us that she had lived a very full and very happy life, right to the very last day.

I will take that story to my students, all of them future teachers, who will one day look at images in a news story and have to interpret the validity of the shot, the decision that was made to include it in the story. Was it cropped and framed to elicit some effect. Is the audience being manipulated? Is information being distorted? Will we someday look at a photograph of a politician framed with an accidental halo of light and wonder just how accidental the image really was? Our students are ravenous consumers of information and they swim in a sea of it. As teachers, we must help them to be more discriminating and questioning about their diet.

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Comments»

1. Jenni Puckett - March 1, 2006

“Pictures are worth a thousand words”, a common saying that I grew up with. I don’t know how many people would agree, but as I grow older, it becomes more clear everyday. I agree that pictures can be very deceiving, and as a future teacher I will soon be shoowing my students pictures. How many of these pictures will have been “fixed” before I show them? Also, the way I interpret a piture may not be the same as the way someone else might see it, and what if I am wrong? Maybe I interpret the picure wrong, and get all of my students to see a different thing than what really is being potrayed. As a teacher I will hopefully be aware of what is going on and will hopefully be equipped enough to let my students know the truth behind the photographs.


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