Public manipulation

I came across an interesting article on Petapixel that seemed to fall neatly in to this section of Digital Photographic Practice. It concerns photobooths in Japan and the way that they manipulate the photographs of people taken in them. The purikura arrived in Japan in 1995 and have become part of Japanese culture. They print annotated photo stickers that the user gets to decorate with a stylus in the booth before printing them out.

Purikura booths in Japan

I grew up, as did a lot of British kids, having fun taking photos in booths with friends, pulling stupid faces and the like. So this is just the next natural step. However, the progression becomes more interesting as now there is intervention by the machine itself. As well as being able to decorate your photo before printing, the software also ‘beautifies’ the subject’s face with a built in algorithm. The face is smoothed and ‘imperfections’ such as pimples and wrinkles are edited out. The eyes are also enlarged to a very pleasing degree. There is no opt out function, it just does it. Micaela Braithwaite who posted on YouTube was featured on Petapixel and it provides a very interesting insight in to several things. Firstly, she is a Canadian living in Japan and judging by the fact her post and social media accounts are both in Japanese and English, she is quite integrated there. So, she finds it strange enough that this is done to do a short YouTube post on it. It is also picked up by Petapixel, a very large photographic website operating out of California in the U.S. with a team of North American columnists. So there is a heavy western element picking up on this and distributing it, myself included. We find it kooky, odd, a bit of voyeurism in to a culture we don’t understand.


I am especially taken by the element of enlarging the eyes. While softening the skin and removing ‘flaws’ is interesting, it is by no means unusual to this see in all cultures across the globe. However, the ‘eye enlargement’ element is far more geographically significant. Indeed, my (Asian made) mobile phone has built in software allowing me to enlarge my (or someone else’s) eyes at the time of taking the photo, so this is clearly not something unique to purikura machines. A lot of talk on forums and blogs alludes to East Asians wanting to imitate ‘large’ Western eyes. They look ‘cute’ and desirable. What I start to realise is that this actually leads on to other cultural body image issues (such as the skin whitening that can also be done by purikura) that pervade in Asian society and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Photoshopping of models has become de facto in today’s fashion and entertainment business. This is now dripping down to very regular shoots too, including the corporate world. Recently I shot some very standard corporate head shots for use on email accounts, small thumbnails. It was a mix of men and women. Two of the women (both Western, whether that makes a difference or not) were happy with the shots except that they wanted their ‘eye bags’ Photoshopped. That I should do this wasn’t up for debate, it is just what one does nowadays with photos. Firstly, it’s interesting that Photoshop is now in the general lexicon (and has been for some considerable time) of even someone with no real interest in photography (Adobe must love that!). Secondly, that they should feel it completely normal, indeed necessary, to be Photoshopped is very revealing and interesting. The women in question do indeed have some bags under their eyes, but no more or less than any of my other subjects (not just from this shoot). Ethically I was reluctant to remove them but ultimately the ‘customer is always right.’ Values attached to the way we look have never been higher and the proliferation of images both online and in print continue to grow. Many have been altered, many have not. But the extremes to which they have been altered is always open to debate. As with previous exercises in this module, I have expressed that there is a natural and inevitable progression from slightly altering the contrast on an image to completely altering and ultimately removing unwanted ‘flaws’ from the images.

This in turn leads us away from this commercial environment in to Photo Journalism and the ethics laid out there which, in comparison to fashion and entertainment are very strict. In many cases the guidelines are laid out by the company or body concerned with collecting the images. I will discuss this in a future post.

2 thoughts on “Public manipulation

  1. Pingback: Addition | BA Blog
  2. Pingback: Assignment four – Real or Fake? | BA Blog

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