Are Photoshop and Social Media Inauthentic?

The subject of photoshop is pretty inevitable on a photography blog. There is so much controversy over whether photography should be photoshopped or not- it is often considered less authentic to edit photos, and of course there's the whole body image issue that comes with photoshopping models- and every photographer has to eventually decide how they feel about it. So far I haven't been able to decide whether I'm for or against photoshop, and maybe it's not a strictly for or against issue, but it's something that I need to consider.

I think at first I was pretty determined not to use photoshop at all on my photos. The concept of keeping art authentic sounds much more ethical than succumbing to the expectation of visual perfection. But we use photoshop in my art class, and so I started editing my pictures as a requirement and realized that it was actually pretty fun. What I also realized is that there isn't one "true" way to take a photo. There are all sorts of adjustments that can be made to the camera before taking a picture, especially digital, and two pictures taken back to back with no editing might look completely different. The aperture, shutter speed, white balance, lense type, and many other aspects change a picture drastically. Sometimes a photo might have a weird white balance and turn out looking blue, and then isn't it more authentic to color correct it in photoshop? I think so. I'm not sure then how much it matters whether a photo is edited before it's taken, with camera settings, or after, with photoshop.

A further dilemma for me, though, is deciding whether or not more dramatic edits are acceptable. There is certainly an argument that photoshop itself is an art, which I fully believe, but I also take some issue in the fact that photography is often viewed as a reflection of real life, and altering that seems deceptive. There are different kinds of photography obviously, and some focus more on portraying more realistic subjects, while others focus more on what the artist wants the viewer to see. Both can be beautiful, and most other forms of art are about artistic rather than realistic representation anyways, but somehow it feels different with photography.

If I edit all of my photos so that they barely resemble what I started with, even if the end result is beautiful art, then I start to feel like a fake. Am I really a photographer anymore, or am I a photoshop artist? It's sometimes impossible to distinguish because for the most part photographers need to use at least a little photoshop and photoshoppers need to be able to take feasible photos to work with. I'd like to toss photoshop away completely and focus solely on photography, but I don't think that's very realistic. There's no way to compete with photoshopped images when trying to get attention through social media or any format of attracting viewers.

I probably feel so conflicted about photoshop because I've struggled a lot in the past with social media. Photoshop and social media go hand in hand; both creating impossible standards which feel inauthentic and yet are challenging to fight against. I went through an entire year as a sophomore without any social media, and it definitely shaped my worldview so that I'm particularly adverse to inauthenticity. It was an incredibly freeing experience, and I found that I felt a lot better about myself without social media.

I also made a lot of other changes during that time- I cut my hair and stopped wearing makeup- but I think that deleting social media was the key that allowed me to make those changes. Being confident with your photography and being confident with your appearance are actually very similar issues. Sometimes I feel confident about my photos until I compare them to others and then I feel inadequate about them. When I didn't have social media, I realized that when I looked at myself in photos without makeup, especially compared with other photos of people, I hated the way my natural face looked. But when I wouldn't wear makeup on the weekends I would feel infinitely more love for myself when I looked in the mirror because I recognized that face as me, even if I didn't think that face was photogenic. Because I was such a big part of the social media culture I was swept up under the impression that being photogenic, was the standard for evaluating appearance and self-worth. When I deleted social media, I didn't look at photos of myself all the time, and I stopped wondering if they were pretty enough, and I stopped wondering if I was pretty enough.  

Without social media, I wasn't ever wasting time scrolling through my Instagram feed or sending endless Snapchats to my friends. When I was by myself I was really by myself, and spending time alone without any connection to other people is something that I have found to be essential to my well-being. The self-confidence and self-knowledge that I gained through rejecting social media was one of the most valuable things that I've experienced, and yet I've slowly begun using it again.

The problem is that after awhile of not using social media I felt myself becoming completely isolated from the world I was trying to be a part of. It's great to spend time alone, but when everyone else is in constant connection, it's becomes hard to connect with people when you don't understand most of what they talk about. If everyone at school is talking about a video they all saw, but you didn't because you don't have social media, then that's just one more conversation that you're left out of.

At first it seems like it's not a big deal to be left out of irrelevant conversations about viral videos and trends. A lot of times I was grateful not to be invested in things that seemed to pointless in the grand scheme of things, but after a year of being isolated from popular trends it starts taking a toll. Friends learn that they can't talk to you about anything going on in social media, which doesn't just involve videos and trends but actually involves people sharing what's going on in their lives. Everyone else has been completely up to date on their lives and can talk about everything that's going on, but I was the one person that needed to be filled in every time people would bring up anything, and after a while people would just dismiss me instead of explaining again.

It's great to be confident with yourself, but there are times when connections with other people are means for sacrificing some of your independence. I wanted to share my photography, and so I made a photography account on Instagram. It might not seem like a big deal, but making that step back into social media made a huge impact on me. I resent the idea that for my art to be seen I have to be part of such a competitive social climate, and now realizing how photoshop is affecting the popularity of photography on Instagram is causing me to feel trapped by social media again. The accounts with the biggest follower bases are those with perfectly manicured photos and not the more natural photographers. It's not right that in order to get people's attention your art needs to make an immediate impression. There is a reason that art is meant to be studied, and it's because it's worth more than a glance while scrolling through your feed, and yet only the images that instantly capture your attention with intense lighting and striking features get noticed.

The thing is that even though I don't love the idea of photoshop, I actually think that it's very useful and fun. It will be interesting to see how much I decide to edit my photos in the future and how I feel about my art because of it, but for now I'm just going to see what I can do with my photography and if something feels overedited then I will decide that I need to go back to what feels real to me.