The never-ending quest for eternal beauty and digital perfection

BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

How beautiful is beauty? And how perfect is digital perfection? With the advent of digital photography, we know that nothing is impossible anymore. We know that the capability of altering and manipulating any image, down to its molecular pixel, render the unreality of reality as our new, and inevitable, reality.

There used to be a time when a picture is thought of as a medium of irrefutable truth. We’ve seen cases in court won, and lost, because of photographic proofs. But nowadays, we cannot say the same still holds true. Every photograph that is created digitally, and most photographs today are created that way, is suspect to our rightful suspicion. It used to be that to see is to believe. Nowadays, to look at a photograph, and to see, is to be deceive.

Portraits, landscapes, product shots, food shots — all these, and more, are now all subject to digital editing and enhancements. The past few years, with the amazing development of digital editing tools and post-production workflows, coupled with the many advances in digital imaging technologies, the way we see photographs have actually, fundamentally, changed. We are now so used to seeing, and accepting, an unreal beauty, to the point that we don’t care to look at anything that is less than beautiful. Given the choice between an unretouched image and a digitally enhanced image, we will prefer to look at, and appreciate, the digitally enhanced image. And that is even, at the back of our minds, a small voice is telling us that it is not real.

That small voice, the one that is telling us the photographs we see are not real, no longer disturbs us. It used to be that we are so conscious about it. But nowadays, as the thought crosses our mind, we just shrug it and enjoy the illusion of enhanced beauty in photographs we see.

There has been, of course, several debates between the purists and the modernists about the value of keeping the authenticity of photographs. And there has been several cases wherein the ideal of “unretouched” image-making has been compromised. The public, of course, still realize and value the truth that is out there. But then, this sense of “reality” is only appreciated, and fiercely guarded, within the confines of current news events. But outside of that small, sanctified realm, anyone can do anything with photographs.

On one hand, we have our reality perspective that we keep, maintain, and fiercely guard, as if it is a life-line that we hold on to; and then, on the other hand, we foray into the richness, pomposity, irreverence, improbability of the created alter-reality where anything and everything is just beautiful. Edited and enhanced photographs, therefore, is our new drug. We feed our minds, and not necessarily, the intellect, with a wide scope of stimulating visuals that, in turn, feed our never-ending need to visualize beauty.

The way we look at photographs is not an isolated thing. It is not an act that is all on its own. It’s not as if we can just dismiss it and then move on, unmoved, unaffected, and unaltered. The truth is, whenever we see a new picture, altered or not, and whether we accept it as authentic or fake, it adds up to our systemic perception of the world around is which is, in turn, becoming more and more constructed. We cannot say that the pictures that we see can never “touch” us.

The electrical neurons in our head are hard at work even if we just happen to take a cursory glance at the flood of images right before our very eyes. The world that we know today is rich, complex and exciting. The experience that we have is multi-dimensional, all because of the exploding media and content. Just a few years ago, this is not possible. Nowhere at any time in the past is the experience that we are having today the same as it is right this very moment. While a number of things remain the same, our perception of all things have been radically altered.

We live in a world that has been physically changed by man and time. And more importantly, we live in a world that has been changed by man’s intellect, creativity and vision. And so, the quest for eternal beauty, and digital perfection, as we know it, has just started. And we know that it will be never-ending.

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