The Oxford English Dictionary added “photoshop” as a verb in 2006, but as the software turns 25 years old this week, the OED’s definition seems incomplete. The word doesn’t just mean to manipulate an image digitally, using software from Adobe Systems Inc., it’s become shorthand for the way beauty industries present distorted and unrealistic images of women.
Thomas Knoll, who created the software and still works for parent company Adobe, takes issue with that association.
“That manipulation was nothing new in the market,” Knoll says. “What Photoshop did, was make it easier to do.”
Possibly, the software’s ubiquity — coupled with digital networks — also makes that manipulation easier to see through. Commercial photographer Jesse Rosten sees both sides. He created a parody video about how software helps promote false images of women.
But he thinks maybe the constant leaks of un-retouched photos celebrity photos — Beyonce and Cindy Crawford are two recent examples — increases our awareness that beauty icons don’t really look like their iconic images either.
“Back in the day when people were airbrushing negatives, you wouldn’t have seen the original negative,” Rosten says.
Photoshop has also created whole industries that no one could have foreseen — like Ben Huh’s online empire. He’s CEO of Cheezburger, a network of blogs devoted to funny cat photos and the like.
The blog I Can Has Cheezburger? is a leading purveyor of funny cat photos, and one of Photoshop’s heirs.
The proliferation of crowd-sourced images means that the OED’s definition of “to photoshop” is out of date as well.
“The vast majority of photoshopping, quote-unquote, that people do today, is actually [on] Instagram,” says Huh.
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