Our old friend D. Gorton is the former New York Times White House photographer. He has emailed us his analysis of the photo above that I found unusually unflattering and posted this morning in “While Washington slept.” Mr. Gorton writes:
The photo of Hillary Clinton in Time isn’t just “unflattering,” it’s a classic case of artful manipulation. Bear in mind that we have all been wary of the news media’s use of manipulated imagery in Iraq and especially during the recent Israeli Hezbollah conflict. But that’s not the only place where it happens, of course. I think that the OJ Simpson magazine cover on Time that portrayed him as a dark, black, villain comes to mind. Regardless of OJ’s suspected crimes, he was unfairly portrayed based upon a racist stereotype. Time later apologized for the image.
Let look closely at the Hillary picture:
Note that the primary focus is a bit “deep” with the clearest areas around the ears and neck. The nose is slightly out of focus as is the band of hair directly in front of her forehead. But it still seems “sharp” all over with an especial emphasis on the skin. That comes from “sharpening” in Photoshop that increases the “edge contrast” to exaggerate the apparent detail in the photo. Normally sharpening for a portrait, which has large areas that are similar in tone and gradual transitions, is different from what Photoshop expert Joe Reifer would call a “high frequency area” (many abrupt transitions in tone) like a cityscape. By emphasizing the inappropriate sharpening one can call unwelcome attention to skin, that would not perceptible be to the naked eye. The effect, of course, is to make her haggard and drawn looking.
Secondly, the gold jewelry and glasses are all the same heightened tone which is achieved by the “saturation” tool that ramps up the apparent color. In this case it also brings the brooch into play in the image. But it does even more to make an unflattering image by emphasizing the “gold” glasses and jewelry of a stereotypical “older” lady. Hollywood uses the technique all the time to “age” an actress. Interestingly, they used the “blur” tool to take out the folds under her eyes. Also, they didn’t make the lipstick more garish with “saturation” as happened in the case of Katherine Harris, though Hillary’s hair has been softly streaked with the same gold as in the brooch.
But the most interesting problem is how the editors managed to sharpen the book in the foreground. It is held at a typical reading range of between 18 and 24 inches. With the telephoto lens that made the picture, it should be largely out of focus. Note that her fingers that grasp the book are completely out of focus developing typical “rings” in the highlight areas. Yet the type on the book is very clear. Ah yes. The type was rebuilt in Photoshop as well.
So we now have a dour, tired, pained, haggard Hillary with dead eyes staring towards who knows what.
I guess the lesson here is that the tools of deception (or as the editors would say, “emphasis”) cut both ways. The enemies of Israel used them, and the opponents of the Iraq war have used them as well.
Looks like the chickens are coming home to roost.
In a subsequent message this afternoon Mr. Gorton adds:
On closer examination the foreground that partially obscures her hand is a water glass. So the characteristic “cirlces” are glints off the glass surface. Otherwise, I still think that the type was “enhanced.”
I assume that the motivation behind the alterations, and motivations are very hard to determine, is that Hillary is the Old Democrat and Obama, with his smooth skin and youth is the Young Democrat.
It’s hard for me to believe that Time would make the adjustments that Mr. Gorton observes, let alone for the reason that he postulates. But Mr. Gorton is the expert and the photograph is unusually unflattering. Has he discovered why we haven’t seen a photo this unflattering previously?
JOHN adds: Tracking back a referral, I came across a digital photography message board where photographers were debating this picture. I was astonished to see that some posters accused US of changing the image, claiming that the original in Time was less sharp. This suggestion is ludicrous. Scott simply used the Movable Type software to upload the image to our server. Scott doesn’t own a copy of Photoshop and would have no idea how to do this, even if he wanted to. Which he wouldn’t.