On Feb. 19, 1990, software maker Adobe released the first version of Photoshop. Twenty-five years later, Photoshop is so well known and so widely used that it has achieved that rarest of brand accolades: The name itself has morphed into a generic verb, in this case to mean editing digital images. We say "just photoshop it," when we need to digitally modify a photo, the same way we say "just google it" when we need to search for information online.
What really makes this 25-year anniversary significant, however, is the plus-sized impact that Photoshop has had on society, particularly in the United States. There's the social impact related to perfecting people's images in print, and then there's the issue of being able to differentiate what's real and what's not.
A Bit of History
The predecessor to Photoshop, a program called Display, was first created in the late 1980s by two brothers, Thomas and John Knoll. In 1988, the two licensed their program to Adobe, and after another couple years of development, Photoshop was born.
Some might fairly question the significance of acknowledging the anniversary for a program as well known as Photoshop. At the very least, it is remarkable that Adobe has been so successful in adapting Photoshop to a seemingly endless array of new devices and operating systems. Consumer use of digital cameras, after all, did not become common until nearly a decade after Photoshop was first released, and virtually no one imagined then that people might one day capture images with their phone.
But still, Photoshop soldiers on, with versions that run on all the major computer operating systems and most of the mobile ones as well. It is, if nothing else, a remarkable story of endurance in a competitive and rapidly shifting sector of the economy.
The Photoshop Effect
On a professional level, the program has proven overwhelmingly popular with art directors for major magazines and films, who use its powerful editing features to digitally reshape women (and men) into an arbitrary "ideal" image. One of the most common adjustments is to make women unnaturally thin, although sometimes the results are so ludicrous that the images wind up in one of the myriad Tumblr blogs devoted to Photoshop "fails."
Increasingly, doctors and other health experts are warning that the pervasive use of Photoshop to digitally slim celebrities and models is having a corrosive impact on the body image of America's children, especially teenage girls. In 2011, for instance, the American Medical Association announced its opposition to the use of digital alteration in advertisements.
An increasing number of celebrities have added their voices to the anti-Photoshop cause, including Kate Winslet, Brad Pitt, Lady Gaga, Giselle Bundchen, and most recently, Keira Knightley. The star of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" caused a stir two months ago when she agreed to pose topless for "Interview" magazine with the express condition that the publication not use Photoshop to modify her appearance.
Legally Speaking, Can We Trust Our Eyes?
By now, everyone is aware that the majority of images we see in the media have been altered or manipulated in some fashion. Not surprisingly, the ability to manipulate photos so easily is raising concerns for legal professionals who have been able to count on the credibility of photographs more reliably in the past..
We reached out to Edward K. Cheng, professor of law at Vanderbilt University and a co-author of "Modern Scientific Evidence: The Law and Science of Expert Testimony." He suggested that while the widespread use of Photoshop doesn't necessarily change evidentiary theory, it does pose additional issues for a jury.
"If [an admittedly Photoshopped image is] thought misleading, it will be excluded on that ground," Cheng said, "but courts deal with those kinds of issues all the time. If the image is offered as original, and the opposing party claims it was Photoshopped, then it becomes a jury question."
It will be up to the jury to weigh the credibility of the person offering the photo as evidence against the credibility of the person who claims that it has been altered. Given the fact that Photoshop has been around so long and is easy enough for a 12-year-old to use, one can fairly ask whether any jury can truly believe that a photo in front of it is #nofilter -- meaning a reliable original that hasn't gone through a Photoshop filter.
Real or Fake, Who Can Say?
UCLA Law Professor Jennifer L. Mnookin, who co-authored "Modern Scientific Evidence" with Professor Cheng, gave us additional perspective on whether photographs can still be used as reliable evidence in court proceedings, given how easily they can be manipulated with Photoshop.
"Photographs have had the potential to be manipulated, altered and faked from the very moment of their invention -- but there’s no question that tools like Adobe Photoshop [have] made photographic manipulation far more mainstream," Mnookin explained. "Photoshop [has] made it far easier for ordinary people to alter photographic images in both crude and sophisticated ways. At the same time, growing use by nonprofessionals of digital tools like Adobe [Photoshop] made the fact that photographs were subject to potential fakery far more widely recognized and understood -- though not necessarily easily detected."
"In a way, at a formal level of doctrine within the legal system, Adobe didn’t really change much of anything," Mnookin said. "Photographs have always required authentication in some way. And they still do. Digital photographs -- and digital manipulation tools -- don’t change that."
But in another way, Mnookin noted, Adobe has made a difference, "by making lawyers, judges and juries more aware that photos might be altered or faked, and thereby making it a more plausible argument (even in cases where it wasn’t true)." Since the argument comes up, attorneys have had to "learn more than they knew before about seemingly arcane issues relating to digital file types, metadata, and the like, in their efforts to authenticate digital images."
Regarding Photoshop's other contributions over the past 25 years, Mnookin pointed out that Adobe has also created powerful new tools for law enforcement, especially in forensic areas. For example, Photoshop has been instrumental in making it easier to "alter the contrast, or make other adjustments to a piece of pattern evidence, like a fingerprint, that could make it easier to analyze."
All in all, Photoshop is still looking good at 25, having withstood the test of time and proven to be one of the most popular programs for professionals as well as consumers.
Posted: 2015-02-19 @ 7:28pm PT
I love Photoshop and being able to tweak photos here and there. My big concern is regarding the impact Photoshop will have on future generations and their understanding of history. For example, Holocaust deniers in today's generation claim that photos from the death camps could be fake. Earlier generations of course know that the photos were indeed very real. But what about future generations? Will they believe that the photos were real or simply think they were 'Photoshopped'? And beheadings by ISIS terrorists... real or 'Photoshopped'... how will future generations know for certain what was real and what was not?