In 1987 two employees of Industrial Light & Magic had just completed work on major project. As they were also dating one another they decided to take some time off and go on a vacation together to Bora Bora. It was there that John Knoll took a snapshot of his girlfriend, Jennifer, as she sunbathed on the beach. Later that day, John would propose to Jennifer.
Later that year John and his brother were working on a new piece of software that could manipulate digital images. When they finally were able to make use of a digital scanner (a hard-to-come-by piece of technology in the 1980s), the vacation photo of his now-fiancée was the only image John had on hand. It was scanned and the image would be used to further develop the software and ultimately demonstrate its capabilities to Adobe, the software company that purchased the distribution license for the software in 1988.
The name of the software they developed was Photoshop. The image that has often been called the first "photoshopped" image has come to be known as "Jennifer in Paradise."
Photoshop revolutionized how we understand photography. Whereas once we could believe something if we "saw it with our own two eyes", Photoshop changed that. Although it has always been possible to manipulate images, until the development of Photoshop it was a labor intensive process that required a great amount of skill. Photoshop democratized the process so that anyone with a computer could enhance (or depending on your point of view, fake) photographic imagery.
A photo ceased to always be believable. It ceased to be always truthful.
Of course, photography was never completely objective. How the photographer frames the image and the exact instant he or she decides to capture by definition eliminates physical and temporal context. We all know this to be true but a issue arrises when a supposedly objective and truthful photograph has been surreptitiously manipulated. Fashion photography has become so notorious for making already beautiful people look even more impossibly perfect that there is now an organized backlash against it. The same is true of architectural photography. For any given image of a building (including some on my website) it is not uncommon for multiple exposures to be compiled and for various "imperfections" (fire alarms, Knox-boxes, humans, etc.) to have been "photoshopped out". As in fashion photography, this sort of image manipulation can be taken too far.
But buildings do exist as physical objects in the world beyond the photographs taken of them. A photo of a building can "lie" but the truth can be revealed when the building is visited in person. Architecture, I believe, possess an inherent "truth" that exists regardless of the quality of the architecture. The story behind their design and construction can be fictionalized and the photos taken of them can be altered, but at the end of the day we experience a buildings as facts.
We suddenly find ourselves in an unprecedented situation where discerning what is real and what is true is considerably challenging. Just as anyone with Photoshop can now create "fake" imagery, now anyone with a Facebook account can spread "fake" news. Powerful people are making statements that obfuscate the truth. Complex histories are being rewritten in 140 characters.
But truth is something, like architecture, that exists in the world. It can be experienced. It can verified. I hope we all take the time to do that. If we do - if we listen to the better angles of our nature and seek out the truth even if it conflicts with the beliefs we may hold - we can together move this country forward.
We can make this world a better place that is just a little closer paradise.