This is a tough topic for a couple of reasons. First, it ventures into the sensitive area that Donald Trump stomped all over with his gross comments about Carly Fiorina — the area in which women are unfairly judged by their appearance.
Second, I can’t really show you what I’m talking about on a standard-resolution PC. You sort of need the Retina display of a late-model iPad. Since I can’t see what I’m talking about at my end on this machine, I doubt that you can, either. (You can sort of, but not quite, see what I mean if you click on the above image, then click again to enlarge it. But it’s not the same.)
But I thought I’d try to raise it anyway.
Over the weekend, I was scrolling through the stories in the Washington Post app on my iPad, and paused on this story (at least, that’s what includes this photo when I look back — I think originally it was something else) about Hillary Clinton, which featured the above photo full-screen. And my first thought was, “That’s not fair.”
The resolution in this moderate close-up was just ridiculously good. It’s not just that it showed every line in the face of a 67-year-old woman in an unguarded moment, unlit by a smile or any other sort of expression. It’s that I could practically see the grains in her makeup. It was just way, way too up close and personal.
And it occurred to me that, had I been the editor in charge of preparing that story for tablet publication, I would have paused, and thought, “Don’t we have something a little less intrusive?” Not something flattering, necessarily, just something neutral.
Something else occurred to me this morning when I was looking around for a photo of a male candidate where you could see the TV makeup on him with this kind of detail — and it occurred to me that I have not seen a photo like that anywhere. There are closeups, such as the one below of a sweaty Bernie Sanders — but none with obvious makeup, which we all know they sometimes wear. (And I was looking for that because I think it was the fact that I could see all of her makeup in such detail that made it seem so invasive.)
I don’t know where I’m going with this, except that photography as detailed as what we have today with high-end digital cameras — and sometimes just with iPhones — raises new questions of editorial propriety.
The last couple of weekends, I’ve been digitizing some old slides from back in the ’70s, and I’ve been scanning them at a rather ridiculous resolution — 4800 dpi — in order not to lose any detail. And I’ve learned something — there just wasn’t that much detail in 35mm photography, at least not like what I’ve grown accustomed to with even garden-variety digital images.
And occasionally, this extreme increase in detail raises questions about how much is enough, and whether there is such a thing as too much…