Many readers of Interpretation By Design are members of the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), while others are friends or family who think that Shea and I are involved with language translation or some kind of dance troupe. (Note: For those friends or family who have no idea what heritage interpretation is, trust me, that last joke was hilarious.) Those of you who are members of NAI should be receiving, if you haven’t already, the March/April issue of Legacy magazine, through which I have realized a career-long goal of featuring a giant foam #1 finger prominently in a piece of graphic design.
Only there’s a catch.
In June of last year, I wrote a post called Presidential Photoshop Ethics criticizing The Washingtonian magazine for digitally altering a photo of Barack Obama, changing the color of his bathing suit from black to red for aesthetic purposes. In the post, I write:
In ethical terms, I have always felt that Photoshop should be used to adjust or correct photos (adjusting lighting, removing dust, etc.), to create original works of art that do not purport to be photographs, or to make obvious changes (like dropping out a background) that are not intended to deceive.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am compelled to reveal that I used Photoshop to remove the logo of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the text “Go Blue” from the cover photo on Legacy. The original photo by Ben Shafer is pictured here.
NAI has only eight full-time employees, so we are frequently asked to wear many different hats. My responsibilities include graphic design, editorial content of some of our publications, and lifting heavy things. I serve as both the editor and art director for Legacy, which affords me more liberties with the magazine than most editors or art directors have. (“That article doesn’t fit in the space allotted? Let’s see how it looks after we lop out all of the adverbs.”) So when I made the change to the photo on the cover of this issue, the tiny winged editor on one shoulder was debating the pitch fork-wielding graphic designer on the other:
Editor: “It’s dishonest to change the photo!”
Graphic Designer: “Change the picture. It’ll make the communication more clear. Plus, we hate the Dodgers.”
Editor: “You’re mean.”
Graphic Designer: “You’re a sissy.”
Editor: “Shut up!”
Graphic Designer: “You shut up!”
Editor: “Comic Sans is an appropriate choice in some situations!”
Graphic Designer: “I’ll kill you in your sleep!”
Me: “Quiet, both of you!”
I get a lot of funny looks around the office.
Ultimately, I made the change, not for aesthetic purposes but for the clarity of the communication. The issue is about interpreting sports, and I felt that the logo and rallying cry of a specific team muddied the communication. To me, a giant foam finger in a stadium just says, “Sports.” A giant foam finger with the Dodgers logo and the text “Go Blue” says, “Hateful, late-arriving, early-leaving, tofu-eating non-fans and their stupid team.” I realize that I may be bringing my own bias to this project, but that’s the point. Even if the photo featured the logo of a team I like (say, for instance, the Phillies), I’d have removed it. Hardly anyone has a negative association with a generic foam finger, but the logo of a specific team invites emotional responses that have nothing to do with the intended communication.
Even after I convinced myself that it was okay to alter the photo, that little editor was still hovering over my shoulder, making me feel guilty, so I came clean by running the original photo and a disclaimer inside the magazine. I explained the change that I had made and referred to the cover image as a “photo illustration” rather than a photo.
I’ll be curious to see what the response is. Does running the original photo inside the magazine mitigate the dishonesty of altering it? Have I invited criticism by fessing up and running the disclaimer in the first place? How does photographer Ben Shafer feel about seeing his photo altered? Why was Jonathan Broxton so scared of Matt Stairs in Game 4 of the NLCS? So many questions…