Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Can't Believe My Eyes

By Lars Trodson
Let's say you're a kid living in the Bronx 45 years ago. One Saturday you decide to go down to Yankee Stadium to see your hero, Mickey Mantle. You bring your glove and a baseball that maybe he'll sign in case you meet him during batting practice.

In fact, that's exactly what happens, and you ride home clutching your newly signed ball as though it is some historic thing, and indeed it is. You show the ball to your friends while sitting on your stoop, and they all hold it, they all read it, they wish they had one themselves.

Years later it sits on a shelf in your office, or in your den at home, and you still tell the story about how you met Mickey Mantle, although the name is beginning not to mean as much any more.

The above story is a fiction only in the idea that I don't personally know anyone this happened to, but you can imagine that it played out, in one form or another, with one baseball player or another, with an uncountable number of kids.

The point of the autograph in the story, of course, was something more than just having a collectible; it was proof positive that you had met the man. It was not just: you got Mickey Mantle's autograph -- it was: "You met him? You shook his hand? What was he like?" That was the very point of it all.
Now, of course, having an autographed baseball or football or hockey puck is not an indication at all that you met the person who signed it. It may mean that you spent an hour in line and shelled out some big bucks to impersonally meet your hero, or it may mean you bought the thing as part of a gift set on some shopping television show. The item itself may not mean anything personal to you all, other than it holds the slight notion that your hero once held it, if only to sign it, so he could make a little money.

Not a very personal story at all. I was thinking about all this when I was looking at the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. This is quite a leap, I know, also given that the cover is a photo of 50 Cent and Kanye West. On the cover, two of hip hops mightiest stars are face to face, staring each other down - a symbol for the fact that each is releasing their latest CD on the same day, Sept. 11, and there was a lot of ego involved concerning who would outsell the other. (It's my understanding West won that battle.)

But I also thought the picture was meaningless. I didn't think for a second that 50 Cent or Kanye were actually staring each other down, because I thought the prospects of them being in the same studio together was nil, and that this was just another Photoshopped image, which I regard as "fake news." I hate these doctored pcitures because they negate the idea of having a record of something that actually happened -- just like an autographed ball used to be record of some meeting taking place. But now it has been replaced by this hyper-unreality.

However, I opened the magazine and there, on the Letters page, was a sidebar titled Editor's Notes, with the following headline: "This Is Not Photoshopped."

The Note acknowledges how easy it is to disbelieve your eyes today: "In an age of photographic fakes, Kanye wants the world to know that he and 50 stood side by side for this cover." The photographer, Albert Watson, is quoted: "I feel like it should say, 'This is not Photoshopped.' This is real. It's a moment."

I would agree, but wonder then why Watson shot the two with a white background, negating any real need, artistically, for them to be in the same room. If this was hip hop history, then it could not have been acknowledged with a lamer picture.

But more significantly was the magazine's decision to announce to the world that its cover was a genuine photograph. Years ago we wouldn't have even thought about it, but now we can take nothing we see on paper as fact.

Perhaps news and entertainment magazines will start a trend. Instead of identifying an image as a "Photo Illustration", we should probably start seeing something along the lines of "Unretouched photo" or "Has not been altered" at the bottom of the pics, just so we can start believing our eyes again.