The Milky Road, or is it?

Does technology threaten or enhance reality?


Explanation: Inspired during a visit to Fort Davis, Texas, home of McDonald Observatoryand dark night skies, photographer Larry Landolfi created this tantalizing fantasy view. The composited image suggests the Milky Way is a heavenly extension of a deserted country road.

I use Netvibes to aggregate the content I need/desire on a daily basis and one of my favorite RSS feeds is a daily astronomy photo and explanation. Seeing the beauty and vast space we (really) live in opposed that which society would have us believe we inhabit opens my morning mind and reminds me how insignificant and  fleeting things that bother or innundate us with negativity truly are.

It spurs my spirituality.

Usually, the photos are taken through the Hubble telescope, an observatory, or one of NASA’s roving spacecraft carousing our solar system. They are always fantastic renderings of space and time. But the photo above is a composite of two actual pictures (description above, too) made into one artistic rendering of what could very well be a realistic site.

Except, it’s not.

And that always gives me pause and reminds me of the first time in my journalism career that technology made it easy to do this on computers, unseen and undetected by readers and consumers. At the Daily Californian in El Cajon, California we went to an AP Wire-photo desk and tossed the little blue box that had been churning out black and white photos on film paper via a satellite up-link. On this day in 1992 we had been live with the new digital service (which was essentially a very slow PC-based system that allowed thumbnails to dynamically populate images for downloading. I recall that the average photo took about a minute to render on the screen when one called it up to look at.

I also well recall the day that a group of senior citizens were visiting the paper and I was demonstrating the new technology. They were fascinated, enthralled and stood awestruck as we watched a new photo image right on the screen from top to bottom as it came in. As the top portions filled in, it was obvious it was of a human as the hair and top of the head imaged in. To make a long story short, the photo wound up being a bikini-clad Victoria’s Secret model who had achieved some celebrity status for one thing or another.

The men were cheering each digital sweep placing more and more of the image on the screen, a few of the women laughed and realized that in the universal context of things it was actually pretty ironic. And, of course, a couple of folks were quiet as they’d ever been for whatever reason.

But, I digress.

Shortly after digital photos began to replace film and darkroom development of journalistic endeavors, there was a hubub about a newspaper that eliminated an overhead wire from an upward-looking photo. The wire landed right below the boxers’ crotch in the photo and ran downward through the photo. Even left in, it would not have presented an image that was open to interpretation, it plainly looked like just an overhead wire. But the photo editor airbrushed it from the photo and cloned in similar bytes so it appeared it was not there.

In the discussion of ethics that ensued, the AP showed (and we did our own experimenting about) how easy it would be to do things with digital editing like move a ball approaching a first baseman’s mitt on a close play nearer to (or further away from) and even into the fielder’s glove which would change the reality of the the actual event.

And that’s the rub. Any changing of reality could be perceived as questionable, but we learn through our lives to fudge the lines a bit — especially when art is involved.

So I wonder this morning — as I once again pause on a contrived photo — how will this affect our youth over time. And what standards will their children have for such things? Just in my short time on this spaceship Earth, our children are literally born with the aptitude and chance to use software to create anything. And in another post, I will try to link these thoughts to the future of journalism but it’s Sunday.

And today, I choose to accept this photo for what it is: accurately-presented as a mixture of two images to create one worth seeing, acknowledge its beauty and save it for the future. But tonight, when I enjoy my weekly sojourn into galactic music and relaxation time I will definitely not use the photo as a guidepost upon which to steer this planet. For we would wind up completely off course and drifting aimlessly out of control on our collaborative journey at about 17,000 MPH through space.

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