Photos and Media: The Influence of Visuals and the rise of Photoshop


A great deal has changed in the last two decades, especially in the fields of art and culture.  The information revolution brought on by the advent of powerful but affordable computers has had a huge effect on media culture as whole.  More specifically though, the role of photos and photo editing tools, particularly Photoshop, has dramatically changed and grown.

The Role of Photos in Media: Traditional and Current

…the 20th century was the golden age of analog photography peaking at an amazing 85 billion physical photos in 2000 — an incredible 2,500 photos per second. (Good)

Traditionally photos have had an important, but limited role in media.  They were primarily regulated to publications, such as magazines and newspapers, other mass produced materials, and photography as art.  While photos were used by individuals as a form of communication and expression this was highly limited due to technological. Photos used to be time consuming to make, copy, and share because the technology to rapidly make, copy, and share them did not exist.  Add in the fact that photos, while not expensive, were not cheap and the role of photos in media was limited.

– it is estimated that 2.5 billion people in the world today have a digital camera[6]. If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would be a staggering 375 billion photos. (Good)

Information technology changed this significantly by removing the technological limitations on photo use.  Cameras are practically everywhere now and are affordable to practically everyone and easily accessed.  Additionally computers and digital technology makes copying and sharing photos almost effortless, literally only taking a press of a button.  The result of all this is that the use of photos in communication and expression has practically exploded.  According to Johnathan Good roughly 85 billion analog photos had been taken up to 2000 since the invention of the brownie camera in 1901, around 2,500 photos a second.   In comparison the estimated number of photos that will be taken is 375 billion, more than four times the number of photos taken during the 20th century, and that we have now taken 3.5 trillion photos in total.  These numbers reflect the increasing use of photos in our lives as a means of communication and expression.  Photos and images have a much higher information density than text or even audio recordings do, people get more out of seeing an image in few seconds than reading something for the same amount of time.  This makes photos and images an incredibly powerful method of communication and expression since so much can be done with them.

Photoshop and Media: The Role of Editing Tools and Software

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In addition to the increasing role photos have in communication, expression, and general media the role of photo editing tools and techniques has grown as well.  Manipulating and editing photos using tools and techniques has been a long standing practice in media since photos started being used.  Originally this was done using the photo’s negatives and painting/coloring them to the desired effect.  This was done for largely the same reasons as it is today, improving and optimizing the final photo.  Magazines and other visual media products often used, and still use, photo editing and manipulation to create the desired end product.  However, due to the explosion of information technology the use of photo manipulation and editing in art, communication, and expression has grown tremendously.  In particular the role of Photoshop, a premier photo editing software, has grown to become a cultural/media phenomenon.

Adobe Photoshop, which was created in 1988, is a photo editing and manipulation tool.  Due to its versatility, quality, regular support, and ease of use it has become one of, if not the, de facto program/tool for photo editing and manipulation.  With the increasing availability of cameras and the ever increasing use of photos in media, communication, and expression the role of photo manipulation has expanded.  Because photo manipulation allows people to repurpose, add new meaning to existing photos/images, and even change a photo’s/image’s meaning entirely it massively increases what can be done with photos and images.  In effect photo/image manipulation tools like Photoshop removes most of the remaining limitations on photos and images as a medium.  The ability to make such manipulations allows people a level of freedom never seen before and its effect can be seen in social media.  The ability to create customized images allows for extremely fast and highly informative communication that spreads quickly.  Memes in particular are an excellent example of the influence of Photoshop and other photo manipulation tools.  They are extremely expressive and spread extremely quickly, far faster than most other forms of communication.


          In conclusion the role of photos, images, and photo manipulation tools such as Photoshop is bright.  In our ever increasing technological word where everything is connect and the creation of images/photos is cheap and accessible there role in media will only increase.  We have gone from making only a few billion photos in the last hundred years to making over three hundred billion in a single year.  The advent of cheap and available photo/imaging technology has spurred the adoption and expansion of Photo/image manipulation tools such as Photoshop.  This in turn has increased the role photos and images have in media even further.  Taking into consideration the increasing importance of information technology the importance of photos, images, and photo editing tools will only increase going forward.

2 Replies to “Photos and Media: The Influence of Visuals and the rise of Photoshop”

  1. What do you think about Patrick Davidson’s argument on “MS Paint” with relation to the praise of contemporary Photoshop we see in the PBS series? I find Davidson’s argument refreshing: “how certain type of cultural production result not from a pursuit of technological ‘progress’ but from the lack of such desire” (278). His materialistic approach–how the limitations of software had conditioned the nature of artwork such as “Rage Guy” and eventually nurtured the fandom over “the ‘shitty’ mouse-drawn bit map”–seems to be best positioned with the platform study of Montfort and Bogost.

    I wonder what have become our assumptions and expectations owing to the success of proprietary software Photoshop? The ethics of retouching and its cultural consequence is mentioned in the PBS series. What would you preserve/document if you were to put Photoshop in a software archival collection? Setting aside the specificity of stakeholder, I am drawn to the idea of archiving different versions. Sometimes software updates seem minute to the users’ point of view, but it may be interesting to see how the developers strive to tackle the bug reports. Also, I’d be curious to know how some users cling on to the older versions. Documenting these most likely calls for the preservation of online “how to” tutorials…

    1. I found that article to be pretty interesting as well. I chose to focus more on the issue of photoshop and photos as a whole, but everything that applies to image editing programs also applies largely to things like ms paint as well. I wonder if things like ms paint are cheaper than Photoshop and, if so, does that affect its use? In regards to preserving Photoshop things would be difficult from the get go. In addition to the different versions and updates the modern Photoshop takes the modular/app approach. There are literally dozens of different combinations to chose from, making what to preserve a difficult choice.

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