Portrait Professional is software which allows an amateur airbrusher to achieve top-notch photo enhancement results in minutes.
The user opens a photo with the program, chooses “male or female so it knows what to do to the face to make it more attractive,” and marks a few key points on the face. Then the software uses “its knowledge of human beauty to automatically make the face look as good as possible” (quoted from the video here). The user can then adjust how much to alter the original photograph on any number of scales, everything from pore-smoothing to eye-leveling.
I’d like to note here that on the main page of its site, which is where I sourced these photos, Portrait Professional presents their “after” pictures and then their “before” ones. It’s a subtle manipulation of the viewer, but an important one.
This—the touching up and reshaping of faces—is the sort of thing that is done in advertising and in magazine photos of the rich and famous. At this point, it’s become a casual sort of lying that we don’t even perceive on a conscious level anymore. In fact, we only notice it when a photo of a person isn’t enhanced to remove most references to reality.
I’m a portrait painter, and I do much the same thing as Portrait Professional. I highlight what I find beautiful as I paint. And though I’m a little more subjective than some software that’s been programmed to smooth everything out into a tidy symmetry, I can’t pretend that my portraits aren’t lies in the objective sense of that word. I alter the faces I paint: I downplay some things and exaggerate others.
I lie, and Portrait Professional lies. The only difference is in our motives. The software lies in order to help a subject conform to statistically proven notions of beauty, and I lie in order to better capture a truth about a person. We’re still both liars though.