Photos can't lie -- but they do

June 26, 1996|By Howard Kleinberg

MIAMI -- Not that long ago, I held out the prospect of a hefty financial reward to anyone who could produce a photograph showing an abhorrently worded Miami Beach hotel sign of decades ago: ''No Jews, No Dogs.''

While photos of other, less abusive restrictive notices have survived the years, none containing this language has emerged. My suspicion was that this particularly worded sign never existed, that it grew in the imaginations of those who were being discriminated against as an outlandish icon of that discrimination.

The award remained unclaimed for many years until I quietly withdrew it in the face of a rapidly advancing photo technology that threatened to collect it through guileful methods.

If motion picture producers could put Woody Allen in the batter's circle next to Babe Ruth, and on a Nuremberg platform with Adolf Hitler in his 1983 film ''Zelig,'' and if Forrest Gump could cavort with Lyndon Johnson and the entire Alabama football team, then everything is possible with motion picture and still film, including a convincing representation of the legendary sign.

A real-life, contemporary illustration of how knowledge of this technology and its possible use can effect controversy has emerged in Colombia. The embattled President Ernesto Samper has branded as an altered photo one that shows him with a prominent female backer who, it is claimed, channeled drug cartel money into Mr. Samper's campaign.

The benefactor later was murdered, and the president's relationship with her has caused continuing discomfort. A true photo of him with her apparently would be quite damaging.

Even Abraham Lincoln

Whether the photo is a phony, I am not in position to pass judgment, technically or otherwise. I do know it can be done. With current computer technology, you can get yourself into a photo with the pope, with Michael Jordan, Marilyn Monroe, even Abraham Lincoln, and have people believe it is the real thing.

When I purchased my new computer about a year ago, it came loaded with all sorts of programs, one of which is capable of adding to and enhancing photo images. I confess to being incapable of performing such technically formidable work, but the capability is there. Give me a year or two to concentrate on it and I'm certain I could produce a photo of me standing in front of that alleged repugnant sign of more than a half-century ago.

Many shopping malls around the country contain gimmicky photo shops where your image can be transferred onto the body of someone else. I have one in which I am a fierce-looking hockey player for the Las Vegas Thunderbirds, while my wife's face adorns the considerably exposed body of a darling, Demi Moore-like creature.

Thus, the old precept that pictures don't lie is even more untrue today than when it first surfaced. Pictures do lie, and as computer technology advances, will be able to lie with seemingly greater accuracy and authenticity.

Howard Kleinberg, a former editor of the Miami News, is a columnist for Cox Newspapers.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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