The Curious Case of Kate Middleton and How the Photoshop We All Know and Love Turned Back into a Verb

Palace theater signs showing Disaster and Doubt playing in Georgetown, TX to discuss the Photoshop image of Kate Middleton.
“Palace: Disaster and Doubt, Musicals for the Masses,” by Carol Schiraldi, 2024, Georgetown, TX iPhone 15 Pro Max

I must confess, I am not really a follower of the royals. Being American, I don’t get all that involved in their day to day shenanigans. Recent events have peaked my interest, however, as it seems that one of the royals, Princess Kate Middleton, had gone missing. It’s been a bit hard to follow, since there has been an abundance of news lately, but as far as I can tell, she was out of sight since December, when the Palace revealed she had some kind of abdominal surgery.

Typically, I don’t wish the royals any ill will I’m just not all that interested in their hi-jinx. When it comes to the royals, most of the time I read the headlines and think, “Hmm. Ok. Moving right along…” and that is that. There is an interesting photography related twist to this most recent royal scandal however since at the heart of the scandal lies a manipulated image. Has the Palace tried to cover up the missing Princess using Photoshop? It’s a mystery that’s developing right before our eyes.

The Beginning of Kate Gate

Kate, it seems, has been out of the spotlight for a while. She was spotted around Christmas time and then was planning to go to Italy on some kind of a trip, but she never made it. Next, she was rushed to a hospital in London but then nobody went to visit and she was not actually seen there. Returning home, she canceled all appearances, fueling additional rumors. At first, the Palace said she would be out of the public eye for a few weeks and then updated it to nine months (Hmm. Maybe she really has COVID? Wasn’t that three years of “2 weeks to flatten the curve?”) The official word was some kind of abdominal surgery but rumors were circulating and the gossips were working in overdrive. Hashtags like #WhereisKate and #KateGate started to spring up.

At one point, a photo was released but this was quickly determined to be manipulated and an older photo (I believe it was a re-work of an image that had actually been a cover of Vogue magazine. It appears they took Kate’s head and clone stamped it onto a different image.) Kate (or somebody speaking for her) eventually admitted to the manipulation, which still left the gossip mongers swarming around her not being seen recently. “Where is Kate?” became the battle cry of the masses. The image, now revealed to be a product of Photoshop, is still out there on social media.

Kate Goes Shopping! Or Does She Now?

Fast forward to more recent events. Recently, she was spotted at what looks like a farmer’s market type of place, carrying a few shopping bags. There was a video from American gossip news TMZ which showed her walking out of the market carrying what looks like shopping bags. Since there have been so many rumors and false sightings, many folks jumped at the notion that this was indeed a fake Kate. In gossip circles, there is still a lot of speculation that she had recently “Photoshopped” still images and therefore is still missing in action. Once manipulated images surface, all other images (including video) come into question.

Came for the Drama, Stayed for the (Photoshop) Photos

While I don’t want to get overly involved in the royal drama, this brings about an interesting case for the photographic community. Many folks have been asking about the authenticity of the video. Why was it only one American gossip news channel that aired the video? Why was only one reporter there at the farmer’s market? But that’s just the video. The previously manipulated image also introduced a host of issues and questions. Is it OK for somebody to manipulate an image of themselves? In this day and age of the Instagram grid, is it really a crime to put out a manipulated image and showcase it as if it were real? When is a manipulated image “too much?” If a still image is manipulated and used, are all other (subsequent) images also assumed to be “Photoshopped” or manipulated in some way?

“Say Cheese!” That’s Not Photoshop Now, is it?

I’ve discussed this before and added a few more points into the mix. What is a manipulated image really? If you ask the Princess to smile, is that not a manipulated image? If she wasn’t smiling before, but you manipulated her into smiling for the camera, that’s still manipulation, isn’t it? What about if you clone stamp (copy/paste) her smiling face onto an older photo of her? Is that manipulated? Is that more manipulated that the first image, the one where you asked her to smile and she only smiled for the camera? What about if you take a dozen images of her and pick the one in which she looks the most like she’s smiling and print that in the newspaper? Is that manipulated too?

We’re back to using “Photoshop” as a verb. “Oh, that image is PHOTOSHOPPED!” When in actuality Photoshop is not the problem here. Lightroom or another application can be used for editing just as easily, or you can even edit an image without an application as was done in the darkrooms of years past. You can just as easily manipulate the person to smile. Running an older photo and passing it off as more recent is another form of manipulation. You can get a body double, not say who is in the photo, and pass it off to unsuspecting masses. (See the conspiracy over Kate’s ear if you want an example of this.) You can selectively edit after shooting to pick images that convey a certain quality or emotion. There are a lot of ways to manipulate an image, with Photoshop being just one of them. In fact, in my earlier discussion, I point out how Edward Curtis was taken to task for manipulating images in the early 1900’s long before the advent of Photoshop and the modern digital cameras came along.

Isn’t it time we accepted the fact that there are manipulative PEOPLE in the work and that PHOTOSHOP is not the problem? Stop using it as a verb already! It’s not the bad guy in this story, OK? Photoshop is a tool photographers use to work with images but it’s not the villain in this story. To put it another way, those who want to manipulate or elicit a response will do so with or without the help of Photoshop. In this day and age can we please stop blaming the tools and look at the people behind the manipulation?

The Fall Out – Will Photoshop Survive?

The gossip about Princess Kate and the manipulated image (and now video) will probably carry on for a little bit longer. There are just too many rumors and hashtags, that it will take time to settle down at this point. My hope here is that, after the royal kerfuffle subsides, Photoshop the tool will not be held accountable for any of this. That is to say, I hope it leaves us alone to our digital darkrooms and Photoshop goes back to being a noun and is no longer a verb. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later, right?

As always, I welcome your comments and discussion about this. If you feel strongly one way or another or just want to discuss, please feel free to reach out, either in the comments or though email. It’s an interesting topic, one that merits further discussion and clarification from the photographic community and I’m happy to share thoughts about this.

Until next time…

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