Life is Like Photoshop, but Not Really

Life is Like Photoshop, But Not Really

from TREE OF LIVES, “The Tree of Life” page 346
The art department was located in the middle of the newsroom, in the heart of the action. She retouched photographs with an airbrush, as every photo was retouched back in those days.
She learned how to set type and then instruct the men in production to paste up her pages before they headed off to Foley’s, the local bar. Otherwise the layouts would not be straight. It was a real coup to go from the Ledger to the Herald, but still most of her paycheck went into childcare.
Just a few months before, while taking a bath and feeling low and alone, Ruth had scribbled a list of goals that seemed impossible at the time:
get a better job
get a better apartment
get a new car
take a vacation with the kids
get a better relationship
She had accomplished the first trifecta and now it looked like the vacation was within sight. Maybe this meant she might eventually meet a nice normal man, too.

By on May 11, 2019

If only there was a ‘shift+control+alt+delete’ for real life. We could instantly undo our mistakes, mispeaks and misdirections. We could airbrush annoying parts, blur our wrinkles, softly clone or cut and paste better images on top of the ugly ones. Lately I’ve been noticing marketers and politicians use these Photoshop-like tools for the images they want us to believe.

In the chapter called Tree of Life, it’s the 1970’s. Production artist Ruth is working in the heart of the Boston Herald’s newsroom. Before publication, every photograph is passed through the hands of the art department to be judged for reproduction clarity. Backgrounds were simplified, wrinkles in clothing, faces and hairdos were smoothed and beautified. Clarity ruled when grayscale images were a 65 gritty dots per inch.

By the ’80s, Ruth had moved to Florida and got a job an illustrator at The Palm Beach Post. The busy art department got a Macintosh SE for news graphics, and Ruth fell in love. She bought her own SE for $4,000, the price of a car in those days.

Her T-square, pots of grays gauche, ink, airbrush and waxy pencils went into a drawer forever, once Photoshop came along. No more resizing a photo without algebra and a plastic ratio tool, no more t-square and tape, adjustable desk, tall stools, clogged rapidograph, friskets, X-actos, amberlith, waxers, burnishers, stats, stat paper, stat cameras, stat chemistry or scrubbing trays. No more specking type, font catalogs, typesetting equipment, rush deliveries or horizontal drawers full of Letraset and artboards. And no more companies making those things.

Eventually there would be no more paste-up department or busy art department at all.


Elizabeth Garden is an artist who uses her imagination to overcome major life obstacles including trauma and child abuse.