You see them in your e-mailbox every day: Photos that take your breath away. Remember the snapshot of the guy standing on the World Trade Center as an airliner approaches behind him? The shot of a shark leaping up to snap at a rescue diver dangling from a helicopter? A photo of President Bush reading from an upside-down children's book?
All "faux-tographs" -- hoaxes made possible by the magic of Photoshop. Some are so good, even experts have a hard time seeing the telltale clues that they're fabricated. The camera doesn't lie, but sometimes geeky pranksters do.
Recently, we heard of a photo floating around the Internet of a giant, "Jaws"-like shark caught just off one of our area's most popular beaches. It didn't take long to find it, and it was shockingly large. After a day of phone calls and emails, my colleague Brian Pearson punched holes in the prank, but he also did something rare in the urban-myth detective business: He found the actual hoaxter! His story appears today in The Enterprise.
Why do people do it? In our case, it was just a friendly joke. In other cases, though, the reasons for "faux-tography" are more sinister. David Mikkelson, founder of the greatest mythbusting site on Earth, Snopes.com, says this:
"The online world is fraught with clever photo manipulations that often provoke gales of laughter in those who view them, so we speculate that whoever put together this particular bit of imaging did so purely as a lark. However, presumed lighthearted motives or not, the photo [of the tourist at WTC] provokes sensations of horror in those who view it. It apparently captures the last fraction of a second of this man's life . . . and also of the final moment of normalcy before the universe changed for all of us. In the blink of an eye, a beautiful yet ordinary fall day was transformed into flames and falling bodies, buildings collapsing inwards on themselves, and wave upon wave of terror washing over a populace wholly unprepared for a war beginning in its midst."
Wouldn't it be nice to believe in everything ... anything ... something? Why must there always be someone ready, willing and able to undermine our trust, whether in a baseball player's natural ability to hit a ball, our leadership, or simple photographs? That's a sad thing in today's world, where mendacity has become an accepted tool in achieving too many twisted goals. So don't believe everything you see (or read), even if it looks real. A little skepticism and suspicion -- a little, mind you -- is a good thing. A lot might make this world too cynical and we really don't need the bad mojo right now, but being a tad skeptical of things you see and hear doesn't hurt anyone, especially you.