Photoshopped images are everywhere. From glossy magazines to curated Instagram accounts, individuals smooth out their skin, tame their hair, alter their makeup, and transform their bodies. As filters and photo editing become the norm, anxieties about body image—particularly among women and young people—have skyrocketed.
Alexander Jacquet knows firsthand how easy it is to alter pictures. A visual-effects artist by trade, he spent more than a decade in the field working on high-profile TV and film productions like Jurassic World, Godzilla, and Game of Thrones. As he found himself developing increasingly violent content, however, he began to question the ethics of his craft. While privately searching for a way to deploy his knowledge in a way that could help others, Jacquet one day stumbled on an article about celebrity retouching and how so few people realize the extent to which photos are edited by marketers.
“I grew up in an era where Photoshop became a part of advertising,” he tells the Georgia Straight on the line from his Vancouver office. “Now kids are born into this world and they don’t see the transition. We consume so much content that isn’t authentic, and it particularly affects youths’ perception of what people look like. That’s been a huge driving motive. I call it an epidemic, because for me it is. And that’s when it hit me—what if people could just look at content and know if it had been edited or not?”
Jacquet’s epiphany became the foundation for Trusting Pixels, an image-verification company. Launched about a year ago, the business teams up with influencers, photographers, and brands to test and confirm that their pictures do not include alterations to their subjects’ bodies or features. Jacquet, as the company’s CEO, designed a unique way to determine how real an image is. Asking individuals and organizations to send the raw file taken directly by the camera alongside the edited version, Trusting Pixels runs forensic tests to confirm that the original is legitimate, then compares it to the final picture.
In order to classify the edited shot and award it the Trusting Pixels watermark, Jacquet created a strict set of criteria.
“After running a survey that asked what type retouching edits people find to be the most intrusive, such as retouching skin vs retouching body size, we saw that the results varied," he says. "This meant certain types of edits that were important to one person may not have been important to another person. That’s why we developed our regulations. When we authenticate an image, we pair it with a set of criteria. This criteria identifies which retouching edits an image was confined to, as opposed to just stating an image was 'not edited/notretouched'."
After the company has classified the picture, it’s uploaded to the website’s gallery. Dubbed the “final seal of approval” by Jacquet, having a photo placed in the searchable database allows companies to confirm that their picture is authentic, and it prevents photographers from simply Photoshopping the Trusting Pixels logo onto the bottom corner. With shots of a number of models already in the gallery, the CEO envisages a number of industries that would benefit from his service.
“For anyone involved in the beauty, fitness, or health-and-wellness industries, all the content is based around what people do or what they wear or how they look,” he says. “A fitness instructor can validate their photos to prove that their results are legit. The same thing for a makeup artist or brand. If they validate their photos as unretouched, it proves that what they are promoting is a real expectation of what their customers can get.
“So far, we’ve authenticated photos primarily from photographers and models from all over the world: India, Germany, France, the U.S., and Canada. We’ve tested a pipeline that works. We’re ready to take on the big guys now.”
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays