Lawyers representing Demi Moore sent a threatening letter to Boing Boing over the holidays which demanded that we remove a post I published in November, or face legal consequences. In the referenced Boing Boing post, I published photographer Anthony Citrano's speculation that a recent W Magazine cover image of the actress may have been crudely manipulated by magazine staff to alter her hip, and appear thinner.
letter sent by Demi Moore's attorneys to Boing Boing (PDF).
The letter from Moore's attorney, Martin D. ("Marty") Singer, claims that we set out to slander Moore (Boing Boing did not, nor did Mr. Citrano). The letter also includes denials from people involved in the production of the W Magazine cover who insist that the image was not manipulated at all.
Since receiving this letter, we have discovered that an alternate, and seemingly more anatomically correct version of the W magazine cover (with more hip-flesh) was published in W's South Korean edition. We have also been informed that Ms. Moore's attorneys have sent similar letters to other blogs that discussed the possible digital alteration of the US cover image. The story is now being covered by a number of other news organizations and blogs.
A little background: Digital manipulation of photo and video content (good, bad, or disastrous) is an often-revisited subject here on Boing Boing. A quick Google search reveals that more than 3,600 items in the boingboing.net archives reference the digital alteration of images with Photoshop. A series of Boing Boing posts in September and October of this year examining how a Ralph Lauren model was slimmed to impossibly slender proportions became the subject of widespread media interest, and legal threats directed at this blog from Ralph Lauren's camp.
But fashion photos aren't the only digitally altered images to have been discussed on Boing Boing. Sometimes the "Photoshop Disasters" we blog have more critical news value. Back in 2008, I blogged about an image credited to Iran's state-run media agency that showed multiple missiles defiantly shooting into the sky. The LA Times, New York Times and other major news organizations ran the image as legitimate. Our readers and other "citizen forensic analysts" discussed the image, and proved it to have been altered to fake the appearance of more missiles, thereby implying greater military strength on Iran's part. Still earlier, in 2003, our readers spotted and discussed an anomaly within a photo about soldiers in Iraq published in the New York Times. And way back in 2001, we blogged about a hoaxed image that purported to be an unaltered shot taken seconds before a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
So, back to Ms. Moore: On November 17, 2009, I published the Boing Boing post titled "Was Demi Moore Ralph-Laurenized on 'W' mag cover, with missing hip-flesh?." This post consisted entirely of a guest editorial of sorts from Anthony Citrano, a Los Angeles-based professional photographer with whom I am socially acquainted. In the post, Mr. Citrano examined the possibility that a W Magazine cover featuring Demi Moore had been digitally altered in a manner that left clues indicating it had been altered. Specifically, it looked like a portion of her hip had gone missing. Before I published the Boing Boing post, the Gawker Media blog Jezebel had already asked the same questions, and other blogs and news/tabloid websites soon followed.
Within days, Ms. Moore responded on Twitter to deny that her hips had been digitally altered ("Here is the original image people my hips were not touched don't let these people bullshit you!"), and linked to another version of the W Magazine cover shot which she claimed was "the original image."
I promptly published another Boing Boing post with the full text of Ms. Moore's denial, and an offer from Mr. Citrano to make a $5,000 donation to a charity of Ms. Moore's choosing if the image she'd published were provably the unretouched original. Boing Boing commenters discussed the possibilities that the disputed image was or was not retouched, and the technical methods one might employ to alter, or detect alterations, in such an image. The UK newspaper Telegraph went so far as to publish an article speculating that Ms. Moore's head may have been photoshopped onto another model's body. Interest in the story gradually fizzled out on our blog, and other websites where the matter had been discussed.
But then, weeks later, we received a letter from Mr. Singer, the attorney representing Ms. Moore. So did Jezebel, Anthony Citrano, and the blog Oh No They Didn't. Citrano published a detailed post examining image forensics. Links to all known responses, and to ensuing media coverage, at the bottom of this post.
If there is any party we feel is due criticism, it is not Moore, a beautiful 47-year-old who proves that age is no impediment to youth—but rather those who apparently feel that no-one is fit to be seen without some aspect of his or her appearance being "worked."
In fact, it's now practically unheard of for an image to go from camera to press without some degree of digital manipulation. When fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott write (in the statement accompanying the letter we received from Ms. Moore's attorney) that no retouching whatsoever was done to Moore's hips, waist or legs, it's an unusual claim: perhaps they would consider releasing other photographs from the shoot to help clear up the matter.
At no point was it the intent of this blog, or this blogger, to insult or offend Ms. Moore, who has embraced the openness of internet culture by way of frequent and intimate Twitter updates. Discussions about whether and/or how a widely circulated image may have been altered are common here on Boing Boing. We are a blog about digital culture, after all, and the technical and creative details that go into producing the images we consume are an essential part of our culture.
Yes, the discussion at hand is only about an image of a celebrity on the cover of a fashion magazine. But the ability to freely discuss the provenance and technical history of a photo, including those with more crucial news value—say, images of detainee abuse, or Iranian missles—is a freedom we believe should be preserved.
Image comparison below, courtesy Boing Boing reader Mark Koeppen.
Anthony Citrano's responses to threat letter from Demi Moore's attorneys:
Jezebel's response to threat letter from Demi Moore's attorneys.
Oh No They Didn't responds to threat letter from Demi Moore's attorneys
NEWS LINKS: Media coverage of the controversy over threat letters sent by Demi Moore's attorneys:
Related reading: Wikipedia entry on "The Streisand Effect."