Did newspaper obits ever darken or alter the pupils of the deceased person's photograph?
October 19, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Book-finder filter: trying to locate a novel that included this weird, probably invented, practice of old newspaper obituaries: the stock portrait of the deceased person is altered to darken the pupils. Intention was to cancel out the reflection from the eyes. Does this sound familiar to anyone? I've tried searching Gale, Google, and the mssg. board on the Thanatos Archives.

The book is about the newspaper business, probably in the early 20th century. Photos of the deceased person are altered to blacken out the pupils. This is not the same as the practice of painting pupils onto closed eyelids in post-mortem photography. This being a work of fiction, it might be just made up. Would be interested to know if this was ever actually done, and why.

Caveat: I didn't read this book, I'm looking this up for someone else.

Any help is great! Thanks.
posted by wowbobwow to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
See also.
posted by fish tick at 8:59 AM on October 19, 2010

Response by poster: fish tick: Close, but not quite right. My question is limited to newspapers from a long time ago, before Photoshop existed.
posted by wowbobwow at 9:09 AM on October 19, 2010

The pupil reflections are called "catchlights", which might help with your searching. I don't think the novelist invented the practice; I've read about it before for obit photos, and I think I've seen it done in movies to indicate evilness or death, too. I think I remember that in Peter Jackson's King Kong, Kong's catchlights are dimmed as he dies, although I can't remember for sure.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:11 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've done photo retouching of still photos for a police procedural TV show. So lots of crime scene and autopsy photos. One of the easiest ways to sell the idea that this is a photo of an actual dead person and not just an actor lying on the floor covered in fake blood is to remove the catchlights in the pupils via photoshop.

No idea how that translates to newspaper photography - I would guess that the editors don't want the people to actually look dead in their photos. So...?
posted by Sara C. at 12:16 PM on October 19, 2010

I think I read that book. It was about a guy who worked at a dying newspaper and he really hated it. And the editor-in-chief made special tuna fish sandwiches in a toaster oven, right?

If I'm on the right track, I seem to remember that I read this book in 2002 because it was a finalist for a big fiction prize (I don't think it was the Pulitzer though, and I looked at the Pulitzer site and none of the titles rang a bell).

Hope this helps.
posted by honkeoki at 3:04 PM on October 19, 2010

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