Tuesday, April 1, 2008

maybe she's born with it, maybe it's photoshop.

the irony of my great passion for eating disorder awareness and my career choice has come into conversation quite a few times since i have returned to school. i’m a digital retoucher; i take photographs and i enhance them to my liking. i fell in love with the art of retouching when i found it to be an amazing (and healthy) outlet for my perfectionism tick, something i never would have guessed existed.

so, what? i fix colors, make composites, take out sensor dust; nothing wrong there. except that those are not the types of images that i really enjoy enhancing. the most fun i have is in model/beauty retouching; erasing skin imperfections, reforming limbs, smoothing skin down to plastic. i think i find it fun because i do it knowing it’s not real. it’s like building a barbie doll. is it possible that Matel doesn’t care that a real, live barbie would have to walk on all fours because they know how fake it is? i mean, it's just a toy. why don’t people compare themselves to anime? what about disney movies? (let’s be honest – what little girl didn’t want ariel’s crayola-red, perfectly set hair when she threw her head back out of chlorine-treated water?) it’s so blatantly fake, it just seems ridiculous to idolize it.

painters and cartoonists don't get reamed for creating false idealizations. photographs are analyzed and compared to because it used to be a still-frame of real life. now, photography is just as much distorted to please the artist’s eye as any other form of traditional art. don’t trust anything you see. every human being has hair, acne, scars, stretch marks, etcetera. retouching is done for purpose. it is done to create a work of art that is visually pleasing in a still-life setting: beautiful colors, bold lighting, a certain feeling that is set on print for life and never to be aged. how can you compare a human face/body to that?

when you look at a makeup ad and her skin is 98% flawless, it’s about a 20-40% blur layer, and maybe a noise layer to give the effect of skin texture - not to mention 7-30 layers of digital painting and adjustments. secret’s out, ladies: she ain’t born with it. no human is. but that’s not the point of the ad. the point isn’t even to show how good the makeup will make you look (even though they want you to think that). the raw point is to have you associate a beautifully made-up face with their product. that’s marketing for ya. i can’t even gaurentee that those models are made-up with their product, but i highly doubt it. and what’s it matter? those sparse, clumped lashes are just going to be multiplied, thickened, and cleaned up in photoshop, anyways.

take the following image for example. soak in the beauty. then rollover it to see the original. she is a gorgeous girl, but the makeup, the skin, the color... that's all digital airbrushing, folks. and thank god, because i think i would have been freaked out shooting her if she looked like this in real life.

i'm always fascinated when i look at retoucher’s websites with mouse-over before & after images. i try to look at the before, first, to see what i would change. the after usually suprises me by cutting of chunks of skin from thighs and upper arms that i didn’t find anything wrong with to begin with; they looked like human limbs. of course, when you go from the after back to the before, the before is suddenly very unattractive to the eye.

a photograph is a piece of art. sometimes, hours upon hours of work are put into perfecting it to the artist's eye, including the process of taking the photo itself. lighting it with thousands of dollars worth of equipment, finding the perfect location, the right colors, hair & makeup, etc. and then, after all is said and done, the model is frozen in time - never to age, never to be in a different light, never to fade.

it's about the shapes and form, and i love creating them. but i don't see these pictures as people. they're digital paintings that resemble people. no personality, no movement, just colors and shapes that are fun to look at. so really... where's the comparison?


brittany said...

GREAT post emmy!! <333

as you know, i am a model. being in the industry, and seeing the before and after pics of both myself and other people from my agency, i'm constantly amazed by what photographers can do to make the shot look better. i guess it's easier for me to not obsess over magazine pics, etc, because i know they're fake. it just makes me sad that people may be looking at ME wishing they looked good and starving themselves/losing self-esteem over it. i have professionals working on my hair and make-up, and professionals photographing me and touching up my pics. i don't look like that in real life.

but it's a reality that people DO obsess over these pictures. i think that what needs to happen with these pictures needs to be similar to what happened to runway models in Milan - set realistic standards or don't get a job. the diet industry is SKYROCKETING because of these portayals of "ideal" bodies, yet everyone complains that no one likes their own bodies. gee, i wonder why? because they're fed superficial lies about what women and men are supposed to look like. UGH.

okay, i could go on forever about this, but i'll stop myself before i get out of control. great post darling. keep them coming <33

Alex said...

so, I totally agree with your point that photographs aren't reality, but as brittany said, people DO think that's true. I wonder how you could incorporate awareness into your work...also, though, even knowing in my head that photos are fake, it doesn't always stop me from wishing i had better skin or a prettier nose or something...hmm. I guess it's just a complicated issue, and you may be the first person in the unique position to try to reconcile it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Very thought provoking!

I think that the reason that photographs take much more heat is that they offer the promise of reality. When someone takes a picture they are, in a way, capturing a moment of reality. Though there are ways photos can be staged and manipulated without retouching, a photograph is meant to depict a person or an event as it actually was. That's why non-photographers take pictures, and that's probably why photo retouching affects people in a way that paintings and drawings never will.

For a photograph, picture-taking is an art and obviously they strive to create the most beautiful pictures possible (if it is beauty they wish to convey), but I think that the rest of us are so used to using pictures to document things (our vacations, our family gatherings) that we can't really believe that retouched pictures don't display some reality. Add to that the fact that we are oversaturated with images of flawless women (and men), and it becomes difficult to accept that those pictures aren't just a reality we haven't worked hard enough to achieve, even if we know it's impossible to ever do that.

It's not really fair to photographers or anyone who works with photographs, but I think it is more the context of images and the way they have been used throughout history, that really causes the trouble. A photograph by itself is a benign object, but a photograph of a flawless face, plastered on billboards, selling you something that implies you just aren't good enough as is? That's, in my opinion, damaging to people.

Mama said...

But why retouch it at all? Why aren't the models pretty enough as they are?

Colin said...

I've never really thought about advertisements as art before, so to some extent your writing about it makes sense.

But still...it kinda scares me. The way that people are made into dolls, but are still called people.

Lauren Gaw Photography said...

Hey emmy!! thanks for posting on my blog! you are the first. I am totally addicted to it. and totally excited about the new site. I already have a new layout in mind something more white and clean its just a matter of putting it into action

I would have to agree with your writings on retouching. I go back and forth on my views on retouching. As I was going thru my fashion pics to post on the web I accidentally imported the un-retouched layla images.. into LR granted she is gorgeous to begin with I found that I enjoyed the minimally retouched versions of her..but I still posted the retouched versions of her for the site.

I find that I cant look at a fashion magazine anymore with out dissecting how the adds are retouched and critiquing them.

Connie being a photojournalist is often horrified to know what is done to these images. She forbids me to remove her spots and freckles in photos of her. I resist. and we debate about ethics etc its a good time

Stephanie said...

I've always heard "its all touch-up, they don't really look like that" but no one ever showed it to me in such a drastic manner. Thank you :) I think if all young girls could be exposed to that, the world would be a better place. Cause you can tell someone something until you're blue in the face, but until they see it, it doesn't really mean a damned thing.

However, at the same time i'm not a huge fan of retouching, because of the problems it causes. I understand that some pictures can be artwork, but to the average person, a picture is a documentation of an event, or a person or of a time, and it is taken at face value. So when you're not in the photography industry, or fashion industry you are constantly flooded with your own pictures, ones that capture what is there and stay that way, so when someone from the non-photography world sees a picture they take it at face value because thats what they know. I think the retouching industry can be used for art, i'm just not keen on the use of it on people for art, i know that kind of an oximoron, but use it on landscapes, buildings, animals and the like, but using it on people creates the image that thats what we should look like. Unless it was more widely publicized as art its just going to cause problems eternally, however if it was advertised as artwork it wouldn't be legitimate as an addvertisement. Its a deadlock situation. We exploit the ability of computers so much in this country and all it does is cause problems.

KC Elaine said...

My problem is taking a beautiful woman and retouching her because she can't be accepted unless she's thinner. That's jack. I know that photos aren't real, but making a woman look thinner is glorifying eating disorders. It's saying she's not beautiful unless she loses weight. And I do take issue with cartoons. No matter how you look at it, it's still holding up a too-thin woman as the ideal

Krystle said...

Fascinating post! She was beautiful before...but there is such a large difference. We are unfair to ourselves when we compare. The roll-over effect was very telling...It's interesting to hear about photo retouching from an artist's perspective.

Kim's Korner said...


Stumbled across your site and loved this post! Thought I'd share a video clip with you that your readers may enjoy.

It's a DOVE movie. Your readers may find it interesting to see exactly HOW things can be 'altered'.

Apparently the finished product, the ad, took ten hours to develop from the time the model sat in the chair until the final photo was ready for print.


Notice the two young girls walking by at the end of the video, looking up at the model on the billboard ... yeah ... betcha THEY didn't see this video!

Again, great post! Thanks!

Kim's Korner said...

Oops, sorry, seems I lost the end of the original link for the video in that last comment. Here it is.


Trouble said...

DUDE! Check out her pores!