Friday, 14 June 2013

The first (very small) nail in the coffin for misleading retouching.

I have written about misleading retouching before and how photographers really do not know how their model is going to look, if they rely purely on the models portfolio which is frequently chock full over over retouched images.

There is a much bigger issue though, and that is how models, particularly women are portrayed in photographs.

The impact of dishonestly representing models to the general public is corrosive and damaging.

It leaves girls and young women chasing idealised body forms which they can never catch, because they simply do not exist, or would not without retouching.

Many of us, myself included, have been complicit, perhaps under pressure from the client but I we still went ahead with it.

Let me state right here, right now I'm not against retouching.

What I am against is bodies being presented as perfect without a 'health warning' acknowledging that there has been some post production work.

Having an 11 years old daughter I am particularly aware of the challenges facing girls and young women and I feel sure that the constant drip drip of perfect retouched bodies does take its toll on some young women playing at least some part in eating disorders, poor self esteem  and low confidence.

Take a look at these shots of Britney Spears and consider the potential impact.

Step forward high street retailer Debenhams who have taken the brave step of ditching retouching from their lingerie images.

Here is their press release in full along with a two images from Debenhams, one retouched, the other unretouched.


Debenhams has broken ranks with the rest of the high street by using un-airbrushed lingerie photography.
This is not the first time Debenhams has shown its commitment to promoting positive body image - the store has run trials with size 16 mannequins in windows, worked with disabled models and paralympians.
This move is just another step which highlights the responsible retailer’s long standing commitment to encouraging positive body-image through minimal digital retouching and is an extra element to Debenhams’ inclusivity campaign.
The use of some digital photography techniques to create unrealistic body shapes and flawless skin can make men and women feel more insecure about their natural looks and size.
The retailers campaign is all about making women feel fabulous about themselves rather than crushing their self-esteem by using false comparisons.
Says Sharon Webb, Head of Lingerie buying and design for Debenhams: “We want to help customers feel confident about their figures without bombarding them with unattainable body images.
“As well as being a positive from a moral point of view, it ticks the economic boxes as well. Millions of pounds a year are spent by organisations retouching perfectly good images.
“As a rule we only airbrush minor things like pigmentation or stray hair and rely on the natural beauty of models to make our product look great.
Caryn Franklin, fashion commentator and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, says: “Fashion and beauty imagery that is honest, is absolutely crucial for all women to see. Retailers have the power to take a stance on digital manipulation, so, I’m delighted that Debenhams has taken the lead here and customer feedback will no doubt validate this important step.”
The model is naturally gorgeous and doesn’t need any retouching but the before and after images show an example of just how much the image could have been altered; including all of the following:
  • Face and neck slimmed
  • Under-eyes smoothed and lightened
  • Teeth whitened
  • Eyes whitened
  • Waist pulled in
  • Arms slimmed
  • Tidy hands
  • Underarms tidied
  • Legs made thinner
  • Stray hairs tidied
  • Skin tone changed, smoothed and brightened
  • Cleavage enhanced
Comments lingerie designer, Aliza Reger: “Airbrushing and other trickery are not necessary in order for women to look beautiful.
“Hopefully this act will demonstrate that products such as lingerie modelled by real women who have not been retouched can sell just as well as products advertised with extensive airbrushing, which has become the norm.
“Men and women can feel good about themselves knowing that beauty is not about achieving the unachievable."
70% of women and 40% of men report that they have felt pressure from television and magazines to have a perfect body image.*
Rosi Prescott, Chief Executive, Central YMCA comments "Digital manipulation contributes to the unattainable "body ideal" portrayed in the majority of media and advertising.
“Millions of young people want to look like the pictures of models they see everywhere and the fact that 95% can't makes them feel bad about themselves.*"
Other advertisers regularly use digital techniques to slim waists, lengthen legs, perfect teeth, and even change eye colour and skin tone.
Continues Sharon Webb, “We’ve been showing natural beauty for years and will continue to present women in a natural and positive way.”

Difficult to argue against and I applaud their move.

It will need many more to follow suit if it is to have real impact and we as photographers need to play our part too.

I would be interested to know what you think.


Gary said...

I had a photography professor in the 1970's who ran a very successful studio form the 1930suntil the mid-1940's. He was visiting a publisher one day when he saw an artist airbrushing one of his images of a pair of men's shoes. He told them to stop immediately and that his images were not to be altered. Fortunately, they would not stop and he decided to pursue a career in academia to the benefit of many students. Image enhancement has been going on for a long time...

ohnostudio said...

Here's a good abomination for you Drew

There are some that will argue that this is the artist's "style". I think it just perpetuates the bad myth. And it's a very bad meld of photo reality and illustrative concepts.

I do bridal retouch for a few photographers. There is a way to make things look really good while keeping things real. it's a fine line.

Hope you have a great weekend ;-)

Australian Outback Photographer said...

As a portrait photographer, involved mostly with private commissions, I am asked regularly to fix it in Photoshop. Having been in this game for over 30 years, I can tell you that we have always tried to fix things like scratches and bruises and the like. Basically anything that is a temporary blemish is now and has always been removed, or at least minimised.
What concerns me most, and the thing I discuss with clients now when they ask us to fix things in Photoshop... Is why do you want to do that?
I guess you could say it's an age thing. I struggle to see why people want to have photographs of themselves, that are frankly, pure fantasy. Now I understand fantasy photography. I've done enough of that over the years. What I struggle with is the fantasy that this is what I really look like, when clearly it is nothing like a true represtation of the person.
It's a bit like squeezing into a size 10 when in fact you should be wearing a 12. Everyboddy knows you should wear the next size up.... but you feel good telling people you're a size 10.

I do agree with your thoughts on a model's portfolio and retouching. On the odd occasion we need to book models, the fastest way to get passed over is have a folio filled with poorly retouched images.... Great retouching is another thing. Because if it is really good... you don't know that it's been done.
Hope your weekend is treating you well.

Drew Gardner said...

Hi Guys,

I know retouching is nothing new, and I'm not actually against it, just the context and how misleading it is.

Libby, Beyonce

Oh my! Could it be ironic?

Either way celebrities would be wise to consider how the public consider them when they are so heavily retouched and if it ultimately damages their 'brand'
Some years ago I saw a heavily retouched image of George Clooney on a billboard. It looked plain silly.
A man who is known for his loveable lines had them eradicated. George seems like a down to earth guy and I cannot imagine he would have been impressed at all.

Australian Outback I so agree with you, the clever retouch is the one you are not even aware of.