Welcome to Coffee Talk where I casually sit down and talk to you about what’s on my mind while drinking a cup of coffee and then we formulate a civil discussion in the comments below.
So for today’s coffee talk I want to share my thoughts on Photoshop and retouching. Given, the controversy of Photoshop has been around a while in the realm of photojournalism, it’s been the last few years that I’ve seen videos and articles pop up all over the world wide web in regards to the retouching and transforming of a model’s physical characteristics in post production. As a photographer and a beauty consultant, I have some thoughts on the subject, but more importantly I want to provide some counter points for what I’ve come to find in the content I’ve come across. I don’t think this subject is as black and white as it’s been made to appear. In fact, there are probably fifty shades of grey in between. (…ha…)
I want to set the stage a little bit first with some things to keep in mind as we delve into this.
Most photographers view themselves as artists. They are trying to create a specific ambiance, image, representation in order to convey a particular message. Depending on the project, this could be their own free creative reign or a specific message that a brand or company has hired them to create imagery for.
Not only that, but there is just as much of an artistic aspect in setting everything up manually as there is editing in post production. Depending on the photographer’s preferences, some prefer to have more play on the set with the actual camera and others prefer the control of the dark room – digital or otherwise – more. And I think that both are equal and complimentary mediums of each other.
In my mind and based on my understanding, as a model, you aren’t you posing for a picture in Hollister clothing you are modeling as whoever they want you to be wearing Hollister clothing. So a model is essentially like an actor, but instead of a movie, it’s a still scene.
For example, Helena Bonham Carter played the Red Queen in Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Would she have had the right to be angry that they made her head unusually large in post production when that wasn’t the size of her head normally? What about the fact that they made her face unusually white with makeup? In both circumstances, her physical appearance has been altered. Actors will often times go as far as losing or gaining weight to meet the character requirements for certain roles.
And this leads me to the subject of consent. In every relationship with a model there should be some sort of understanding between the model and the creative team, preferably in the form of a written contract, of what that model’s role is. This is a responsibility of the model to know exactly what he/she is modeling for and if it doesn’t fit their morals, beliefs, standards, etc. then they can walk away. It’s important to keep in mind that modeling is a job that the model is getting paid for and beyond actually modeling they don’t have an opinion in the rest of the process.
When it comes to the consent of a model who has paid a photographer to take their picture, it is once again important to have a written contract between both parties, however the creative process becomes just as much the client’s say as it does the photographer’s. The photographer has to respect the client’s wishes and the client has to trust the photographer’s expertise. I have had multiple clients request that I Photoshop them to make them look better by removing this or that. Obviously not every one will want that so there should be a relationship from start to finish between the client and the photographer so the client is happy with the final product.
Lastly, there is the subject of consent when either consent is not given or when there is no payment involved. An example of this would be celebrities and paparazzi. It’s interesting because of the three, this is the example that should have the least creative license to Photoshop an image yet the one with the most creative license to Photoshop seems to always be what has the most negativity directed towards it.
In the end, everyone wants to look good in photographs because they take something momentary and make it lasting. I think it’s the job of any photographer who is either paid to take a picture of someone or doesn’t have that person’s consent to use their expertise to make that person look their best in the original photograph. It’s hard to draw the line in post production when it comes to making someone look their best because everyone is going to have a different opinion on what that person’s best looks like. Minor touch ups could slide when it comes to blemishes because I think there’s a general consensus out that people could do without remembering their blemishes. After all, they aren’t permanent anyway.
I don’t think photographers or postproduction editors are completely to blame. I don’t really think anyone is to blame. I just think there’s a misunderstanding. I think this controversy is based on poor communication skills as well as a negative reflection of what our society’s standards of “beauty” are. Photographers need to be more honest about their work and models need to be more understanding of the process.
I don’t support today’s standards and expectations of beauty. Nor do I enjoy seeing people’s natural and beautiful figures distorted based on someone’s opinion of what they “should look like”. However, I do think that there’s more to the issue then the media is portraying.
So those are the thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my head recently. What do you think about the Photoshop controversy? And have you ever been retouched in a photo? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to reading them and engaging in a discussion with you.