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The Beauty Game23/04/2012 - 1:56 PM
Another week and another scandal about how much Photoshop retouching was done to a recent Kim Kardashian photo shoot. Like many starlets before her, going way back to the old Hollywood days, the publicity departments would never dream of releasing a publicity photo without some professional airbrushing for both Male and Female film stars. The public expected their heroes to be bigger than life, perfect in every way. The powers at be were in the business to create an image that their theatre going public could only dream of attaining. Men wanted to have the smouldering looks of a Clark Gable and the woman all wanted the beautiful innocence of a Marilyn Monroe. Little has changed since these days, or has it? what was once achieved through careful lighting and the airbrush is now carried out in the computer with Photoshop, but at what point do you cross the line?.
As a photographer I have had the pleasure of photographing many beautiful models over the years but my approach to each and ever shoot is to engage the model and inform her of my production methods in as much as it will effect how she will eventually look. I generally produce what I call fantasy images. From the onset I will try match a models looks to what I have already have blocked out in a handful of sketches. During the shoot I try to communicate what I am trying to achieve, it could be as simple as explaining why I'm using a certain lens or angle to perhaps enhance an already long pair of legs. This approach has generally made the models more at ease and keeps things light and yes enjoyable for all invloved. Now during any typical shoot there will come a time when the model will eventually let you know she hates to be photographed from this side or that, perhaps she has a blemish or two will ask that you Photoshop them out. This is where todays models are more savvy, they know what Photoshop can do, and are often the first ones to ask for body alterations, a tuck here or a push there. They are very aware of their own body image and for better or worse they have every right to look as good as they demand.
Does presenting these fake images on a public to any harm? there is no easy answer as each photo has to be taken on its own merit and eventual use. If you are selling glamour then go for it as long as it remains in the fantasy makeover category, bigger than life but don't take it seriously. Even as a young kid I was well aware that real woman did not look like those airbrushed works of art in a Playboy centre spread. On the other hand if you are presenting a photo of a model or personality who perhaps has been on a diet regime and selling her new looks then I draw the line on serious body retouching and manipulation. For me they are selling an image based on diet, exercise or whatever and it should be a more honest or raw depiction it should be real as its a serous presentation of the human body.
From a male perspective we are bound to be so far off the mark when its come to a woman's body image but as a photographer I am also aware of what they expect from me as a creative artist.
Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of working with various makeup artists and stylists who contribute so much to "the look" but if the model was to look at the finished photo in all its detail she would be amazed what's still required to make it perfect. Makeup will have flaws, lipstick not quite even, the odd stray fleck of coloured powder where it shouldn't be. The photographers lighting, composition and a thousand other fine details may also need improved. The difference is the photograph is a still image and by its very nature will be screutinised above and beyond the norm, just like all these magazine covers in our local store. The model expects to look perfect and its my job to achieve this. She has given me the canvas to paint on and its my duty to add the varnish with her consent.
What we perceive as beauty will always be highly objective but even in these days of HDTV we are witnessing a backlash of who should be on our screens, god forbid you now see a spot or blackhead on our newsreaders. If you think that all these male photographers are propagating a surreal world where only the beautiful exist just ask yourself who undermine and criticises the slightest imperfections in a woman's body image. Pick up any just about any woman's weekly gossip magazine and you will find pages devoted to how some celebrity has let themselves go or been caught without makeup. Muffin tops, bunions, cellulite, spots the list goes on with some of the most vicious editorial I have ever read. Is this there way of balancing things out, informing us all that without great make up, great photography and a bucket load of photoshop maybe we are all just human! Somehow I doubt it. They only achieve to knock the self extreme and confidence out of any unsuspecting victim and in my opinion do more damage than any Photoshop cover up.
As a final point I am aware there is a serious problem with youth body image and certain conditions like anorexia and I do not want to make light of them. Education is required at a very young age and the lines between fantasy image and real life image has to be made clearer.We all have a responsibility to make define that fantasy is fantasy and beneath all the shine we are all the same insecure creatures. It was recently mentioned that magazine covers should carry the bi line that they are retouched and airbrushed. I for one would see this as a start in the right direction. They credit make up artist, the stylists and the photographers so whats wrong with crediting the retoucher, photoshop artist etc. perhaps this would establish the line between whats real and whats fantasy.