Retouched images vs. reality
Besides working as a portrait photographer and videographer, I also do retouching for my own work and other photographers. Over recent years I have become aware of a movement in commercial advertising that is distancing itself more and more from heavily retouched images, in favour of natural looks. In fact some brands have pushed the pendulum so far to say that they are going to be completely photoshop-free for their campaigns to come. Brands like Dove and Aeri have been advertising their products ‘digitally undistorted’ for a while. Others like Asos and even Victoria’s Secret are using unretouched images sporadically, either in e-com shops or on social media, to raise awareness for natural beauty and body forms. And quite rightly so, it seems, as a study from 2018 in the journal Media Psychology implied that for young girls and adolescents, it isn’t easy to spot digitally transformed body shapes and that altered images are found to seem realistic to them.
And of course, this is a problem when manipulated imagery starts having an effect on our body image and self confidence – because let’s be honest, it isn’t just the young generation that looks in the mirror spotting all those so called imperfections. And this perfectly shows that advertising has warped all our sense of beauty and it has pushed things just too far over the mark.
Personally, I believe that with everything, it is all about moderation and transparency. I have always found that photography, being a visual medium, needs to embrace content as well as style. However, of course, as image producers we also have a responsibility and I am very aware of it. And it would be naive to think images don’t set cultural trends that go way beyond a magazine’s page. There are many artists that make it very obvious that their work isn’t portraying a realistic world – such as David LaChapelle’s iconic portrait photography. But there is a fine line between artistic choices and a mandate to inform and educate. And us, as viewers, we are also demanded to apply critical thinking and not take everything for face value. But of course, critical differentiation between well applied photoshop and reality can be a challenge to see, even for a trained eye. So I believe what’s important is dialogue, transparency and showing the world what retouched images look like and why. At this point I will continue to retouch my images, because stylistically, this is the choice I make to achieve the look I personally admire. However, I always try to embrace the natural form, skin and age of a model and merely work on enhancing light, mood, colours and minor flaws. But because I want to contribute to people being able to differentiate between reality and retouched bodies or images, I will start posting photographs in their original state and as the finished retouched look on this blog.