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?