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Thread: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Hopefully, this can be a constructive thread to deal with the issue raised by Eleanor Brown concerning the impact that images, especially unrealistic images, have on women in our image centric society.
    So I am kicking this off here, for the purpose of thoughtful discussion.
    The thread title "Beauty -- When have we gone too far?" I think summarizes it.

    As photographers, we do all sorts of things to arrive at a pleasing image. That is one trap immediately, that is pleasing to who?
    When commissioned for a photograph, there are certain expectations on the part of a client. Now that digital is pervasive, most clients expect at least a moderate level of retouching in their images beyond the limits of color, crop, and contrast.

    Portraits are one example. I have often been asked to retouch scars, bad blemishes, blotchy skin, rosacea, stray hairs and so forth. The incredible crispness of digital images today taken with our high resolution equipment and our incredibly sharp lenses pretty much captures it all, much too much in most cases. So, it is pretty standard fare to "soften" the skin at least a touch and dial-back some of the detail that we capture.

    About a year ago, I started shooting models for my own educational purposes and then some for their portfolios and lately for various commissions. The demand for retouching sharply increased. For some of the models or other clients, a non-retouched was just a "bad" photograph, while a retouched image was a "good" photograph.

    So I kick this discussion off with a repeat of the link to Dove's site and an animation demonstrating visually a fairly typical model shot and what I think is expected of me as a photographer. Of course, Aunt Madge gets much less work and the edits would be more of the nature of removing the telephone pole growing out of her head.

    Reference link: http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com


    Have we gone too far?

    -bob
    Last edited by Bob; 1st August 2009 at 04:49.

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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    It's an interesting topic. Over the past year or so I've lost interest in looking at the fashion magazines partially because it seems you need to do a double take to even recognize who the model is since the shots are so retouched and I'm not talking about just skin but slenderizing etc.
    I don't think I'm in the majority though and certainly the amount of plastic surgery we see all around us is a testament to how important looks are in our society.
    Personally when any of you stick an MF camera in my face, I duck because it is pretty frightening what cameras can capture these days.
    All that leads back to me being in favor of the basic smoothing and a little wringle retouch but not a change in size shape of the face, changing the eyebrows, cheekbones etc.

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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Some seriously wicked graphics you have there, Bob. I have no experience as yours but, I would only think that market dictates such matters.

    And that market is not decided by most photographers.

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    I have done a little journalism long ago, and the rules were that image alteration was not permitted. That did not limit photo editors from altering the image in terms of cropping and it did not prevent photographers from selecting an angle or perspective that in some cases strongly affected the "story" contained in the image.

    Indeed we are the plastic surgery generation, but in years past, the painter provided pretty much the same services.

    For awhile I created images with just a paintbrush on paper or canvas. That was complete freedom of expression. There was nothing to start with other than a blank rectangle and an idea.

    After tiring of painting of landscapes, I turned my attention to portraits. The same issues began to arise. Since the brush is much more abstract to begin with, every painting was an idealization of whatever I was painting. The looser I worked the more so. With landscapes, the rocks and trees do not complain if they are not exactly as they existed in nature. The painter is free to move things around at will to create the composition.

    But when painting people, there is an expectation of at least a resemblance of the subject. Since I was working the the brush, a tool that is magically abstract, all paintings were at least a simplification of the sitter.
    Then as now, subjects wanted to be painted as they wished they were at least to some degree and not as they actually existed. I really began to understand some of the impetus for both impressionism and the more abstract schools.

    Classical painters worked to create beauty as it was defined in their era examples such as "Venus on the half shell" , "La Grande Odalisque", and "Madame X" all come to mind. The painters I assume had to eat too, so they worked to create images appropriate to their market at the expense of factual representation or even anatomical possibility.

    So is the issue of unrealistic expectation a new one or is it just the old pressure to create imagery that caters to the cultural norm de jour.
    OR
    Is it that we work with a medium that has the potential and implication of factual representation and by that implication provides the viewer license to suspend belief.

    After all, a painting is a painting and everyone knows that it is not "real", but a photograph is, well, a photograph.

    This caught my eye in the google quote of the day

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.
    Upton Sinclair

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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Quote Originally Posted by TEBnewyork View Post
    It's an interesting topic. Over the past year or so I've lost interest in looking at the fashion magazines partially because it seems you need to do a double take to even recognize who the model is since the shots are so retouched and I'm not talking about just skin but slenderizing etc.
    I don't think I'm in the majority though and certainly the amount of plastic surgery we see all around us is a testament to how important looks are in our society.
    Personally when any of you stick an MF camera in my face, I duck because it is pretty frightening what cameras can capture these days.
    All that leads back to me being in favor of the basic smoothing and a little wringle retouch but not a change in size shape of the face, changing the eyebrows, cheekbones etc.
    As a woman, I'll second that. I'm at the age where many choose plastic surgery (well, perhaps way past the time when some do LOL), but my choice is to be who/how I am at this age. To try continually to be something I'm not, particularly age(less) is, in my mind, to say that we are only valued for our shell and only valued if we are young and shaped perfectly (and the standard changes with time).

    I would say, esp. because as Terry says, the cameras can emphasize things that we don't normally notice (pores, wrinkles) that minimizing those through smoothing and a bit of retouching is fine. Changing basic shapes, adding or subtracting--that may make for a 'perfect' photo, but in the long run adds to the belief that these are 'real' women and they are simply fantasy figures. I would add that, for me, it would be important as to how these photos are used--the context into which they are placed.

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Terry and Diane,
    You ladies are not alone. Just look at the pictures of the guys used in advertising! As a man, I resemble them less than I resemble a gingerbread man or perhaps the Pillsbury dough-boy.
    It is interesting to note, however, that most of the middle aged men I shoot have no problem with their "life experience" showing on their face, but most women want me to remove it even if they are only 18.
    -bob

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Idealized beauty is ancient and seemingly buried deep in our collective minds. I have only to look in the mirror to receive a shock at the disparity between what my mind's "eye" perceives as the way I look and what the world sees. And even that is skewed since it's a mirror image. Seeing a photo of myself is often sometimes more unsettling, especially now that my hair is not the virile dark brown of my youth (still pictured in my mind's eye) but instead, the silver grey of some old codger (who IS that guy?).

    Clearly when images are presented with journalistic intent, they should be pristine and without manipulation. But I have no problem seeing idealized versions of the human form. Whether it's a painting, a glamour shot from the '40s taken with a vaseline-coated filter, or a digitally airbrushed body from the latest digital box, it's still an attempt to represent the ideal of beauty we all have in our mind's eye.

    I am old enough to know what people look like in the flesh. I am happy to go along for the imagination ride. Whether that may not be true for someone younger and more impressionable is another story. Common sense would seem to say that presenting impossibly perfect body images to young and already self-conscious teenagers might damage their self esteem and add pressure to an already difficult stage in life. But that those images exist is undeniable and virtually unstoppable. One can only hope that young and impressionable people are being counseled and supported by the adults around them as to the nature of their own intrinsic beauty. At least long enough so that they make it past and through to the real "them" of adulthood.

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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    When doing portraits I airbrush men and women to downgrade some of our obvious flaws. That is what i get paid to do is make people look good. Art is one thing but commerce is another. My famous line in my life is simply this I sold out a long time ago to make a living. I have done okay with that line
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    One thing I often find myself saying at work about food photography:

    When you're looking at actual food, you experience it through many facets. You can smell the aroma. You can get a sense of its volume and texture as you look at it from different angles. You can move around it, watching how the glints and sparkles change, conveying a sense of moistness and smoothness. You can see the steam rise and the sauces flow. All those different forms of experience help convey its appetite appeal.

    In a photograph, none of those extra experiences are available; the image has to do all the work. That's why food that seems to look great sitting in front of you may still need a lot of work from a stylist to photograph well.


    The same logic applies to people. How often have we all had the experience of wanting to photograph a friend whom we find absolutely charming, captivating and delightful... only to find once s/he is in front of the camera that much of that effect comes from the way the person moves, the play of expressions across the face, the things s/he says, etc.? Take all those elements away, and you're frustrated to find that your photo of your friend just doesn't do him/her justice.

    A huge part of the challenge is finding a way to "translate" these aspects into something that can be communicated through photography. We're not trying to make our friend into something s/he is not; we're just trying to work around the limitations of photography to show more accurately what s/he IS.


    Where you draw the line about what sorts of "translations" are acceptable and what aren't is always going to be a slippery issue. So I think we have to look at the question from a more utilitarian perspective:

    If some aspect of our culture makes healthy, productive, well-adjusted people -- people who are entitled to be comfortable with themselves -- instead feel UNcomfortable, and if there's no good reason for it, then that aspect of culture arguably is bad and should be changed.

    Are we there yet with the whole body-image thing?

    I'm not sure. Obviously if teenage girls are eating unhealthful diets trying to look like photos of models, and teenage boys are taking dangerous muscle-building hormones trying to look like photos of rap stars, then they're endangering themselves for no good reason.

    But I don't know how much of that is really happening, as opposed to what's being played out in sensationalized media coverage. I read and hear about it a lot, but I almost never see it among teenagers I actually know.

    And when we're talking about photo retouching, context seems to make a big difference. The subject who has requested a "glamorous" look in his/her photo is probably going to want to be slimmed down and glossed up to the max. Meanwhile, that same person posting party pics on Facebook is perfectly happy with the wild-haired, pasty-skinned photos a friend took with her phone cam. What gives?


    I'm not sure, but I suspect this is a more complex question than it seems. And I suspect that a lot of this task of getting people comfortable with their own appearance involves getting them comfortable with the context within which their images will be seen.


    I think the real source of insecurity for many people may not about appearance, but of being judged: of being held up to a standard and found wanting.

    And maybe that's where we can apply our creativity as photographers. "Worried that people won't think you look like a fashion model? Fine, let's not even try to make you look like a fashion model. Let's be rebels and screw the cultural stereotypes. Let's create a photo with so much artistic authority that you become the standard."


    That may not be practical for professionals such as Guy, who admittedly have to take the customer's preconceptions as they come.

    But for those of us who are amateurs and/or artists... why not?
    Last edited by Ranger 9; 1st August 2009 at 08:31.

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    ddk
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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Bob,
    I don't even see why you have to second guess yourself, either one is making images or snapping what's there, take your pick and do the best that you can!

    As far as Eleanor's link goes, it sounds like a load of self promoting croc on Dove's behalf to me. They claim that only 2% of the women in the world describe themselves as beautiful. I don't know what they mean by "describing themselves" and there are about 3.5 billion women on this planet, they speak for all of them? And the remaining 3 billion "describe" themselves as what?

    They also claim that 81% of the women in America say that advertising has set unrealistic standards of beauty for them to achieve. I'm sure that both men and women have insecurities that we're trying to deal with and overcome but to claim that 81% of women are traumatized and suffer from low self esteem because they're forced to compete with some flat, 2d image in magazines is selling them short. Really short! If this is true then almost the entire US female population must be weak, feeble and extremely shallow to be threatened by a picture in a magazine. I'm sure that there are some who feel that way and blame their own lack of self worth on others but personally I give most women a lot more credit than this Dove ad. I don't remember which brand, maybe it was Ivory, but a few years back there was another soap company which had a purity/beauty ad campaign to sell products, Dove's campaign seems like a spin-off.

    One other point to add for the ladies, please don't think all us men stupid and shallow to believe that all we wish for is the photoshop'd image in a magazine. Most of us have partners, mothers, daughters, sisters who have no resemblance to any fashion image and are beautiful to us; we even love and adore them to death...
    Last edited by ddk; 1st August 2009 at 11:03.

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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    I'm still not sure how your images set off the firestorm that they did. Is our image of beauty out whack? Perhaps. I will concede that they have migrated toward unattainable extremes, but what is real and what is beautiful have never been an exact match.

    To me, the epitome of disgusting is the people forum at Fredmiranda - every picture has every pixel of skin texture mowed out of the picture. The fashion world bothers me less, partly because I view that industry as pretty well out of touch.

    On one hand, what people are doing to photographs now is no different from what artists and painters have been doing for hundreds of years, but it is different. The ability of digital distribution, magazine, billboards, etc. the ability to push images to every corner of the globe and infiltrate every society is unprecedented. And still something in our heads says that since it is a photograph it must be real and since the image is endorsed by these people/companies that we have empowered to define beauty (e.g. Anna Wintour/American Vogue), it is what we all should strive for.

    Do you know what you call a size-6 model? Plus size. Not joking. Size-4 women are in about the same place.

    In the past, you could do a little air-brushing on an image (think Playboy look), but pretty much the final image was not too far removed from reality. Sure, you might start with the prettiest, skinniest models, but you couldn't too much too them. Now, we have a whole new breed of skinnier women, the ability to make them look any way an art director wants them to look, and the ability to get the image distributed worldwide almost in real time.

    So where are we going? Well, the fashion industry continues to go further off the reservation, that's well documented. But digital photography and the Internet change everything. Now anyone with a digital camera is a photographer and anyone who wants to pose in front of the camera is a model, and people like Bob are the AD's. Look on Model Mayhem, Garage Glamour and other sites and what you see is a very different vision of beauty than French Vogue. These photographers are looking for a pretty girl to be the subject of a pretty picture, not someone to sell a size-0 dress.

    Bob, for the most part I love your images, and I think the image you posted below is the answer, not the problem. Go in Photoshop and take 30 lb. off her and that is different.

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    Deceased, but remembered fondly here... johnastovall's Avatar
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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Counter point
    Portrait of Madame Trabuc



    Arbus



    Beauty has always been out of whack....

    "The market wants a Leica to be a Leica: the inheritor of tradition, the subject of lore, and indisputably a mark of status to own."
    Mike Johnston


  13. #13
    Johannes01
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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    i think it is not proper to say it is "good"or "bad".Sometimes the emotion of pitures fascinate us.

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    Re: Beauty -- When have we gone too far?

    Not only models want retouching, I recently shot a portrait of a middle aged woman that requested trimming down.

    In the past seven years I've shot many pretty models (TFP) but my images cannot compete in galleries such as Model Mayhem. In addition to being a photographer you also need graphic retouching skills (and lots of time) or hire a professional retoucher to compete in today’s commercial market, this is just my two cents for what it's worth.

    ~vm~

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