Dying to be beautiful

Recently I shot a beautiful wedding.  I sent the bride the proofs a week later and she was ecstatic with them all… apart from one tiny thing… which was a tiny ‘imperfection’ that she hated about herself and could I please remove it?

Sure I could, so using the Liquify tool in Photoshop, I removed the ‘imperfection’.  Except, really, it wasn’t an imperfection at all.  It was just a ‘natural’ part of her.  It didn’t stand out in the photograph.  No-one else noticed it.  Just her.    But was I going to tell her I wouldn’t do it?  Of course not.  She was my client and these were the photographs she’d look at for the rest of her life.  She had to be happy with them.

Except, then I saw this:

And it made me think that as photographers, we have a responsibility for what we’re selling.

On a recent millinery shoot, which was all about the hats of course, I Photoshopped the (very beautiful already) model by smoothing skin, enlarging eyes, making the lips slightly bigger, removing shadows under the eyes, brightening the iris etc etc etc.  Everyone said how perfect the image was, how it would look great in any magazine.   I thought about why I’d edited the image like that and came to the conclusion that I made the model look ‘more’ perfect so that hat would do too.  The image had to look ‘commercially’ good for the purpose it was intended.

But in the commercial world, especially magazines, it’s thought that most of the images are PS’d anyway.  Out of an entire magazine in front of me right now, there isn’t one shot I can find which doesn’t have retouching.

But where do we draw the line?  As photographers, we think nothing of smoothing skin, removing ‘imperfections’.  But we should.  Are we reflecting the person as they are, or are we in the industry of flattery?  What’s the aim?

Why are we pushing the ‘people can be perfect’ scenario when we well know that it’s not possible to be perfect?

Many of us ‘rave’ about old photographs.  Here’s one.

What are we going to do, 100+ years later?  Let’s pick the photograph apart.  Well for a start, we could ditch the shadows beneath the eyes… tidy up the hair a bit, get rid of that blemish on her face…. let’s smooth the skin and enlarge her eyes a bit….   But why would we do that?  Doesn’t the photograph stand on its own?  Isn’t it beautiful in its own right?  Isn’t it of its time?  Why mess with something like this?   Oh well, they didn’t have the tools back then.. well that’s right.   They didn’t have the dark room abilities that we eventually created.  But perhaps photography wasn’t about looking like you weren’t you, back then?

Perhaps it was about recording a moment ?

Doesn’t this photograph raise questions for you when you look at it?  Look at that dress, all the jet decorating it.  Beautiful.  Was it hers?  Or was it provided by the photography studio?  Or perhaps a relative?  Check out her face, that look…. what’s she thinking?  Obviously the fence there is a prop in the studio…is she nervously picking at the wood with her hand?  Perhaps it’s a pose that the photographer asked her to do, to show her vulnerability?  Who knows?  But over 100 years later, isn’t it still captivating?  It’s my great grandmother by the way.  I love the photograph.

What are we going to think, in 100 years, of the bland, pore-less, Photoshopped women who appear everywhere in our society?  What happens when a daughter looks back on her dead mother’s wedding album and feels sad that it’s not real… that her mother truly never looked like that.   What’s the point?   A moment of vanity?

Why are we so rubbish at accepting that we are all human, all different and that we should be celebrating our diversity, not dumbing it down?

Read this blog post on Anorexia.  All of the beautiful images in the world can’t make that worthwhile… and yet, we carry on smoothing and altering for the sake of what, exactly?  All those altered images are adding to the self esteem issues of those kids out there.  Is it worth it?

I feel we have a responsibility to show what’s real.  Don’t we?  Aren’t we merely adding to the problems if we all continue to smooth and primp?

I know there are good photographers out there who just rely on taking a beautiful photograph in ‘the moment’.  They actually don’t depend on PS to produce that beautiful image that a couple will look at for the rest of their lives.  But I also know there are photographers who will go to great lengths to create something beyond beautiful… something smoothed and brightened, that really represents not the truth, but an altered reality where we are all beautiful, line free and perfect.

It’s truly an unobtainable beauty.

What do you think?