Many image users and authors sing praises to retouching. But more often discussed are the problems of retouched images, and what it does to us as humans. Ulla Montan, one of Sweden's most renowned portrait photographers, ponders over the propagation of agelessness in this thought-provoking chronicle.
We create a tale of an appearance
The photographer has turned into a plastic surgeon in the image world. Character, age and experience as reflected in the face of the person portrayed, is removed and an ageless smooth face with perfect skin is created and published. All magazines now feature heavily retouched covers, but also the trade press is largely following this trend. Newspapers don't retouch reportage images, but portraits in conjunction with longer interviews are often doctored. Even author portraits and portraits of
"ordinary" people are retouched with increasing frequency.
During the analogue times it took great skill when copying images to accomplish the same thing. But in the age of digital photography retouching has been given a prominent and growing role. Removing age-related lines, wrinkles and bags under the eyes is now a simple task for a photographer.
When the Swedish Princess, Madeleine, married Chris O'Neill in 2013 the Swedish royal court hired a photographer to take pictures of the bride and groom along with the family.
Pictures were taken in different family constellations and placed on the court's website. The subjects' faces were so retouched that they looked more like dolls or cartoon characters than real people. The images were noticed and quickly spread in social media and in newspapers with comments about the extreme manipulation. This time retouching had gone completely haywire and the pictures looked really ridiculous and over manipulated.
The photographer was asked by a tabloid why he had retouched so heavily. Chris O'Neill looked like he had undergone a facelift in the few hours after the ceremony. During the ceremony on television, he looked different and not nearly as totally smooth in the face. The photographer denied retouching and replied that O'Neill was probably just very happy that he was married, hence the changed face. The court quickly removed the family portraits from their website because of the criticism.
What do all these smooth faces say about us? Does the client request that the photographs be manipulated digitally before the shoot? Or is it those being photographed who ask the photographer to manipulate the image when copying?
Or are photographers taking matters into their own hands, and retouch where they think it looks better and delivers the picture without telling about the manipulation? Or are airbrushed faces in pictures so common that everyone takes it for granted that portraits look like that nowadays.
I hope and believe that this untruthful type of imaging soon reaches an end. I hope and believe that in ten years' time we will laugh at the ridiculous trend of seeing a dream image, a tale about a person's appearance. Imagine if Albert Einstein and Doris Lessing were photographed and retouched so they looked like Ken and Barbie! People will start to yearn to see the reality. Only what is true is what is truly interesting.
This chronicle was first published in the Swedish publication "Fotografisk Tidskrift" in December 2014. Learn more about Ulla Montan on her website: ullamontan.com. Thanks to Ulla Montan and Jenny Morelli from Fotografisk Tidskrift for allowing us to re-publish the chronicle.
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