I recently found this video online on a random blog. It reminded me of an interesting article I read in the New Yorker a few months ago. The article covered Pascal Dangin, the founder of the photography touch-up company Box Studios based in New York City. As a photoshop user myself I knew what a powerful tool photoshop was, and I was perfectly aware of it's use in most fashion, health, and entertainment magazines. What I didn't know was to what extent.
I had always thought that retouching photographs was limited to airbrushing bad skin or add make-up post shoot. Little did I know that it spans much further. Artists can slim the calves on women, and bulge the biceps of men. They can add clothes onto a scantily clad model for the Middle Eastern market, and add wisps of hair blowing in the wind. They can add flesh, add lights, and add tone. The other scary fact is how many magazines and add agencies use these technologies. Dangin views himself as an artist. The digital pixelscape his canvas, and the cursor his brush. There is no doubt it takes great skill to transmute beauty in the ways he does, but what I'm more concerned about is what affect these manipulations are having on our society.
Without dispute I can say that we emulate ourselves based in what we see in the media. Much like the way we have our first "Ah-ha!" moment of our own identity when we recognize our own image in the mirror, we look to others for our place in the world. This ranges from socially acceptable behavior to our own aesthetic appearance. Certainly there are plenty of those who go against grain, but in our formative years (teenage and younger) acceptance is crucially important to our identity. How healthy is it for people to compare themselves to a digitally remodeled persona? I don't think the problem is that digital remodeling exists, but in how it's "presented".
In the article there is no doubt Pascal sees his work as art. He's a staunch advocate of having creativity driving technology, and not the other way around. Like a modern DaVinci he points out how important understanding the physiology of human body is when retouching. While he may add plumpness to a breast or slim a buttocks, he's always careful not to deform the muscular and bone structure so as the models no longer look human. There is no doubt his work art. For what is art but to point out beauty in this world? To portray your subjective experience through a medium (of course the argument as to what is art goes much deeper, but is not the main purpose of this stream). The problem is his art is often not credited as art, or credited at all. As the article points out his work is never credited in magazines, and the public is mostly in the dark as to the digital transformation their role models undertake.
It's important to remember that whether photographs are retouched or not, beauty comes from the inside. How many times have you stared into the face of a love one and blemishes that you noticed when you first met disappear. And likewise, how ugly does a person become when you discover their true colors through some immoral behavior? Beauty is not just an aesthetic value, but one of intelligence and morality. Beauty is found in confidence, strength of character, intelligent ideas, and the purity of soul. I think it's important we teach our children and others these lessons.