The ethics of photoshopping has become a flashpoint in the fashion and general press over the past few years, attributable largely to the overzealous use of the technology not only to eliminate human imperfection in featured stars and models, but the follow-on impulse to improve upon eons-old parameters like leg length, cleavage depth, hair sheen, etc. with the ease of a click on a mouse.
The ubiquity of image improvement made Elle France's decision to feature a series of un-shopped, makeup-free models on its covers a revolutionary (in this world) event.
In reading the articles and commentary, one might think that the issue is new. But of course it’s not—the current mode of manipulation is nefarious only to the extent to which it belies the old idea that “the camera never lies”. No longer reliable is the adage that the camera adds ten pounds to the appearance of the subject, when today a skillful Photoshop manipulator can knock off twenty between sips of a coffee.
It would be so interesting to know whether, in times past, body-conscious observers decried the obvious manipulations by Sargent of Madame X’s waist (surely she’s cinched, but was she truly, as this famous painting depicts, nearly bisected?).
On a more humble level, consider the sketches on dressmaking patterns from the fifties and sixties (from the fascinating site So Vintage Patterns). Endless legs and waspish waists, courtesy of an anonymous pen. Did the girls and young women considering the styles feel daunted by the models, or inspired?
Personally, I’d like to see image wizardry left in the hands of of the photographer, lighting designer, stylist and model—the computer’s relentless ability to alter makes soulless machines of its output.
But it also must be said that I’ve got some gripes with nature’s own design program, as demonstrated on Monica Belucci au naturale (above). Most of us could be retouched till the cows come home and still never look this good.
(photo of Monica Belucci for Elle by Peter Lindbergh)