“Perfection is boring and does not exist.” Eva Mendes was once quoting as saying in the US edition of Marie Claire, “To strive for it makes you uninteresting.”
Ironically, photographs of her, heavily retouched, adorned the cover of this magazine same issue, trying to depict that very same perfection she so vehemently decries.
On one hand, it would be naive to think that retouching, at its basic level, should not be part of the photographic process, as long as it is used parsimoniously and base in reality. Testimony to this idea can be seen in photo editorials from yesteryear. I can still remember clearly photo from fashion magazines of the 80’s and 90’s, photos that have been republished in recent coffee table books such as W: The first 40 years or Vogue: The editor’s eye, photos that showed the hint of reality if not the real thing.
On the other hand, Photoshop retouching has reached such a ridiculously extreme level that people in photographs are hardly recognizable; the published image being an alien, almost freakish, versions of their self, a “perfected iteration”, so to speak, which is, in a sense, more like a cartoon than anything else.
It should come to no surprise to anyone that traditional photography, as it was practiced by the yesterday’s artisans, tends to disappear. Photographing on film has almost become an aberration and the work of Master Photographers is virtually considered a dichotomy to the eyes of most as the norm has inexorably veered toward a hedonistic “world of pixels”.
They used to say that photographs do not lie and photography was once, indeed, associated with truth and objectivity. However this mantra has been deeply challenged by a new generation of artists in the last few decades. Not only a photograph does indeed lie, but it can now easily depict something that does not have any base in reality, a scene completely ingrained in fantasy, engineered entirely on the computer with the seemingly unlimited power of software.
Today, photographers are relying on squads of Über digital wizards to alter images to theirs or their client’s need, dictating at the same time their own concept of what beauty is, warping and distorting reality at a whim (Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot or Markus Klinko come to mind with their highly stylised images which one would hardly call photographic work). magazine execs and editors seem to have completely lost touch with reality, incessantly pushing the envelope, ignoring the fact that readers are probably pining for a time when photographs were a mere reflection of reality, if there ever was such a thing. The frenzy is unapologetically supported by corporations which feeds the magazines with advertising.
The human form with all its imperfections is beautiful in itself. Nevertheless, in the unbridled race for the ultimate perfection it is deemed irrelevant and almost irreverent.
Make no mistake, Photoshop is a very useful tool. however, in all fairness, it behooves photographers to use it with a certain degree of restraint and, in fact, to strive to achieve most of the work behind the camera instead of in front of a computer; we should, hence, produce a pared down, more faithful result that, even though it might contain some artifice, will still retain the essence of the original subject as it was seen through the lens.