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Fashion Magazines With Less Retouching: The Future or a Current Fad?

>> In the March 2008 issue of Vogue, premier retoucher of fashion photographs, Pascal Dangin, tweaked a total of 144 images, from ads to editorial spreads, and in The September Issue, which focuses on the making of Vogue's September 2007 issue, Anna Wintour definitely displays a reliance on retouching, asking Mario Testino to superimpose cover girl Sienna Miller's head from one shot onto her body in another shot, and requesting that a cameraman's gut from an editorial shot be diminished, to Grace Coddington's dismay: "Everybody isn't perfect in this world.  It's enough that the models are perfect."

When digital manipulation programs first came into use in the early '90s, reports Eric Wilson for The New York Times, art directors originally used them to create a heightened sense of reality like images achieved through movie special effects — "hyper real" style, as former The Face art director and current Love creative director Lee Swillingham coined it — as a reaction against the images of supermodels that looked too perfect. Editors weren't suggesting the resulting look be attainable, Swillingham explains: “We were trying to create a future fashion. You could do something that looked gritty and real or something that looked like plastic.”

Now, some major photographers are pushing for less plastic, more real »

As photographer Phil Poynter notes, "the big discussion in the fashion business has always been about should we retouch girls, should we create a portrait of a girl that is not achievable by a real girl,” but it seems that lately, the questioning has has reached more prominence.  Peter Lindbergh shot a set of of eight models and actresses for the the covers of an April edition of French Elle. “My feeling is that for years now it has taken a much too big part in how women are being visually defined today,” Mr. Lindbergh told The New York Times in an e-mail exchange. “Heartless retouching should not be the chosen tool to represent women in the beginning of this century.”

Swillingham, too, is asking for images that are more "real" — for a coming issue of Love, he commissioned Glen Luchford to shoot an editiorial using a digital camera to recreate a pre-digital style of photography, recreating his early work in 35-millimeter film.

But some are more skeptical about whether fashion magazines will really carry on with the concept that French Elle tried out. Dennis Freedman, creative director of W, points out that fashion magazines thrive as an escape from reality, and questions the impact of the move to do without retouching: “I wonder how long that’s going to last. It raises an interesting point, but that in and of itself becomes a kind of gimmick. I would not bet my life savings that it is something they are going to continue.”

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