I was asked recently by the Nottingham Evening Post to create some images for an article discussing the pros and cons of “airbrushing” models and celebs in magazines in order to demonstrate what is achievable, how it might be done and what it’s effects might be on the public at large – especially young, impressionable girls. The attention this time originated from the Girl Guides and their opinion that any images published by magazines in which the model has been “airbrushed” should be labeled as such. A kind of Government health warning I suppose, to tell everybody that the images aren’t “real”.
My own feelings towards “airbrushing” models (or post production as most professionals in the industry call it) are ambiguous. On one hand I understand that in our society many people – especially young girls look up to the fashion/celebrity magazines for their role models and end up looking at super models and superstars. And I understand that the images used in women’s fashion, lifestyle and celeb magazines tend to be airbrushed to a level where even super models don’t look like their images anymore. But at the same time I don’t think that to label that kind of post production as a thing of evil is justified either. Being a photographer obviously colours my view – my job is to produce the best images possible given a set of variables : budget, location, model/s, purpose of shoot, client. Also each and every image I produce that is put into the public domain represents me and my reputation will be affected depending on the reception it receives and if it works well for my client.
Models are tweaked regularly (in photoshop), how and to what extent depends largely on how and what the images to be used for. High end fashion magazines like Vogue tend to generate the most attention for airbrushing models but they also use models most of us physically have very little in common with in the first place. Most images of models used for commercial purposes are “airbrushed” to make the models look slimmer, have better skin etc.. This is to improve the public’s perception of the product being sold. I guess the exception to the rule is on low budget productions where the client doesn’t have the funds to afford the post production.
The interesting thing about the sample shoot I did for this article is that the biggest impact, in my opinion, came from the make-up applied to the model (check the before and after images and make up your own mind). I spent 4-5 hours in photoshop working on the image but the most dramatic part of the transformation in my opinion was done by the make-up artist. Now if you take the argument to the nth degree do we decide that using a professional make-up artist in a photo shoot is wrong? Of course not.
I’m not saying that doing all this post-production (and perhaps creating unrealistic standards in appearance) can be done without consequence and conscience. My point is that all media can be manipulated and it is down to us as consumers to get educated so that we can filter out what is and what’s not relevant to us. I accept that we must protect the more vulnerable members of our society, in this case I generally mean young impressionable girls. However my opinion is that it is much better to educate than it is to restrict. We are flooded by all kinds of media on a 24/7 basis on and offline and we all need to know how to deal with it. Put into context, the airbrushing moral debate is only a very small part of a much bigger issue.