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The Question of Accepting Image Retouching
By: Edwina Owens Elliott
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Retouched imagery. Is there a line drawn somewhere in our subconscious mind that allows for just so much of it?  Everyone by now knows that the printed image we see in an ad, any ad, has been slapped and tickled with Photoshop wizardry. Even your grandmother knows it. But is it accepted? And are we even conscious of it? Does Jane or John in Tatertot, Iowa realize that the image they see of Madonna today in the ad for her new “Truth or Dare” fragrance is not just a photo of an incredible-looking fifty-four year old with a touch of P’shop magic but a painting of Madonna, airbrushed to such a degree that it’s crossed over into another genre? And is that okay? When do art directors, designers, and fellow creatives, in the pursuit of perfection and/or product enhancement, step over the line?
Recently, Christian Dior was hit with a ban against their DiorShow mascara ad featuring Natalie Portman. The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) determined that the ad is misleading in its claim. Instead of pushing the “we’re selling the brand, not the product” theory, which then would have become a matter of perception and not fact, Dior went with a plea of “zero complaints from our customers." And that didn’t fly with the board. Sorry. But consider this…does the Dior customer accept the image of Natalie Portman’s ridiculously long lashes as merely a means to sell the product? Or does the consumer consider such images in ads for Maybelline, Clinique, Loreal, etc., a serious goal to strive for? Surely we know in our hearts there’s no way to get near Natalie Portman’s lash length without the aid of falsies. So is this stepping over the line? The ASA thinks so.
Those of us in the industry are aware of the insane amount of retouching that goes into these images. But how about John and Jane in Tatertot? No matter how many articles appear or how many unretouched photos are leaked, do they look at a Lancome ad featuring Julia Roberts, a Cover Girl ad with Queen Latifah, or a Belstaff spread featuring Ewan McGregor and think, “wow, they really look great” or “wow, they’ve really been touched”? Should the retouching question be in the forefront of their minds? Lurking around in back? Or nowhere at all?
There’s a certain amount of fantasy that goes on in one’s imagination when they flip through a magazine. It’s no different than plunking down ten bucks to see THE HOBBIT or the latest 007 film. A suspension of disbelief goes into effect the moment you enter the theater. Or turn the magazine cover and open up to that first glorious double-page ad. Isn’t it grand? Let the fantasy begin.
When you run across a new Chanel campaign in Vogue or Bazaar featuring Madonna, you’ve got to ask yourself, would you rather see her raw and untouched? Or fabulously flawless?
Just a question…

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About the Author

Edwina Owens Elliott is a graphic designer, art director, illustrator and owner of FASHION+ART, an e-commerce art gallery. She has a lifelong passion for fashion, art, writing, music, movies, books, theater, cooking, gardening, plotting and planning and dreaming big dreams. Find her online here and here.

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