He is responsible with retouching every Vogue cover (for which he charges 20,000 dollars) to every Annie Leibovitz, Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Meisel, Craig McDean and Steven Klein photo. He is an enigma, a myth, an unspoken secret. The things this man is capable of doing is beyond anything imaginable. He makes stars look like stars and the sole reason why models do not need to retire anymore.
May 18, 2008
The Sunday Times
Pascal Dangin: the master manipulator
Pascal Dangin, the ‘retouch’ artist most sought by celebs, has sparked a debate on how far images are digitally altered Dove's 'real women' advert, with Dangin's head digitally imposed on one of the women
by Camilla Long
Inside an old warehouse in New York is a man who can make any woman beautiful. Sculpted cheekbones, slimmer waist, bigger bust or more smouldering eyes — Pascal Dangin can deliver them all.
Dangin is the master magician of “retouching” images by computer manipulation. He is sought out by top photographers such as Annie Leibovitz and Stephen Meisel and by film stars and models who seek perfection — or at least the impression of perfection.
In Dangin’s world nothing is quite what it seems. Last week he let slip in a rare interview that he had tinkered with the Dove cosmetics campaign featuring “real women”. Speaking to The New Yorker magazine, he was quoted as saying: “It was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”
Glossy magazines and advertising campaigns have long relied on the retoucher’s skill and Dangin manipulates countless images for international editions of Vogue magazine. In the March issue of US Vogue alone, he digitally tweaked 107 advertisements, 36 fashion pictures and the cover image of Drew Barrymore.
However, the Dove case was different: the claim that he had applied his skills to a campaign whose very existence challenged the principles of retouching stirred controversy — as well as a denial from the company itself.
Dangin, said the company, had worked only on another of its campaigns, “Dove pro-age”, helping merely with the “removal of dust from the film and minor colour correction”.
It added: “Dove strives to portray women by accurately depicting their shape, size, skin colour and age.”
Nevertheless, the spat brought home the opposite point: these days almost everything goes under the digital knife and so skilful are retouchers such as Dangin that you will never see the scars.
Even Elizabeth Hurley, who recently revealed that she retouches her own holiday snaps, expressed astonishment at how widespread and comprehensive the practice has become. “The manipulation you can do,” she said, “you can completely restructure a person.”
Although artists of Dangin’s calibre are prized for their subtlety, there are now almost no limits on what they can do thanks to the power of the latest technology.
Computers can banish wrinkles, slim down limbs and paint on make-up; they can plump up breasts, add volume to hair, fatten hips and enhance cleavage; they can remove cigarettes, tattoos or other items deemed unsuitable. They can even splice together facial features from separate images of the same person to create an ideal end product.
According to Dangin, the only public figure whose image tends not to be manipulated is the Queen.
Critics say that idealised images created by computers make for impossible role models. But if we know that every image is manipulated, does it matter? Are we not able to distinguish dream from reality?
Image manipulation has always gone on: in classical times, statues of emperors were created along ideal lines rather than any kind of verisimilitude. A bust of Julius Caesar found in the Rhône this week was unusual in that it portrayed the ageing military commander’s wrinkles. Almost as soon as photography began, practitioners began manipulating prints.
The computer, argue some, has merely made the retoucher’s art more sophisticated. Dangin recently demonstrated this with a photograph of a famous actress standing on a skyscraper.
First he shuffled the buildings behind her into a more pleasing arrangement and made the yellowy sky whiter. Then he fluffed out her dress with a “warping” tool.
He softened her collarbones, then thought that she looked a bit too retouched and made them bonier again.
He carefully left her crooked bottom row of teeth alone. “Her face is too high and elongated,” he said. “But I don’t want her to become someone else.”
Dangin has been known to work for days trying to turn grass into the “most expressive” shade of green and cannot bear misaligned windows. Untruthful? Misleading?
“Humans have long colluded in an ideal of beauty,” said Sally Brampton, the writer and former editor of Elle. Her first job was on Vogue in 1978 where she worked alongside two people dedicated solely to airbrushing images. “I am sure Helen of Troy was not that beautiful; we just buy into a collective ideal. Retouching is neither good nor bad: it is clearly something we want and until we decide we don’t want it, it will remain that way.”
So Kate Winslet’s legs are lengthened, Penelope Cruz’s eyelashes are thickened and Mariah Carey expresses an unashamed love of Photoshopping.
“Although you know it’s cheating, it’s gorgeous [to have it done],” admitted Tamara Beckwith, the party girl. “I did a job with Davina McCall to promote something and we both needed to wear white Wonderbras. She’s quite busty and I’m not.
“But when I had a look at the pictures, suddenly I had this gorgeous cleavage. You want more and more.”
Beckwith, however, is also wary of the influence on others. “Young people who don’t have a clue about the fashion world may not understand,” she said. “You can’t sit there and pretend it’s all good.”
Indeed, the British Fashion Council was recently moved to warn magazine editors not to let retouching run out of control. Rosie Boycott, the former magazine and newspaper editor, goes further. “I don’t agree with retouching, although I can see why it happens,” she said. “I think it’s fair enough when it comes to [removing] blemishes, but it gives people unattainable ideas of beauty.
“I don’t like the whole way a star is presented to you: the package, the control.
It’s just become an exercise in PR; retouching happens all the way through.”
Juergen Teller, the photographer, who is renowned for not retouching his pictures, said: “I don’t see a need for it; it’s not what I find beautiful. Sometimes I am astonished. Beauty advertisers change everything and it doesn’t do any good for the psyche of a woman.”
On occasion retouching can deceive even celebrities as well as the public. There was uproar when a magazine digitally removed Kylie Minogue’s knickers for one of its covers and Cat Deeley was horrified when she posed for a photo shoot only to discover later that most of her clothes had been erased.
Photography and fashion industry leaders claim that today’s audiences are sophisticated enough to know the score and understand that they are buying a dream, not reality.
“A certain amount of retouching has always been a part of not only glossy magazines but all glamorous and celebrity- oriented material,” said Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue. “We are not in the business of portraying reality all the time and people buy magazines like Vogue in order to look at a kind of perfection.
“They are sophisticated enough to know that what they are seeing is a construct. Nowadays people retouch their own snaps on the computer before posting them on Facebook.”
Jeremy Langmead, editor of Esquire magazine, agreed. “Why shouldn’t you look better? We strive to improve things in other areas of life, so if you have the technology it makes sense,” he said. “If you don’t like retouching you should also be against make- up. And if you want to know what real people look like, you can look out of the window.”
An all-too-stark reality check is also available in magazines such as Heat that specialise in photographs of stars caught unawares. Cellulite, lumpy clothes and pasty faces are all on display among Hollywood actors and models. Some publications even use digital trickery to emphasise these blemishes.
“We know it’s not real, don’t we,” said Brampton. “My 16-year-old daughter accepts that the pictures are fake. She’ll measure herself up to it but not in a damaging way. We fret about teenagers, but they are quite robust and cynical.”
The art of digital manipulation has even come to be regarded with a humorous vanity. That was the reaction of Rachel Johnson, the writer, who was recently photographed for Tatler. “I was very cross,” she said. “I wasn’t retouched! I specifically said, ‘I hope you’re going to do lots of retouching’, but I opened up the magazine and it was warts and all. Yellow teeth, red eyes and thunder thighs. I looked worse than Henry Conway, who was in the same issue.”
Retouching is not always aimed at making women thinner. Fashion insiders say editors often ask for pictures of models to be bulked up, rather than slimmed down, especially if a model has lost weight in between being selected for a shoot and working on the studio session. With thousands of pounds riding on a shoot, boney ankles are not allowed to get in the way of perfection.
As long as we know that we are operating in a Matrix-like parallel universe, the industry argues, retouching does no harm. Dangin said: “I look at life as retouching. Make-up and clothes are just an accessorisation of your being — they are just a transformation of what you want to look like.”
For a charity auction a few years back, the photographer Patrick Demarchelier donated a private portrait session. The lot sold, for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, to the wife of a very rich man. It was her wish to pose on the couple’s yacht. “I call her, I say, ‘I come to your yacht at sunset, I take your picture,’ ” Demarchelier recalled not long ago. He took a dinghy to the larger boat, where he was greeted by the woman, who, to his surprise, was not wearing any clothes.
“I want a picture that will excite my husband,” she said.
Capturing such an image, by Demarchelier’s reckoning, proved to be difficult. “I cannot take good picture,” he said. “Short legs, so much done to her face it was flat.” Demarchelier finished the sitting and wondered what to do. Eventually, he picked up the phone: “I call Pascal. ‘Make her legs long!’ ”
Pascal Dangin is the premier retoucher of fashion photographs. Art directors and admen call him when they want someone who looks less than great to look great, someone who looks great to look amazing, or someone who looks amazing already—whether by dint of DNA or M·A·C—to look, as is the mode, superhuman. (Christy Turlington, for the record, needs the least help.) In the March issue of Vogue Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore. To keep track of his clients, he assigns three-letter rubrics, like airport codes. Click on the current-jobs menu on his computer: AFR (Air France), AMX (American Express), BAL (Balenciaga), DSN (Disney), LUV (Louis Vuitton), TFY (Tiffany & Co.), VIC (Victoria’s Secret).
Vanity Fair, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, French Vogue, Italian Vogue, V, and the Times Magazine, among others, also use Dangin. Many photographers, including Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Craig McDean, Mario Sorrenti, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, rarely work with anyone else. Around thirty celebrities keep him on retainer, in order to insure that any portrait of them that appears in any outlet passes through his shop, to be scrubbed of crow’s-feet and stray hairs. Dangin’s company, Box Studios, has eighty employees and occupies a four-story warehouse in the meatpacking district. “I have Patrick!” an assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway, exclaims in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but her real-life counterparts probably log as much time speed-dialling Pascal.
Dangin is, by all accounts, an adept plumper of breasts and shrinker of pores. Using the principles of anatomy and perspective, he is able to smooth a blemish or a blip (“anomalies,” he calls them) with a painterly subtlety. Dennis Freedman, the creative director of W, said, “He has this ability to make moves in someone’s facial structure or body. I’ll look at someone, and I’ll think, Can we redefine the cheek? Can we, you know, change a little bit the outline of the face to bring definition? He, on the other hand, will say, ‘No, no, no, it’s her neck.’ He will see it in a way that the majority of people don’t see it.” Dangin salvaged a recent project at W by making a minute adjustment to the angle of a shoulder blade.
The obvious way to characterize Dangin, as a human Oxy pad, is a reductive one—any art student with a Mac can wipe out a zit. His success lies, rather, in his ability to marry technical prowess to an aesthetic sensibility: his clients are paying for his eye, and his mind, as much as for his hand. Those who work with Dangin describe him as a sort of photo whisperer, able to coax possibilities, palettes, and shadings out of pictures that even the person who shot them may not have imagined possible. To construct Annie Leibovitz’s elaborate tableaux—the “Sopranos” ads, for example—he takes apart dozens of separate pictures and puts them back together so that the seams don’t show. (Misaligned windows are a particular peeve.) He has been known to work for days tinting a field of grass what he considers the most expressive shade of green. “Most green grass that has been electronically enhanced, you know, you look at it and you get a headache,” Dangin said recently. He prefers a muted hue—“much redder, almost brown in a way”—that is meant to recall the multilayered green of Kodachrome film.
As renowned as Dangin is in fashion and photographic circles, his work, with its whiff of black magic, is not often discussed outside of them. (He is not, for instance, credited in magazines.) His hold on the business derives from the pervasive belief that he possesses some ineffable, savantlike sympathy for the soul of a picture, along with the vision (and maybe the ego) of its creator. “Just by the fact that he works with you, you think you’re good,” Leibovitz said. “If he works with you a lot, maybe you think, Well, maybe I’m worthwhile.”
His job description is enigmatic. People I asked about him invariably resorted to metaphor: he is a translator, an interpreter, a conductor, a ballet dancer articulating choreographed steps. These analogies, though, don’t account for pursuits that, while probably contributing less to Dangin’s income than wrinkle extermination does, occupy more of his time and intellect. He has become a master printer, “digitally remastering” old negatives and producing fine-art prints for exhibition. “When I see a print, I could probably tell you if it was a Pascal print,” Charlotte Cotton, the head of photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said. “It’s immaculate, and there’s a kind of richness to the pixellation. It feels like you could almost sink your finger into it.” Books are another love: he is the publisher of SteidlDangin, an imprint of lush art volumes—for instance, a collection of a thousand Philip-Lorca diCorcia Polaroids.
A tinkerer and an autodidact, who started out as a hairdresser, Dangin brings to mind, actually, a building superintendent: he knows how to do a lot of jobs, and those he doesn’t he figures out through trial and error. He is, more than anything, the consigliere for a generation of photographers uncomfortable with, or uninterested in, the details of digital technology. According to Cotton, “Pascal is actually an unwritten author of what is leading the newest areas of contemporary image-making.”
His digital brushstrokes can be as deliberate as Jasper Johns’s or John Currin’s are on canvas, but they are not as consistent—part of Dangin’s skill lies in being able to channel the style, and the fancy, of whatever photographer he is collaborating with. In the spring of 2004, the Prada campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, had a retro, vacationy look—tie-dyed cardigans, hairbands, sailboat prints. Using a Photoshop tool called a smudge brush, Dangin applied extra color to every pixel, giving the pictures—hard and flat, at the outset—a dreamy, impressionistic texture, as if they had been wrought in oil and chalk.
The walls of the third-floor meeting room at Dangin’s headquarters, on West Fourteenth Street, hold magnets in the manner of a refrigerator door. One afternoon in November, grease pencils, in the colors of the rainbow, were stuck, by magnets, to one wall. Nearby, several of Dangin’s assistants were hanging a blueprint—a scaled rendition of the Petit Palais museum, in Paris, where, in September, Patrick Demarchelier will have a retrospective. Dangin was designing the exhibit, from the pictures (many of which he would retouch) and their frames down to the traffic-flow patterns of the museumgoers who would look at them. Dangin would do all of the printing. He was also publishing a companion monograph.
Demarchelier arrived shortly after two. The first order of business was to sift through several notebooks full of photographs to decide which ones to put in the show. Dangin and Demarchelier sat near each other, on two couches. “Ça, ça, ça, ça oui, ça oui, ça non,” Dangin said, marking his choices with a red grease pencil. “Ça on jette, non?” Demarchelier mostly followed the lead of Dangin (“Do you remember that story in French Vogue? Normandy? Wide angle?”), who drew quick, dismissive X’s over the pictures he did not like until the notebook resembled a game of tic-tac-toe.
Once the pictures had been narrowed down, Dangin began explaining to Demarchelier his concept for organizing the show. “Je pensais nuages d’images”—clouds of images—he began. He pointed to the blueprint, explaining that they should show lots of oversized prints, interspersed with thematic groupings of smaller portraits. Dangin had a plan for freestanding frames. “If we build an upside-down T, then we can just insert the print,” he said. “Two feet in Plexiglas and one riser casing. And the steel we can manufacture with José here in the shop.”
“Patrick, I’m going to show you American Vogue and Seven Jeans,” Dangin said, turning to some current projects. Dangin is on the short side, with a scruffy mustache and finger-in-the-socket frizz. He maintains the hours of a Presidential candidate; lately, he is a little tubbier than he would like. He was wearing, as is his custom, an all-navy outfit: New Balance sneakers, ratty cords, woollen sweater with holes in the armpits. He is not immune to the charms of things—he owns an Aston Martin, along with houses in Manhattan, Amagansett, and St. Bart’s—but, for someone who can pick apart a face in a matter of seconds (he once, apologetically, described his eyes as “high-speed scanners”), he is remarkably free of vanity. “I’m not a stud,” he told me one day. “I don’t have the six-pack chocolate bars, I have a belly. Would I want to look like that? Yes. Am I ever going to achieve that? No. Am I happy? Yes.” He has an earthy streak and a digressive manner of thought, but he issues orders commandingly.
Dangin and Demarchelier walked over to a wall affixed with a dozen color photographs of a famous actress in her late twenties. Demarchelier approached one of them, a closeup of the actress’s face. She was smiling, her head slightly tilted, posed in front of a swimming pool.
“Let’s soften the lines around her mouth,” Demarchelier said, tracing the actress’s nasolabial folds and the flume of her upper lip with the tip of one of the temples of his eyeglasses.
Dangin grabbed a grease pencil off the wall. “The blue in the background is off. We have to make that brighter. Especially for the cover.” By the time they were done, the actress’s face was streaked with black markings, like a football player’s.
They moved on to the jeans campaign. Dangin thought the model’s face was too “crunchy” (meaning that the contrast was high, making her look severe); Demarchelier wanted the denim—a pair of white bell-bottoms—to pop. “Then the only thing is the background here—is it too heavy compared to that one?” Dangin asked, comparing two pictures with the same windswept hills. “See the gradient here? This is a little more black-and-white, this is a little more gray. I prefer that,” he said, indicating the shot with the richer contrast.
Several days later, Demarchelier returned to the studio to continue winnowing images for the show. The conversation turned to which shot to include of another well-known actress.
“I like her in this one, because she looks very natural,” Dangin said.
“Yes,” Demarchelier agreed. “In that other pose, she looks like an actress.”
“But she’s also very good here,” Dangin said, of a shot that showed her partially nude.
“Yes, she’s very beautiful in that position. Do you want to cut it?”
“No, no. I’m going to keep it for the *ss,” Dangin said.
“Maybe we could redo the *ss.”
“Yes, the *ss is quite heavy.”
Later, Dangin retreated to his basement workroom to refine the pictures. He likes to retouch alone, late into the night. His work does not always involve riddance. “During this whole period of grunge,” he told me, “I used to spend hours deciding, Which is the cool wrinkle to leave?”
Pascal Dangin began his career as a shampoo boy in a no-name salon in Paris’s Fifteenth Arrondissement. “I was with girls a lot, so that’s always good when you’re a teen-age boy,” he said one day at his office. “But what was fascinating was that I had to learn someone’s life in a very short amount of time. Like, fifteen seconds to figure out, Where does she go and eat? What does she wear? Is she married? Imagining this whole life and then defining a style for the person. Hair, to me, is really one of the most important retouchings that you can do. Because I look at life as retouching. Makeup, clothes are just an accessorization of your being, they are just a transformation of what you want to look like.”
Little in Dangin’s early life suggested that he was bound for distinction, or anywhere other than the various small towns in Corsica where he lived with his family. His mother was a piano teacher, his stepfather a classical guitarist. Dangin had two sisters and a tumultuous, itinerant childhood, which he does not like to recall. He was indifferent to music (he still is). One happy memory: His grandfather had a small press, on which he produced an underground newsletter about village politics. Dangin liked to stick twigs onto the cylinders and print the negative image.
Dangin left home at the age of fourteen. Just as he was settling into salon work in Paris, he was drafted by the French Army. “I had just done a lingerie show, my first taste of fashion,” he recalled, “and then, three days later, at 6 A.M., I’m in the barrack in the dead of winter.” Miserable, he spent his free time immersed in a biography of Coco Chanel. “I can honestly say, without sounding too corny, that Chanel and her story helped me through this ordeal. I loved that a woman in the twenties, someone back then, was as defiant as that.”
After three months in the Army, Dangin obtained a discharge and returned to Paris, resuming his work as a hairdresser. Every day, he sat at Café Flore reading the International Herald Tribune, until he could puzzle out bits of English. The next stage of his picaresque was a move to America, in 1989. “I symbolically left in January,” he said. He took the first flight out of Paris on New Year’s Day.
Dangin had always loved machines—“I am a manual-laborer type of guy,” he says—and while doing hair for photo shoots in New York he became interested in the crossover between cameras and computers. He had a friend who had a Mac Quadra. “We had a deal where at night I could use his computer,” Dangin recalled. “I used to go to his studio at seven-thirty, disconnect his computer, put it in a tote bag, and walk six blocks to my apartment. I’d work all night long, learning programming, and then by 7 A.M. have to stop so that when he woke up his computer would be there.”
Eventually, Dangin got a computer of his own, a Toshiba laptop. Hanging around shoots, he would make suggestions to photographers about how they could change their angles or correct their colors. A few of them began asking him to ply his effects on their images. “I always said no,” Dangin recalled. “I was very secretive in my studio. I hated the simple fact that, unless I got really good, I would have to be there waiting like a chimpanzee for someone to say, ‘Make it darker over here.’ ” He continued to hone his techniques and, in 1993, finally accepted his first paid retouching job: splicing a curtain onto a rod for the cover of a window-hangings brochure. In 1995, he married Laura Tiozzo, a fashion editor. The next year, their daughter, Cecilia, was born, and Dangin opened Box. Dangin and Tiozzo divorced in 2004. Two years later, he married Sarah West, a British-born former photography agent whom he had hired to work for Box in London. “Oh, God, he’s looking for perfection,” Sarah recalled thinking, upon becoming romantically involved with Dangin. “But he definitely separates it. He doesn’t sit at the computer and think, Phwoar, I wish I could give her one.”
One night in April, Dangin agreed to show me his basement laboratory. He led the way down a flight of stairs, past rows of shelves stacked to the ceiling with books and back issues of every conceivable publication. Enormous data processors, encased in glass cubes, whirred in the distance, as though we’d landed in a NASA laboratory. As a habitat, it suited Dangin, whose presence in the industry—shadowy as, by necessity, it is—is regarded almost mythologically. “Many people are deeply suspicious of Pascal and his control,” Charlotte Cotton told me. Dennis Freedman elaborated: “Because he’s not playing the music necessarily as it’s written, not unlike a conductor who can be criticized for taking too much liberty with the material—there’s a difference, you know, between Boulez and von Karajan—there are those, though I disagree with them, who may feel that sometimes he’s too interpretive.”
On our way down, a young woman approached Dangin, her arm outstretched to support a proof of an ad for a men’s cologne. “There’s no hair there,” Dangin told her, pointing to a raw, shiny spot on the model’s forearm. “Either add hair or burn it in.” (“Burning” refers to deepening the color and texture of a picture by exposing the paper to more light.) “Let’s get rid of the black spots on his chest”—freckles, as they’re known in nature—“and add a little to the jaw.”
Finally, we reached a cool concrete room with no windows. It was pitch-dark, except for the ambient light of monitors. (For eighty hours a week, these screens are Dangin’s exclusive visual stimuli.) “This is what we call Las Vegas, because it’s always the same weather, it’s always the same time,” he said. “It’s always seventy degrees. If it rain, shine, snow, we don’t know.”
Dangin took a seat in front of a triptych of computer screens, all running Photoshop. Clicking the mouse, he pulled up a layout: a series of elaborate fashion pictures featuring an actress with a movie coming out this spring. In one of them, the actress was standing on the roof of a skyscraper. Dangin clicked again, and the picture changed almost imperceptibly, like a what’s-wrong-with-this-picture game for kids. In the “after” version, Dangin explained, he had shuffled the buildings in the background and eliminated an unsightly valve on the roof’s ledge. The sky had been too yellowy, which made Dangin think of pollution. “I gave it some more white,” he said, “like a Boucher painting.”
He proceeded to a shot of the actress reclining on a divan in a diaphanous couture gown. “She looks too small, because she’s teeny,” he said. On a drop-down menu, he selected a warping tool, a device that augments the volume of clusters of pixels. The dress puffed up, pleasingly, as if it had been fluffed by some helpful lady-in-waiting inside the screen.
Next, Dangin moved the mouse so that the pointer hovered near the actress’s neck. “I softened the collarbones, but then she started to get too retouched, so I put back some stuff,” he explained. He pressed a button and her neck got a little bonier. He clicked more drop-down menus—master opacity stamp, clone stamp. Ultimately, he had minimized the actress’s temples, which bulged a little, tightened the skin around her chin, and excised a fleshy bump from her forehead. She had an endearingly crooked bottom row of teeth, which Dangin knew better than to fix.
“Her face is too high and elongated, mainly by the angle of the camera,” he said. “But I love her, too. I don’t want her to become someone else.” He zoomed in so that her eyeball was the size of a fifty-cent piece. “I love all of this little wrinkle”—laugh lines, staying put—“and the texture of skin. As you retouch skin, you can very quickly shift the tonal value. If you put a highlight where shadow used to be, you’re morphing the way the orbital socket is structured. It leads to a very generic look.” (Another time, Dangin showed me how he had restructured the chest—higher, tighter—of an actress who, to his eye, seemed to have had a clumsy breast enhancement. Like a double negative, virtual plastic surgery cancelled out real plastic surgery, resulting in a believable look.)
In another shot, the actress stood in the middle of a busy city street, in front of a limestone building. Dangin blew up the segment of the screen that showed her feet, which were traversed with ropy blue veins. Click. Gone.
“There’s a little slumpiness, and the knees look really big,” he said, stroking a touch pad with a gray plastic stylus to contour the actress’s legs. Big knees. Small knees. Big knees. Small knees. He morphed them back and forth, as if viewing her in a fun-house mirror. The windows on the building seemed to have buckled, so he realigned their panes.
“Nothing is a problem and everything can be a problem,” he said.
Postproduction work is nothing new: by the eighteen-forties, less than twenty years after the invention of the permanent photograph, printmakers, using a mixture of pigment and gum arabic, were hand-tinting daguerreotypes to mimic painting. “There is no photographic establishment of any note that does not employ artists at high salaries—we understand not less than £1 a day—in touching, and colouring, and finishing from nature those portraits for which the camera may be said to have laid the foundation,” Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, the art historian and critic, noted in an essay in 1857.
But playing with the representational possibilities of photographs, and the bodies contained therein, has always aroused the suspicion of viewers with a perpetual, if naïve, desire for objective renderings of the world around them. As much as it is a truism that photography is subjective, it is also a truism that many of its beholders—even those who happily eliminate red-eye from their wedding albums—will take umbrage when confronted with evidence of its subjectivity. Eastlake was responding to the distress of certain members of the London Photographic Society over a series of photographs taken deliberately out of focus. More recently, Kate Winslet protested that the digital slimming of her figure on the cover of British GQ was “excessive,” while Andy Roddick griped that Men’s Fitness exaggerated his biceps, saying, “Little did I know I have twenty-two-inch guns and a disappearing birthmark on my right arm.”
Why do you find this so interesting? Long long time ago in a land unknown to the digital.. people air brushed images by hand. This is nothing new. Then again if you are under a certain age - one would not know of this.
It is interesting because the New Yorker covered him.
It is interesting because all the photographers are going to the SAME guy for their stuff. It is interesting, because he charges 20,000 dollars for the Vogue covers we talk and criticize about.
It is interesting because when we say 'oh Gisele looks gorgeous!' 'oohh, Liya could do so much better' etc., it is never really about the model or the photographer, but it is about one guy and one guy only.
It is interesting, because everyone thought the airbrushing in question was just some skin work, but it seems what he does is everything from background, to cheekbones to jawline.
And finally, it is interesting that we see only one person's vision -no matter who the designer, brand, editor, or model may be- in all magazines and fashion photography. I am not under a certain age, but I guess you do not view the fashion business, photography and the cultural zeitgeist the way that I and many others do.
I suppose when you'll get the chance to spend more time here on tfs as a more seasoned member, you'll be more familiar with these topics and their relevance.