Most people are aware these days that images undergo "retouching" However, let me explain, expose, defend as well as expresses support and for and displeasure in the current state of "retouching" in imagery.
In 2001 fellow photographer and digital post expert formed a company called Digital Retouch. We were one of the first full on digital celebrity, beauty retouching companies in Los Angeles. We had a few really established clients/friends. And we were some of the first post production men to figure out how to use Photoshops (at that time new) tool, liquify. Liquify back then left a trail of distorted pixels that make it extremely obvious that you had performed a little nip tuck. However, after we cracked that nut, it was obvious our skills would be in demand. In our few years of business we had retouched the likes of : Adrian Brody, Alicia Keyes, Ann Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Ben Affleck, Beyonce Knowles, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Colin Farrel, Drew Barrymore, Faith Hill, Halle Berry, Jennifer Conelly, Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Biel, Jessica Simpson, Jude Law, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Tom Cruise. We were retouching fashion stories and Covers for magazines such as : Blackbook Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, ELLE (UK), ELLE (US), Entertainment Weekly, Flaunt Magazine, French Vogue, GQ Magazine (German). GQ Magazine (US), Greek Vogue, In Style Magazine, Interview Magazine, Italian Vogue, Oprah Magazine, People Magazine, Playboy Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, Russian Vogue, Shape Magazine, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues, Stiletto Magazine (Paris), Spanish Vogue TV Guide, Vibe Magazine and Vogue Homme. And mind you, that was just in the first few years of business. Since then we have done countless other celebrities, magazines, and Ad campaigns.
SO, what is my position on image retouching and "post production"... Well the simple answer is that there is no simple answer. Historically images have always been altered. Lenses, lighting tricks, dark room, films, print papers all manipulate the negatives interpretation of "real". In addition to all the photographic manipulation large negatives have been airbrushed as the analog form of "retouching". But lets take this future. The whole multi-billion dollar "beauty" industry is nothing more then a form of "retouching". And if you really think about it; What is mascara, blush, lipstick, "concealer"... hair extensions, coloring... high heals, stockings, push up bras... and on and on.
At one time, not so long ago, there were "super models" they reached the same "celebrity" status as Actors and Actresses. They appeared on the cover of ALL the magazines and were the "standard" of beauty. These "freaks" of nature were so rare that only a handfull of models truly reached this status. They had the correct height, size, symmetry, gate, and projected a memorable personality or had a certain "flair". They looked great at all angels in any situation, in anything they wore. Top models today still need to meet all these criteria. It is just very difficult for the young ingenue to be discovered and "made" in to a "supermodel". Household names like Heidi Klum are made not from covers of Vogue, but for their "reality/challenge" shows. The main reason for this change in culture ... simply put... Photoshop.
Photoshop allowed us photographers to "correct" all the beauty "red flags" that was deemed undesirable. Before Photoshop magazines routinely used the 14 -19 year old face to represent "idealized" perfection; you know the skin with out a single sing of "aging". Well it is no secret that a young celebrity has an increased notoriety and can sell more magazines then just a pretty face. Photoshop's ability to digitally "retouch" and "reshape" actors ushered in the "shift" from models to "celebrity" covers ultimately ending the age of the super model.
So, back to the issue: Is retouching a bad thing or good thing. Well, lets narrow that down. I think image "manipulation" is not as much an issue in the societal debate as much as we are discussing "beauty" retouching. So lets just focus on idealized beauty and the role of retouching.
My opinion, yes it is necessary and actually helps create accurate perceptive "reality". Is it abused at times to create a "distorted" sense of "beauty" and false representation of reality; ALL the time. Who' fault is it, what can be done? Ultimately, consumer awareness is the solution, and most likely a disclaimer on images that are "selling" products based on the images that have falsely manipulated the products real effectiveness.
So let me explain what I mean by retouching can actually "help" make something "more" real.Look at this series of images taken with my 100mm lens for a beauty image.