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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NY Times Op-Ed: Sex, Lies and Photoshop

Been working on a video op-ed piece for the New York Times and looks like it's up! Check it out.


  1. Thanks for the work you're doing. I've been a photo restoration/retouching pro since 2000, but I've never worked for the magazines. I like your challenge to them (although I see them rising to it - over their own dead bodies). It's incredible to me that the French are trying to pass a law about this, that they are actually acknowledging the damage done and trying to do something about it. I stopped reading women's mags long ago, I knew it was messing with my mind. It's enough just seeing all the images plastered everywhere in public...

  2. I know you'll probably hear this thousands of times as a result of the NYTimes coverage, but it should be said millions of times: THANK YOU!

    As an educator who works with young people who often struggled with body image issues, it's great to know that you're working on a documentary that will be an incredible tool to educate youth about the reality of the "beauty" industry.

  3. Thanks, I always be interesed in how we see people and ourselves, it's very educating. And yes, the retouchist deserve his credit, always!

  4. Great story! I wish there was some viral way to show a big magazine that people want them to publish unaltered pics. I do. I might even buy it if there was a magazine that would do something like that!!! I dare them too! I bet there is a niche market for people that want to look at real people!

  5. Good for you on getting this into relatively mainstream media. People I talk to seem to either feel this issue is totally old news or are absolutely oblivious to its nature. There's such an education gap.

  6. I'm adding my voice to all the others who are thanking you for your wonderful work! Thank you! I look forward to seeing all of your films. I share your vision.

  7. fascinating, isn’t it - the power of image - this is why there are ancient words of such deep meaning as icon, iconography, iconoclasty, idolatry: image as content, and image as coercion.

    As a performing artist, I have done things to my body and looks which are only one more example of this power - this glamour. I mean to say as well, i have resisted it, and i have used it, and i have been used by it; to seek perfection is one thing- to be measurable only by a look of perfection is quite another.

    What we have now is something like a time where artists are forced to become prostitutes in order to become recognized as artists - this sort of measure of beauty, perhaps in principle the same as that which gave us the classical sculpture of the ancient greek, seems somehow run amok now -

    titillation of the eye is the same as titillation of any other susceptible organ; it’s like cocaine and being happy for a few moments, and then one hell of a burn-out for quite a while afterward.
    I am male, not overly gay, and here to tell you -
    men are just as cowed by image as women, they just have more trouble admitting it -

  8. Nicely done! I enjoyed the piece and of course the conversation that it inspires.

    As a media professional myself I also know that what we do is often "fantastic", that is to say designed on fantasy. So much of it is designed to evoke a feeling, an emotion or a "look" and depending on the client or the audience, not necessarily designed/intended to be objective.

    What is most interesting about your piece however is that while I may take this info for granted, I wonder if people in general realize that they are always being "fed" something. The stats regarding girls and how mags dictate their perception is so telling. And yet the assumptions regarding this current generation is that they are equally skeptical to trust the media as they seem to have been brought up in an age of celebrity porn scandals and million dollar baby pics.

    Anyway, just wanted to applaud your efforts and appreciate you sparking conversation! Keep it up!

  9. GREAT DOCUMENTARY! I truly hope some kind of law passes in France, but it's quite unlikely to ever happen in the US. :( As a graphic designer, I have to say that I specifically chose not to work with human photos in magazines b/c I cannot stand the degree of lies they are displaying today.

  10. Great piece...

    I'd only take issue with your statement that "perfect beauty can only be achieved with an airbrush"...

    I think that's part of the whole point... maybe the idea of "perfect beauty" that the industries try to sell us can only be achieved with an airbrush, but that's all a big scam... because if anyone wants to see something perfectly beautiful, all they have to do is look in the mirror.

    I've been working as a portrait photographer for a while now, and it's always frustrating to hear people say that they're "not photogenic" - when that whole construct is simply built to make people feel like their missing something, so that they can then be sold some other products.

    I just took 4200 pictures of a group of farmworkers, students and activists this last weekend-> take a quick look and tell me they're not all perfectly beautiful:

    Watch it in HQ - every pic is straight out of camera, no retouching involved. People are beautiful, and that's that. :)

  11. I loved the Op-Ed piece. Thanks for making it. A day after watching I came across a reference to a fashion magazine called Eliza ( that doesn't do any touch ups. "We are realistic about women's bodies: we don't retouch bodies, and we mix real women and professional models." I don't care about fashion and don't have an interest in subscribing. Seems like a good way to "send a message" though if more people chose to send dollars toward publishers who stick to the truth.

  12. Do you have a link to the wording of the legislation?

    All I can find are reports from April '08 talking about sanctions for promoting extreme thinness. (The wording of the bill would make it illegal to "provoke a person to seek excessive weight loss by encouraging prolonged nutritional deprivation that would have the effect of exposing them to risk of death or endangering health.")

    I would like to see in the law where magazines are forced to disclose retouching. And, how would that disclosure really impact the health issues around Anarexia and Bulimia? For anyone suffering under the impression that magazine images are 'truth', retouch attributions would also mean nothing. The image is much more powerful than 'some words'.


  13. Adam David mentioned Eliza Magazine, which I hadn;t heard of and really looked forward to seeing, because they don't retouch their photos. But when I went to their website, it says it's the winter 2008 issue. So it seems they've gone out of business.

  14. Jesse,

    I train your Mom at a gym in Boston...She mentioned your article and I was curious. As I encounter the body image problem on a daily basis, I have been much more concerned over the past couple of years about what I see happening. It is not only women, it is our entire society. Even in the fitness industry the images are retouched and blatenly sexual. I challenge you to start examining the fitness industry, which is supposed to be about health and well being and really see what type of messages you get...If you need help or support your Mom knows how to contact me...PS..put a link on here to email you directly...

  15. You know of course about this documentary and campaign (2007) :

    "the people versus the beauty industry"

  16. It just makes sense to me to not "censor" or control the art form that is photo manipulation and instead to educate the women who feel like they need to live up to these standards.

    Lot's of people have acquired enormous wealth. And would it be fair to tell them not to show off that wealth in any way as to not give children the wrong idea about their "economic image"? Grow up! Parents need to inform their children. Schools need to speak about this. Children should be taught to see through the deception so we don't censor the art form or the quest to create a perfect image.

    And, it seems a bit presumptuous to think that girls are effected by these images and don't know that they are manipulated. The internet has made skeptics of us all and young women are no exception. They know better than to think they aren't doctored in some way. In tandem, while it is important to help improve a young woman's body image, we can not expect to cure it with this measure or any other really. The teen years and the feeling of inadequacy are synonymous. For both men and women.

  17. I must take issue with the previous post - he writes from a very well informed point of view, a perspective which, in fact, is not readily available to all who are deluged by image - image is power - there is no way around that. He is correct that it can, must, be resisted at times; but that requires that the viewer have a sort of power of education and mental discipline, and this simply is not available to all, in this world as it is - the manipulation of image is sometimes art, sometimes a lie - all art is a fiction, except exact representation, which even then limits perspective to only one perspective - offering an image which is in reality unnatural, yet desirable, is like offering a highly refined drug, say cocaine, rather than chewing a wad of the coca leaf - a vast chasm between the two effects - If we were all university professors, and deserved to be and it was not an honorary degree, the previous author would have a more valid point, but as is, it is an hypotheses, an air-brushed opinion, as it were. - now what i have submitted here, is quickly within - intended neither to skewer unfairly nor mortally the other's thesis, and it does perhaps not completely exhibit a perfect logic - however - think about it.
    He speaks of a perfect world, we are not there yet, therefore, things won't work that way, not yet - it doesn't mean we shouldn't move toward that greater perfection, but we can neither act as if it were already arrived

  18. I enjoyed reading this piece and I agree to the points mentioned.

    However, an addition you may next include is the point that although many magazine readers already know about how much retouching is done, you failed to include that these magazines are circulated world wide to reader that do not know that all the images are if anything a "fantasy".

  19. Just saw your work linked via the blog Shakesville, and hot damn. GOOD WORK. I found myself, watching 34x25x36, comparing myself to the mannequins -- even though I'm a feminist, even though I know I don't need to do that. Fabulous, fabulous work, thank god someone is doing this.

  20. Great to read your comments and discussions around this stuff.
    Wanted to let you know about a screening/ summit that's coming up on April 23rd in NYC. If you are in NY then, would be great to have people join in. Going to post about it too.

  21. Love your work! I am one of the few girls around retouching high end fashion and advertising images. Despite spending 6 years in an all girls boarding school, having two skinny brothers tease me about my shape and watching models strut past my desk on a daily basis I've managed to maintain an extremely healthy body image. How? I'm not quite sure. During my career I have rarely been directed by a photographer, art director or editor to create "unrealizable standards of physical perfection". I've found it is generally left up to me to set the bar. My work is often credited and I have a reputation to protect. If every retouched image was credited then maybe there would be a heightened sense of responsibility. Maybe educating retouchers and monitoring their perception of healthy standards is the way forward.

  22. Hi! This clip es very good but hard to see by the NY site. Can you put it on youtube?

    This would be great!!!
    Thanks for the inspired video!

    God bless

    Julie Maria - Brazil

  23. Hi Julie Maria,

    The video is actually embedded on the NY Times site, not sure I can post it on Youtube, will check the contract.


  24. Frustrated,can't see the video at NYT. Any where else to see it? It is always busy, will not download entire.