Reading about Pascal Dangin’s work made me mildly uncomfortable considering the current issues surrounding body image and health. If the retouching of fashion photography is positioned as subjective manipulation by an artist, then it should not be so controversial.
I see no problem in warping “reality” during and after a picture is taken. However, the issue is not in the definition of photography as art (although this debate is ongoing). The issue is the projection of a perfect and ideal human form as emphasized by the media. These fashion spreads and photographs are not viewed with a critical eye as one would when viewing a photograph in a museum and have a much larger audience. Fashion photographs are perceived as an expression of the human body, which is assumed to be natural. The problem might be connected to the underground nature of the photograph retouching industry. Retouching, especially in today’s technological frenzy, can of course be viewed as an acceptable art form. Instead, retouchers such as Dangin are uncredited for their work and are removed from the public eye. So of course fashion photography is considered a realistic representation of the human body because, for its audience, retouching does not exist! Or at least it is not as immediately evident compared to makeup and lightning retouching with which people more closely associate.
The interpretation of bodies as realistic or attainable in fashion photography fuels my own discomfort. I do not question Pascal Dangin’s skill and artistry at all. Photoshop is a difficult but potentially useful program to conquer. I only wish he was given due credit as an artist, instead of being the unseen creator and agent of “perfection”.