Thursday, February 20, 2014

Photoshop is the Devil

The interwebs are going crazy with Photoshop bashing these days. Everywhere you look, there is a new article or .gif or video about the evils of Photoshop and how it is creating an unattainable and unrealistic standard of beauty that is harming the self worth of women everywhere.

To listen to the all the hype, you'd think that Photoshop was the devil. In fact, it seems like the bandwagon thing to do is hop on the "We hate Photoshop" bus and burn our software in protest.
While I agree that image editing software is being used to create un-realistic images of women, that advertising agencies and the fashion industry in particular are over-using this tool, and that creating an artificial standard of beauty can certainly be an instrument by which someone harms their own self worth; I'm going to be unequivocal and unapologetic about this next statement;

The problem is not with Photoshop. The problem is with human nature.

Let's take a trip down what I'm going to call the Path of Illusions.

What are some things that women in particular use or have used to create the illusion that they are OTHER than what is absolutely natural?
Makeup, corsets, wigs, hair extensions, eyelash extensions (what sadistic bugger came up with THAT one?) hair coloring, plastic surgery-which is a bit more than an illusion I'll grant you- high heels (because you aren't that tall in real life) panty-hose, perfume (do you really smell like jasmine and sandalwood? I didn't think so) the list goes on and on...

Women and men as well (let's not forget powdered wigs and codpieces) have been creating and reaching for unrealistic standards of beauty since time immemorial. Geishas painted their faces, ladies used khol on their eyes, feet were bound, waists cinched to damaging proportions, wigs were festooned with tiny animals and sailing ships, brows were thickened or removed, faces tattooed, and so on and so on, in an effort to appear other than what nature intended.
Every young girl has been exposed to images of beauty that for some reason, whether natural or unnatural, she will not be able to attain. This is nothing new.

This is not to say that we shouldn't bother to change behavior that has negative consequences just because human nature is flawed. But masking the symptoms doesn't cure the disease. You have to have the right diagnosis.

I think the difference between Photoshop and something like makeup lies in that, with makeup, we can and do create these illusions ourselves. We even out our skin tone with foundations, hide blemishes with concealer, make our eyes look larger with deftly applied shadow, plump up our lips with gloss, and then walk out of the house feeling pretty good about ourselves but knowing what we look like beneath the layers.
When Photoshop gets abused, viewers aren't part of that process. They don't see what the model looks like in the studio beforehand. If the audience watched the magician hide the rabbit in his hat they might still enjoy the trick, but they would never believe in the magic. When we paint our own faces we might enjoy the results but we know what lies beneath.
That is where I believe the danger is. Most of us don't interact with the people we see in magazines or movies, the people who are gifted with great beauty before a team of beauticians and stylists get their hands on them. So, when we see images of them on the screen or the magazine cover, it's natural to assume that what we see is what they are and since we didn't take part in the hoax, we are free to believe the "magic."

What is happening now with the release of before and after Photoshop photos and videos, is a good thing. More and more, the average non-photoshop user is able to see the process, and the image of overly-perfected, unattainable beauty is getting demystified. Hopefully this helps people to see that those images are surreal, that nobody looks like that in real life, and that beating yourself up for not living up to that standard is an act of futility. Just like my mom and dad told me repeatedly while watching movies as a child, it's not real, honey.
Once we begin to see the change, hopefully that will make us more conscious of the ability, and even responsibility, we have as a society to build self-worth rather than destroy it.


I do not believe that Photoshop should stop being used. Getting rid of the photoshop devil is not going to remove the desire for unrealistic beauty. Photoshop didn't create this problem. Advertisers have only used it as a tool to help capitalize on a natural failing in human nature. If we already saw ourselves as beautiful, it would be hard to make money off of our desire to look fabulous, wouldn't it?
There are legitimate reasons to use Photoshop, and I'm going to expound on some of those in my next blog post.

Let me know what YOU think. Leave me a comment. The more dialogue that exists on this issue, the better equipped we are to deal with things like this and the more likelihood that those using image editing software will be held to responsible standards.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Creating Ophelia: An Adventure into Conceptual Photography

This post is LONG overdue.

I would like to make the excuse that I've been busy, but let's face it...everyone is busy. It's just an excuse. If something is important, you either make the time or you make excuses.
I'm finally making the time.

You might have read my blog post on conceptual portraiture. It's an area I would like to explore more, and ideally, the direction in which I would like to see my work move.
I had been busy with family portraits, head shots, portfolio work and boudoir photos and...while I love to capture all those moments...I felt like my creativity was withering away in some dark corner of my soul. There was a small spark of it somewhere in my chest, but the only reason I still knew it even existed was because it was whimpering in despair. In an effort to find my lost creativity I followed the sound of it's crying, found the malnourished little bugger, and brought it out into the light of day.

Serena of Esoteric Makeup, the talented makeup artist who helped me create our famed Zombie Apocalypse family portraits, immediately climbed on board when I suggested a creative shoot.
We agreed that Hamlet's Ophelia would be a great subject to conceptualize.Youth and beauty coupled with madness and despair...what a photo that could make!

Serena suggested a costume designer she had worked with before, namely Elizabeth Ritter, who is fondly known as The Swift Stitcher. She seemed to be as excited as the two of us were to tackle Ophelia and bring her to life.

So we had the photographer, the makeup artist, and the costumer. All we needed was the model and a hair stylist.

I was lucky that I had a good friend who is also a bad ass hair stylist. Laura was on board. 4 down.

The model was the last to enter the game, and I will admit that I began to fear we wouldn't find that perfect person who would embody everything we hoped for.
THANK the Lord for Facebook!

Enter Hannah Lynn Payne, the gorgeous younger daughter of a family I have been acquainted with for years. Both she and her family graciously agreed to let us steal Hannah, cover her in makeup, bobby pins and hair spray, and snap photos to our hearts content.

There was the whole preparation process, which I wont delve into except to admit that it was full of small, irritating details that were both absolutely necessary and completely mind shopping for the PERFECT fake flowers to adorn our model.

ON to the big day. I was nervous and excited all at the same time.
Strangely enough, a big creative shoot like this is almost like giving birth. You spend days, weeks, months even, imagining how everything will be and what the end result will look like. Will the process be painful? Will the result be beautiful?
The anticipation is terrible, but the results are worth it!

I literally got to watch a fairy tale come to life before my eyes.
Hannah is a lovely teenage girl. She's all American, athletic, with pretty blonde hair and blue eyes and lovely skin. She's pretty much every girl next door.
Within 2 hours, she didn't even look like the same person.

Serena had painted a new face. Now she looked like something fey, strange and lovely at the same time.
Laura had crafted a coifure that was familiar yet a bit wild.
Elizabeth stitched a dress that seemed pulled right out of history, and yet didn't really fit with any traditional dress I've ever seen.
Hannah was gone, and Ophelia sat in front of us.
I don't think any one of us were really prepared for seeing the embodiment of what we had been imagining for months.

The whole shoot went down under a bit of a spell. As I took photos, gave Hannah direction for posing and expression, watched Serena touch up makeup or Laura tweak hair just a bit... I felt like I was watching a fairy tale happen.

Toward the end of the shoot, I gave Ophelia some direction for what I wanted her to do. She was to start to pull her hair style out, tear out some of the flowers we had placed, and just generally let herself fall to pieces.

I swear, once she began to move and I started pressing the shutter button the whole room went silent. The last sound I heard was the indrawn breath of every person sitting in the background. Ophelia was real, sitting in front of us, and her mind was beginning to unravel. It was absolutely spell binding.

My poor withered creativity had sprung to flaming life with a vigor that left sear marks inside my chest. It was a reawakening. A reminder that CREATION is what I love, and what drives me.
Capture is important, and I can't say how much I enjoy being able to capture important moments for my clients. It is the creation, though, that makes me feel as if everything that I've got inside, everything that inspires me to dream, has been birthed and is now on display. I get to share my secret dreams with people who view my photographs, and in that viewing I've forged a connection between myself and someone else on a level beyond words.

I feel it, though. It's exhilarating. It's now my goal.