In a group education conversation this morning the topic of altering faces and body in photoshop came up. I realized it’s a hot topic. A lot of photographers are getting a lot of heat and pressure for altering women’s bodies. It is clearly no surprise. Women have been seeing unrealistic expectations of what a women should be from magazines for years. When my daughter was a toddler, I wished I could find a checkout at the grocery store where I didn’t have to walk her through twenty magazines with photoshopped mostly nude women on the cover. It wasn’t that the imagery wasn’t beautiful, it just sent a daily message narrow sighting the value of women to one ideal. Mother’s and Father’s are pretty stoked that Barbie finally caught on to celebrate outside the box thinking on the differences of women.
There is an importance to that argument, but it doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of altering bodies to fix what’s broken. I’ve also seen women completely empowered by imagery that has been altered. A woman’s value in history has been funneled into this one attribute as the most important and clearly we are so much more. Women also take a lot of joy and pride in feeling beautiful, if altering imagery is empowering, why is it wrong for her?
One of the comments about a photographer who’d brought up the subject of altering bodies ended in being harassed. I am unclear on the details of the conversation that led there. It sounded like a horrible experience for everyone, and a big indication something went terribly wrong. In my humble opinion, I would back up to the golden rule, Stop telling women what they should want for themselves!! One woman might love imagery of her in her natural state and another might love the fantasy of glamorization. But the one thing I do know, it’s not your job to tell her what she wants or should not want. A woman's voice and personal choices are her power, not what someone has determined is her power. The very best thing you can do with any client is to talk about it. What are the mechanics of your work? What does the client like, what do they want from your work?
I have a personal rule in particular with headshots, not to alter faces. I talk about this with my clients, letting them know this rule exists because the purpose of a headshot is to introduce you to new eyes. You don’t want to look too different in person or you will lose trust. If that doesn’t resonate with the client and they want altering, it’s their body their choice.
When I’m creating an art piece for women, we talk about their feelings on altering prior to the session, that way it allows them all choices on the subject. The journey and choices belong to her. I am just the agent for creating the art.
That’s the way I operate. I would imagine that other photographers would say NO WAY to altering bodies. Which is totally cool in my book too. But, I think it’s important to talk about your methods prior to a session and don’t, please don’t ever tell a woman what she should want or not want when it comes to their bodies. If she loves altering and you don’t, there's only “Not a good fit”.