This week's New Yorker features a lengthy profile of Pascal Dangin, written by Lauren Collins. While you might not know Pascal's name, you've certainly seen his work. He's the fashion industry's go-to guy for retouching. His magazine clients include Vogue, Italian Vogue, French Vogue, Vanity Fair, Allure, the list goes on. He's also retouched ads for Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Victoria's Secret, and Dove (That ad with real women in their underwear? His job. "Do you know how much retouching was on that? But it was a great job to do, a challenge, to keep everyone's skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive," Dangin said.). Photographers including Annie Liebovitz, Steven Meisel, and Marrio Sorrenti rarely work with anyone but Dangin.
What I find most interesting about this article is that up until this point, Dangin has been famously close-mouthed. The last interview I'm aware of is from 2003, when he told Kate Betts, "I never want to talk about my work, because it's kind of taboo. The people who benefit from my work do not benefit from me talking about it.'' But here he is letting Collins into his studio to see his client list and talking openly about jobs he would have done differently had he been given free rein. Dangin was responsible for making Madonna's arms look less muscular for the April cover of Vanity Fair. "It's not a failure because she was very happy with the way she looked, and the magazine loved it," he said. "Would I have done less personally? Yes." Does Dangin's willingness to spill all his secrets represent a cultural shift in the awareness of the practice of retouching? Clearly he doesn't feel it's so taboo to talk about his work anymore. Perhaps he's so confident in his professional reputation that he knows his clients will hire him regardless of whether or not he talks to the press. But I suspect that they just don't care as much as they might have cared five years ago.
It used to be that the path to creating all those perfect images was a big mystery to be guarded and protected. Now the cat's out of the bag. The general public has a basic understanding of how retouching works. And while we might not like it, we get that it happens. That knowledge represents two big positives as far as I see it:
1. We can start giving ourselves a break. Dangin spends hours making already gorgeous models look superhuman. That "unattainable ideal" phrase is no joke, people.
2. We can educate the kids. Read the article and pass the info along to the youngsters in your life. Talk to them about Dangin's work and help them understand that images in magazines and on billboards are not reflections of what real people look like.