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Photos De-Stigmatizing Acne Show Us Where Photoshop Retouching Is Heading

By Brittany Smith on January 25th 2018

Photoshop is a very powerful ally in our bag of retouching tricks and while the capabilities appear to fall just shy of curing disease, its power increases exponentially in direct correlation with subtlety. It is when retouching shifts from being an enhancer to a ‘perfecter’ that causes the program to become an enemy.

The false ideal of perfection is dangerous and we are only beginning to realize the damaging impacts on society cracking under the pressure from failing to meet these expectations. While the fashion and beauty industry has been at the forefront of scrutiny with its unrealistic beauty standards, a recent set of engagement photos showcasing a retouching job gone wrong show that fat shaming is very real and happens in everyday life.

As with anything, trends come and go and the quest for perfection is being met by a mob of opposition who are tired; tired of the pressure to fit in the glass box, tired of failing to meet and maintain the expectations, and essentially tired of feeling anything less than adequate. Even those who are deemed the most beautiful are tired of having their picture altered.

New York photographer Peter DeVito took inspiration from this cultural shift of self-acceptance and embraced the untapped exploration of less than ideal complexions. He created a series of self-portraits that focused on normalizing acne with temporary tattooed words such as “acne is normal” and “retouch” crossed out. Upon publishing his first un-retouched image DeVito states, “I felt relieved. I don’t know why this huge weight was on my shoulders.”

“I was really inspired because a lot of people on social media started posting things about body positivity and self-acceptance, but I felt like there was an absence of people with acne.”

The self-portrait project soon evolved into capturing portraits of others who also have acne in hopes of empowering others by showing that these ‘imperfections’ are more than acceptable – they’re normal. Devito’s Instagram posts have been flooded with comments of gratitude, thousands of likes and have been shared by the likes of Cara Delevigne who admits that she most likely wouldn’t have posted it while praising those who are brave enough to do so.

The societal spending force that drives the economy will continue to redefine what is beautiful and influence photography trends, and I have seen the impact firsthand with modeling agencies requesting images to be minimally retouched. Essentially, don’t create something that can’t be achieved sans the use of Photoshop. The goal is to create something beautiful that doesn’t fall into the previously biased and unrealistic beauty standard comprised solely of thin and youthful with dewy glowing skin. 

This most recent stint of Photoshop awareness will more than likely continue to inspire raw and authentic images. It is a personal choice to use a better camera angle instead of the liquify tool and use a very light-handed approach when working skin, taking caution to only remove what is temporary such as a pimple or stray hair.

Going forward it may be best to have an open conversation with clients and ask what their expectations are in regard to a retouch as more and more people choose self-acceptance and celebrate their imperfections. Just because we can change something doesn’t mean that we should.

via: Elle and The Independent

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Brittany is a fashion and beauty photographer who works between NYC, Montana and LA. She photographs the way she has always wanted to feel and believes in the power of raw simplicity. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local coffeeshop, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, or baking something fabulous in the kitchen.
Instagram: @brittanysmithphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Randall Huleva

    As a 58 year old man who suffered from severe cystic acne well into my late 20’s and still has a lot of residual scarring, I understand the complexities of this issue first hand.

    EVERY portrait photographer needs to be EXTREMELY sensitive to the potential issues a client may have. Many physical problems, such as acne, can and do leave VERY deep emotional scars on their victims. Those who have never experienced a disfiguring condition can not begin to understand the deep seated pain and self-loathing that can result.

    To this day, I will not have my picture taken unless I can retouch the image before posting. YES…my profile picture has been retouvhed!

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  2. John Markus

    Acne is due to hormonal imbalances and other health causes. You should love yourself if you were born blind or are unable to walk due to a car accident, because those causes are outside your control. If you have a health problem, you should put your energy into fixing it. Doesn’t mean you can’t love yourself, but celebrating a totally fixable health problem will only make it worse, not better. Loving yourself just leads to narcissism. Having compassion for yourself leads to personal growth, empathy for others and real progress. Treat yourself with compassion and work on your acne. Don’t celebrate your acne. Would you tell your kid to celebrate failing a test at school? Or would you talk to them compassionately and offer them positive encouragement and advice instead?

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    • Peter Mueller


      “Would you tell your kid to celebrate failing a test at school?”

      That’s what we’ve been doing since the self-esteem movement blew up in the eighties. Everybody in the class gets a star! or Certificate. or Whatever.

      So yeah, that’s what’s been happening for the last thirty years or so.

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    • Giorgos Spiliotis

      [Giorgos Spiliotis has deleted this comment]

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    • Giorgos Spiliotis

      Well said!

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    • Brittany Smith

      Not everyone responds to medication, not everyone can afford it and it is worth consideration that acne is a side effect of many medications that is completely out of the person’s control. I think it is worth considering that it isn’t that black and white.

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