My photography isn't real* (And yours probably isn't either)
Well guys, the truth is out. You read it correctly: My photography isn't real.*
*Sometimes...kinda-sorta...I mean, most of it is.
Explanation? Well, since you asked;)
It is time for us as photographers, brands, and content creators (ew this term), to be honest with our consumers when images are digitally altered- specifically when we are dealing with people photos and lifestyle imagery. At least, that is what the government in France has demanded via legalities and heavy penalties this month.
In an effort to address the growing (and I mean, GROWING) concern about people interpreting what beauty *should be*, based upon upon the models they see in magazines and ads, France has taken the lead with a very reasonable step towards transparency: If it isn't real, people need to know. The law requires images containing models who have been altered specifically to look thicker or thinner be labeled as "photographie retouchée" - an indicator to viewers that things are not what they may seem.
Although the law currently still allows for minor retouching like removal of blemishes, and some more involved retouching like changes in hair color, fines in excess of $44,000 OR 30% of the advertising spent (whichever is greater) are coming your way if you get too fancy with the photoshop and do not disclose your shenanigans.
Why is this relevant? Well, for starters, it is the right thing to do damnit!
I recall sitting in a public relations class in college and hearing a very brilliant (and terrifying) idea: Marketing and PR skills allow you to change how people think. This has stuck with me ever since, and is incredibly relevant when it comes to body image. There is power in all of this. Governments, leaders, PETA, and Walt Disney figured all of this out a long time ago. Show someone an image and you will affect their perception of the world.
At it's core, I think this truth is AWESOME! The ability to inspire others through imagery is at the heart of why I love making. I have been affected and inspired, and I want to share that experience with the world. But like Uncle Ben said, "With great power, comes great responsibility." When we share an image, or choose to represent our brands, companies and ideas with an image, we are telling a story. And France is making a point to expect some honesty from the stories told in it's country. Inspiring others is great. Inspiring others to reach a physical potential that does not exist is just plain old lying.
In an article by NPR, the National Eating Disorders Association is quoted as stating that "studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women."
Our stories are certainly affecting how people think, and we are responsible for the outcomes.
The new law went into effect at the beginning of October, and is working in conjunction with another piece of legislation that went into effect earlier this year, which requires models to have a doctor verify that they have a healthy body mass index (BMI) as well as overall health- if they want to work. Viva la France!
Hows does this effect those of us here in the U.S? Well, quite a bit actually. Getty Images, one of the leaders in stock imagery, has reportedly stopped accepting images containing models who have been altered to look thicker or thinner. Adobe stock has been reported to do the same.
Here, I have been against extensive retouching for quite some time, and have specifically limited what I will and will not do for clients in recent years. I typically follow the "Will it be there next week?" formula when choosing the level of retouching I'll perform on my work. That is, if there is a zit, a stray hair, maybe even a small scar if absolutely necessary- I know that is not necessarily *a part* of that persons identity. We can definitely clean that up. But when it comes overall body shape and proportions, it's time to get real.
I think this does a service for everyone. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves honest, and an opportunity inspire people to healthy aspirations. Ansel Adams once said, "You don't take a photograph, you make it." This is entirely accurate. As artists we make intentional decisions to create the images we want to make and to tell the stories we want to tell. I frequently use photoshop composites to both create stylized art (we know it's not real) or to problem solve (ex: renting the Carolina Panther's field for a shoot just does not fit in the budget.) But there is a fine line we cross when we break the rules of reality in our images, and we need to think very carefully about what stories we tell.
So full disclosure, some of my photography isn't real. Yours probably isn't either. We have an opportunity to shape a better future. Let's do this thing.