Or maybe it’s rather a touch-up subject… Yes, she is going there. She is going to address the elephant in the room. The filteri-filtera that is going on. But let’s start properly.
We all wouldn’t be fans if we didn’t scrutinise the images of our favourite actor to the nth. For a while, I – although I fancy myself as an observant photo reader – didn’t even really see what was going on. That images are touched up when they are taken on professional photo shoots, is a given. And it has to be said that retouching is usually not demanded by the sitters, but is an essential part of the process in digital photography. In fact, there are plenty of celebrities – mainly women – who have publicly spoken against retouching, mainly because it creates unhealthy images, stereotypes and expections of women in terms of beauty, body and appearance. Among them are well-known actors such as Kate Winslet or performers like Lady Gaga. However, photographers rarely let go of their images without editing – because it is in their own interest to create an all-round beautiful image. The better/smoother/prettier the image, the higher the chance that the photographer can sell it. An easy calculation. But unfortunately the criticism by celebrity against photoshopping already shows that there is an ethical dimension to the issue. How much editing is “normal”? Especially given that photography still has a vague reputation of being “documentary” and “reflecting the truth”. The latter can really not be said (anymore). With digital photography, retouching has become part and parcel of post-production. And not only that, it actually has become somewhat automatic, thanks to the ubiquitous filters that are now available for any app that offers photography features. And that is what I am going to address today. Because the filters on Instagram are what pulled the wool over my eyes. It took me a while until I really copped on, mostly because I know from my own photographic practice that photoshop/editing/retouching was a time-consuming, detail-rich process – one that I really did not enjoy at all.
I am a minimal invasive photographer myself – if I can get away without retouching, I am happiest. Thus I never liked editing – or filters. And because I wasn’t using them, I didn’t realise how good they were.
And boy, are those filters good. Coming back to the scrutiny from the beginning, it was only due to the in-depth familiarity with my favourite actor’s face, that I eventually could not ignore the truth any longer. Mr A is a filterer. Or a filteRA? In any case, he likes the automatic filters, judging by his output on Instagram. But until recently, there was never really any tangible proof that he was putting filters across his pictures. Sure, there were indications – however good the years have been, but the smoothness around the eyes just sometimes looked a little bit too pixel-fresh – but it’s hard to find evidence when you don’t have anything to compare with, i.e. an original photo beside a filtered one. But a while back, the evidence finally surfaced. And I think this is absolutely fascinating. During Richard’s visit to Sundance Film Festival 2019 he was photographed by Ryan Pfluger, and this is the image that was taken for the Vulture feature The Faces of Sundance.
Gorgeous, right? I could go into full *ooof* mode here and talk about what *I* love about this photo although many people would consider a “floating head” as bad photography. I don’t.
You just have to look straight to the right to see my own version of a floating head, taken in Leeds. I love b/w, especially on a man who has got a few edges and lines in his face to be illustrated with light and shadow, creating a beautiful historical map of a life lived. B/w is boring when it doesn’t have contrast to work with. And I like how this “floating head” simply draws attention to everything that is remarkable about this face – the intense gaze, that seems to hold a slight glint of danger; the eyebrow, almost quirked; a few straight lines coming from the corner of the eye, like rays of the sun; a memorable nose that is not just a sharp line but has some interesting curves; a hint of grey on the temple; There are beard hairs to count and pores to pore over; and a forehead that shows signs of some worthy thinking going on behind.
Apparently not an aesthetic that Richard himself likes. Compare this:
This is the Ryan Pfluger image again, posted by Richard on his Weibo page, a little later. And a little different. Wait, I’ll show you.
I have focussed on the essentials in my gif here. It is a montage of the two images, dissolving into each other. There is no editing otherwise on my part, but it is quite apparent in my gif that some filtering is going on: The filter lightens up the shadow – which essentially means that some of the lines are filled with light and the skin appears smoothed out. Let’s have a look again, side by side.
Interesting, right? I am not going to get into the ethics of this; and I don’t really want to be judgmental about it, either. Richard can do whatever he wants on his social media outlets, and the important thing always remains that he himself has to be happy with the choices he makes. His choice of photographs – as well as filters and poses – have always fascinated me because they often do not match with my favourite pictures of him. Likewise, whether you prefer the original image or the one reposted by Richard, is completely up to you. My own hunch is that I prefer the first version. Not least because I firmly believe that an image that has been officially published, constitutes the “definitive”, final version of a work of art/creativity as it has been intended by its creator. But also because it appears to have character while picture number 2 looks kind of… washed out? Eroded? I suppose those words already are loaded with meaning, and I do not want to judge. I emphasise again, that this is merely *my* approach and my preference. And circling back to the beginning, maybe this isn’t really as big a thing as we make it out to be. As fans, *we* notice. But do others who are less familiar, do? Probably not. Touchy subject…