Pride and Perfection - why we need to rethink how we present photographs

by Sian Tyrrell

It’s all too easy to make the subject of a photographic portrait comply with the current fashionable aesthetic – face and body manipulation, skin smoothing and retexturing – these are not only commonplace and accessible for anyone, but expected by many publications. The message sent by this cookie-cutter perfection is known to be damaging to our mental health both for the models whose appearance is constantly manipulated and for the readers who are shown an unattainable level of perfection. Even though we are all savvy enough to know that these images are manipulated, it still creates a sense of aspiration and perpetuates both the editing of images and the feelings of body inadequacy and exclusion. Disturbing stories of people asking their aestheticians to make them look like their modified online selves should be proof enough that something is wrong here.
So why do we do it?

Why do magazines continue to favour the ‘look du jour’ and why to photographers continue to produce work that fits the mould – whether editing their work themselves or outsourcing to a specialist editor to produce that ‘magazine’ look? I’m constantly offered ‘retouching’ services that promise to get my work up to the ‘standard’ required by the best publications and that offer the ‘high-end’ look. Ironically many promise a ‘natural’ look that is in fact mostly the application of a standard skin texture with even, defined pores that are consistent across the whole face – very far from natural in my view.
I’m starting to think that photographers are also a victim of the campaign to ‘standardise’ the looks we see. We look at what comes out of the camera and instantly see it does not bear resemblance to the images we see in the magazines we aspire to appear in. So we make them comply.
It makes us feel better, that our work is acceptable, is valid When in reality we are perpetuating the problem. We’re producing unrealistic images, and causing other photographers to question why on earth their work doesn’t come out looking that way and to hit the processing hard! Don’t get me wrong – I love editing my photos; it’s part of the creative process and part of achieving the final vision. Remove that fire hydrant in the way, lend your model a hand and scrap that spot that appeared right on their forehead on the day of the shoot, tuck that dress in where it’s gone wonky and play with your colours to your heart’s content– you’ll get no argument from me.

But ultimately we are artists – we are creative, we work with other creatives on wardrobe, hair and makeup, modelling, lighting, set design – we need to stop conforming and start producing work that’s real, different and exciting! It’s hard – many publications take the easy way and only select work that has that ‘look’ – but ask yourself why you want to be part of that anyway? Do you really want credit for being the same as everyone else? We need to take pride in being different, celebrate the unique and stop being too proud to show the truth of the photographs we take.
Maybe, just maybe, we can do some good in the process.

About the Author

Sian T. is a portrait and commercial fashion photographer based in the south of England with a focus on vintage and alternative style, model diversity and storytelling. @siantphoto

Pride and Perfection - why we need to rethink how we present photographs