Retouching is common place in advertisements today. Retouching is even common in film nowadays, with people edited, cropped, lightened, and beautified to look like the ideal screen or advertising vision. Of course, a little cleaning up is to be expected, but there are cases where people in advertisements are rendered to the point where they don’t even look like themselves. While photoshop can do wonders for a photo, it should not turn into plastic surgery.
Too much retouching can actually be dangerous. People will literally kill themselves trying to look like an underwear or lingerie model they saw on a highway billboard ad, but those models don’t even look like that themselves. Sure, they are attractive, but no one is that flawless. Retouchers have a responsibility to the public, and it is vital they learn where to draw the line, otherwise the better photoshop gets the worst the average person’s self-esteem will become. Yes, fashion is about the fantasy, but when young girls are skipping meals because they want to look like Kate Moss in her latest swimsuit ad that poses a problem. Nicolas Potts has weighed in on some of his points of view about retouching.
Interview with Nicolas Potts
By Kristopher Fraser
How did you first get into retouching, and how long have you been doing it for?
My father got me into photography at an early age, I remember spending time with him at the developers studio and they would retouch by hand with paint brushes on the negs and prints. I loved the process. When I finished school I was accepted into a three year Digital Media Degree at the college of fine arts. I loved the technical aspects of digital arts melded with seemingly endless creative possibilities. Once I finished my degree in 2003 I moved to London managed to score a Jr. retouching position at Mario Testino’s studio. Following that I was offered a position in New York as Greg Kadel’s full time Retoucher for around 4 years and then went on to set up my company Can’t Touch This inc.
Who are your usual / past major clients?
Ive retouched for photographers such as Richard Burbridge, Greg Kadel, Mario Testino, Davis Sims, Annie Leibovitz, Pamela Hanson, Benny Horne, Dan Martensen, Greg Harris, Bjorn Iooss and others. Some of my recent Advertising clients include Hugo Boss, Guess, Reebok, Target, Lexus, Alexander Wang, Esprit, Shiseido, Givenchy, Bloomingdales, H&M and more. Magazine’s including Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, V Magazine, New York Times Magazine, Marie Claire, Numero, GQ, W, Vanity Fair and more
Have you ever retouched someone you know very well and how do you feel when you see the final work?
Actually quite often we’re given images to retouch that have a friend or model that I know personally . I guess you could say all my friends are models.. Haha not really but it’s all the same to me working on people I know or not. It’s about making the image look as good as possible overall and its always fun to see the images placed in magazines or billboards.
What negative impacts do you think retouching has on society, especially young women?
There’s no doubt the fashion and advertising industry can have a negative impact on girls body image but I believe this is coming from the industry as a whole and not the retouchers. Its coming from the designers, photographers and agents and the retouchers are sometimes pushed by these people to over shape and over retouch the images. My personal retouching style is to leave as many natural so called imperfections as I think seeing these things makes people connect with the image better.
Where do you generally draw the line with retouching?
I believe retouchers main job is to develop the image as a whole much like was done in the dark room, I believe color and contrast and lighting are much more important than retouching skin or shaping bums. There is a misconception that retouching is purely about making bodies and skin look better. To me that is only a small part of it and I don’t enjoy that part of retouching nearly as much as the creative aspect of working with a photographer to make a beautiful image. As far as ‘drawing the line’ Ive had to say no to a few jobs that I can see the client wants to go in a direction that doesn’t suit my style such as heavily retouched, fantasy type work often seen in asia.
Is this different to other retouchers, and who gets the final say on most of your jobs, the art directors, photographers, or you?
Thankfully most of my clients trust my opinion on the level of retouching being done in regards to skin and shaping. Although at the end of the day I am hired and payed by a client that has the final say on how they would like me to make the images look.
Have you ever had a falling out or argument with a client over the extent to which you have been asked to alter a photo?
No, I will generally always give the client what they are asking for, if I don’t like the direction they are taking me I will try to guide them away from it but they are in charge. If they want to do more work on the image than was originally estimated for then we simply re-quote for the additional work and everyone is happy.
Who do you think is the biggest force to blame for controversies in retouching?
I think controversies in retouching are sometimes overplayed. At the end of the day It’s the designers, photographers and agents telling the girls they need to starve them selves to a visibly unhealthy weight or they won’t have a career. This is where is starts and the retouching that is often done to celebrities and models is simply to emulate the aesthetic that is being set by the fashion and advertis ing industry and not the retouchers themselves.
People want the fantasy of fashion though, why is retouching perceived as so bad? Is it because people don’t understand it, or that it is so readily available to misuse?
I do think there is a misconception about retouching always being bad. Most of the time retouching is more about improving the look of the product that is being sold and if that involves removing any distracting human elements like pimples or arm hairs its often just a by-product of the process of making the product stand out. There are many things in society that can be misused, retouching is not a threat it’s just a tool that is available for us to expand our creative abilities.
Shouldn’t people realize that no real person looks like billboard ad though?
Yes, I think its fair to say that most people should realize billboards illustrate models that are not only genetically aesthetically gifted but further to that are enhanced through retouching also. I think most people do realize that most media from movies to fashion to advertising has gone through a post production process that alters and modifies reality.
Instagram is perceived as a relatively true to form self expression, what are your thoughts on people retouching personal Instagram images?
Instagram generally is a great format for people to take photos and post with nothing more than a color grade. Although there are some smartphone apps that people are using to ‘retouch’ themselves I personally find it extremely obvious when people use these apps and honestly I’m embarrassed for them.
What do you think of the efforts of designers like Rick Owens who are attempting to showcase women of different body types in their fashion shows?
I think its fantastic. Most men are not attracted to the wafer thin models that walk the runways . I find it ridiculous and irresponsible. Its like advertising smoking to kids, its unhealthy for the girls they encourage to be underweight and its unhealthy for the young girls that aspire to be underweight. I believe it will change eventually just like smoking is slowly becoming un-cool the emancipated fashion look will hopefully die away soon too.
How much room do you honestly think there is for “real” women in fashion?
I’m retouching a plus size lingerie campaign right now. There is a growing market of “real” sized fashion brands and as bodies are ever expanding in markets such as America there will be more and more of these brands accommodating them.
How successful do you think an unretouched cover of a magazine or advertisement would be, assuming it gained no attention for breaking away from retouching or putting the typical beautiful star on the cover?
Well I think this gets back to the misconception about retouching being purely cosmetic. If you used a completely raw image out of a digital camera its going to look pretty average. If you shot that same image on a film camera its going to have a degree of color and contrast which will look much better. Retouching has taken the place of the developer / printer and they play a huge role in the final ‘look’ of the image. The cosmetic retouching part is a much smaller part of the overall look of the image. If you go through magazines that were pre-retouching they still look great. So yes I think an un-retouched digital image would look pretty bad but as far as cosmetic imperfections I think people are happy to see them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some people like me, enjoy seeing peoples unique make ups without deleting every mole and wrinkle.
Where do you think a movement to really change retouching standards will start? With the fashion magazines, with ads, or with more diverse body types being shown on runways?
I think the process for change is the same in every industry. Everything comes down to money in this world. When consumers stop voting by paying companies that promote poor body image like many of the major fashion houses and start supporting the brands that align with values they agree with, then the brands will change to chase the money.
Where do you think the fashion industry could be headed in the next ten years with the push for more diverse body types on the runway and less retouched photos?
I think retouching and body types will always remain diverse based on the fact that there is now so many media outlets and so many brands with varying aesthetics. Although I do hope fashion houses eventually go back to a more Marilyn Monroe type body shape.
Website: Can’t Touch This inc.