In 1951, Berenice Abbott, in her essay, Photography at the Crossroads, railed against the loss of realism that occurred in photography during the time of the Pictorialism movement that swept the public off it's feet in the later 19th century. Abbott writes... Instead of the honest, realistic likeness, artificial props with phony settings began to be used.Retouching and brushwork also set in. What was thought to be imitation or emulation of painting became rampant.....Much of this was due to a terrible plague, imported from England in the form of Henry Peach Robinson. His system was to flatter everything. He sought to correct what the camera saw. The inherent genius and dignity of the human subject was denied.
The war between the Pictorialists and the Realists has existed ever since the first photographer decided to apply a painterly look to his work in the darkroom. Some loved it, some hated it....and so began the call to arms. The battle continues today between the Photoshop haters and the Photoshop lovers.
The May 12, 2008 issue of The New Yorker contains the article, Pixel Perfect: Pascal Dangin's Virtual Reality, written by Lauren Collins. Pascal Dangin is almost unknown outside the fashion photography world, yet he is the premiere retoucher of fashion photographs. All of the top fashion magazines and photographers use his services. There is a general belief that he possesses a savant like sympathy for the soul of a picture. The photos above show a nude by photographer Patrick Demarchelier on the left, and the retouched Dangin version on the right.
The article is essentially an in depth confirmation that you can't believe a thing you see in fashion photography....but what fascinates me in this article are the numerous references and analogies to painting.
...Using the principles of anatomy and perspective, he is able to smooth a blemish or a blip with a painterly subtlety
...Using a Photoshop tool called a smudge brush, Dangin applied extra color to every pixel, giving the pictures a dreamy, impressionistic texture, as if they had been wrought in oil and chaulk.
...The sky had been too yellow..."I gave it more white" he said' "like a Boucher painting".
...His digital brushstrokes can be as deliberate as Jasper Johns's or John Curran's are on canvas.
Pascal Dangin emerges as the modern day torchbearer for the Robinsonian School and it's "flattery pays off" motto. Lauren Collins describes Dangin as ...more than anything, the consigliere for a generation of photographers uncomfortable with the details of digital technology.
Today's Fashion photographers, a la Dangin, are the modern day Pictorialists.... what Walker Evans in 1931 called ...that fantastic figure, the art photographer, really an unsuccessful painter, with a mysterious bag of tricks. Open up that bag today and you will find Pascal Dangin and his computer.