Photoshop wiz on Dove ad retouching: I was quoted out of context!

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Dove’s real women – slightly overweight, surgically un-augmented – have absolutely, positively not been retouched.

Unilever, parent company of Dove, Ogilvy & Mather, the creative agency that devised the game-changing Campaign for Real Beauty, and photographer Annie Leibovitz, who took the pictures, all chimed in with statements of denial today.

The controversy was kicked off by a New Yorker profile of Pascal Dangin, the celebrity retoucher of New York’s Box Studios, who works with Leibovitz. Writer Lauren Collins quoted Dangin saying he retouched pictures in the Dove ads, a campaign that has sold millions of crates of body lotion and anti-wrinkle cream by advocating normalizing standards of beauty.

“Do you know how much retouching was on that?” Dangin asks in the article.“But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

Dangin’s remarks burned through the blogosphere and were noted everywhere from AdAge to The Telegraph. Retouchgate was a potentially devastating embarrassment for a company that cleverly – and pointedly – tweaked the beauty industry’s reliance on technological augmentation with Evolution, a short film that showed the computer transformation of an ordinary woman to a billboard-worthy beauty. The film’s tagline: “No wonder our perception of beauty is so distorted.”

Dangin is apparently the best thing to happen to female celebrities since Spanks, the tummy-tucking, backside-shaping, industrial strength undergarments that no actress would be caught on the red carpet without. The lengthy New Yorker article is a treatise on the technological perversions of media packaged as a profile.

“In the March issue of Vogue Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore,” writes Collins. “Around thirty celebrities keep him on retainer, in order to insure that any portrait of them that appears in any outlet passes through his shop, to be scrubbed of crow’s-feet and stray hairs.”

Dangin released a statement saying that on the Dove ad he was only directed “to remove dust and do color correction” – which can entail removing shadows; adding more red to make skin tones warmer, etc. In fact, no photograph, whether it’s in a fashion glossy or a trade magazine, goes out the door without some color correction. And more to the point, whatever Dangin did do, it’s fairly obvious that he didn’t shrink their tummies or shave considerable inches from their thighs.

Dangin also said that he was quoted “out of context.” To be sure, the “out of context” excuse is a common refrain. And it is employed by both the ethically challenged and the legitimately maligned. But in a news story, Dangin’s comments about the Dove ad would have prompted the writer to at least log a phone call to Dove or Ogilvy & Mather for verification and comment. But in a profile, the tidbit serves as one more stroke of the artistic license brush.

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