kottke.org posts about pascaldangin

Approaching the uncanny valley from the other directionMay 13 2008

Fashion photo retouching (i.e. high-brow Photoshopping) gets the New Yorker treatment with this story on retoucher Pascal Dangin, one of the best in the business.

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. To keep track of his clients, he assigns three-letter rubrics, like airport codes. Click on the current-jobs menu on his computer: AFR (Air France), AMX (American Express), BAL (Balenciaga), DSN (Disney), LUV (Louis Vuitton), TFY (Tiffany & Co.), VIC (Victoria's Secret).

The article touches too briefly on the tension between reality and what ends up in the magazines and advertisements. As Errol Morris points out on his photography blog, it is often difficult to find truth in even the most vérité of photographs. Even so, the truth seems to be completely absent from Madonna's recent photo spread in Vanity Fair that was retouched by Dangin, especially this one in which a 50-year-old Madonna looks like a recent college graduate who's never lifted a weight in her life.

The uncanny valley comes into play here, which we usually think of in terms of robots, cartoon characters, and other pseudo anthropomorphic characters attempting and failing to look sufficiently human and therefore appearing creepy and scary. With an increasing amount of photo retouching, postproduction in film, plastic surgery, and increasingly effective makeup & skin care products, we're being bombarded with a growing amount of imagery featuring people who don't appear naturally human. People who appear often in media (film & tv stars, models, cable news anchors & reporters, miscellaneous celebrities, etc.) are creeping down into the uncanny valley to meet up with characters from The Polar Express. I don't know about you but a middle-aged Madonna made to look 24 gives me the heebie-jeebies. Perhaps the familar uncanny valley graph needs revision:

New Uncanny Valley

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