A Small slice of retouching History

Before computers, photo manipulation was achieved by retouching with gauche paint ( because it dried fast and wasn't tacky), bleach and dyes ( on mono and dye transfers ), double-exposure, stripping photos or negatives together in or out of the darkroom, or knifing, a method of delicately scratching away unwanted image with a broken  splice of razor, this became almost impossible towards the late 70s as getting hold of a razor that you could snap just ceased to exist (technology!)
They started making un-snapable razors; actually that was probably the warning bell (hey guys your all going to be replaced by paint-box in about 10 years).  When it happened it happened fast, traditional retouching was dead in around six months (panic and despair for all retouchers) what to do?( personally, I drove a cab in Perth, Australia for two years till someone invented photoshop, then retrained myself as a digital retoucher)
Ironically 90% of the Labs and retouching studios that could afford to invest in this new paint-box technology at a hefty $2 million plus (they needed every scrap of work they picked up from our demise) are now also blown to the winds....

A typical kit back then consisted of: A compressed air-bottle for the airbrush, a mixing palette, a spatula, brushes, a pot of white gauche for deep etching, cow gum rubber for removing unwanted glue after montageing ( if handled carefully it would not mark airbrush work which was notoriously fragile) surgeons scalpel (great for slicing bits off fingers), steel ruler, angled bench, good light source, inks and dyes, bleach and a fixing agent also needed were low tack frisket mask in a roll, and liquid mask in a bottle, heavy art-board to mount the print on, cow gum, a fine emery paper for chamfering down the edges of a cut out replacement head you were about to paste onto another print, another knife but this one with a swivel head for cutting the frisket mask, you had to have the hand of a pro; too heavy and you cut into the print and it was buggered, to light and the mask would tear ragged, ah hard days!

How old is retouching ? It is as old as photography itself; contrary to the idea thatf a photo cannot lie. Photo manipulation has been regularly used to deceive or persuade viewers, or for improved story-telling and self-expression, and has often copped it for the former. There are some examples through History of the more controversial retouching efforts of my older colleagues further on in this blog.

I like to think I enhance images, that is my art. There is a story that King Henry the VIII was reported as being highly deceived by Hans Holbein the younger's portrait of Anne of Cleeves
referring to his bride once he had seen her in the flesh as a Flanders mare ( choose your century, then, a mighty big hefer, now, fat and ugly .)  But from Holbein's point of view he shares the same dilemma as the retoucher today, the client who commissions the job wants a pleasing result free of blemish, If Holbein had painted Anne as she truly was that would have been the end of his career!

The first famous recorded photo manipulation was performed in 1860 when Mathew Brady's  portrait of Abraham Lincoln was combined with a portrait of John C. Calhoun ( Abe's head, Calhoun's body ) Brady's portrait is famous in its own right as the basis for the original five dollar bill.

Abe wasn't the only statesman to catch on to this new artform. Old Joe Stalin himself (here in 1930) used to routinely airbrush out those unfortunates who had fallen from favour.
Not to be outdone by the pesky Russians Mao Tse-tung found this a useful tool for changing history, the gentleman screen right ,Po Ku was erased from this 1936 photo.

Even the Queen Mum has succumbed to the lure of the airbrush in this 1939 photo of herself and Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie in Banff, Alberta, King George VI was removed. It is hypothesized because Willy thought that just a pic of him and the Queen mum was the go, it was used as a election campaign poster.

So what other uses apart from removing unwanted associates was retouching good for?

Against all the bad press thrown at retouching stands one of my retouching heroes, his name was John Heartfield.
John Heartfield 1891-1968 (aka Helmut Herzfeld. He chose to call himself Heartfield in 1916, to criticize the rabid nationalism and anti-British sentiment prevalent in Germany during World War I.)

A young socialist German painter during the rise of Nazism Heartfield  began experimenting with collage techniques and almost single- handedly developed this technique - bringing technical precision, social consciousness and political savvy to his approach and elevating it to fine art.
As Hitler's Nazi Party underwent its transition from Socialism to Fascism, Heartfield's work became more politically aggressive and by publishing his work on the covers of popular leftist publications he helped establish the photomontage as a powerful form of mass communication. His compositions were bold and disturbing as he  exposed the evils of Nazism and Hitler's hidden agenda and are now considered masterpieces of political art. He had to keep on the move too; czechoslavakia when it got too hot in Germany and then an escape to Britain when czechoslavakia was crushed beneath the iron boot.

LEFT: Peace and Fascism, The dove of peace transfixed by a bayonet before The League of Nations building, whose white cross has become a swastika RIGHT: Hurrah, die Butter ist Alle! - Hurray, the butter is gone!
 A parody of the aesthetics of propaganda, the photomontage shows a family at a kitchen table, where a nearby portrait of Hitler hangs and the wallpaper is emblazoned with Swastikas. The family — mother, father, old woman, young man, baby, and dog — are attempting to eat pieces of metal, such as chains, bicycle handlebars, and rifles.The title is written in large letters, in addition to a quote by Hermann Göring during food shortage. Translated, the quote reads: "Iron has always made a nation strong, butter and lard have only made the people fat".

LEFT:" Now why does he show this curve of the spine"? "That's the organic result of the eternal "Heil Hitler" RIGHT: Hitler sharpens his knife to kill the French cockerel. Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister says "Don't be afraid Hitler is a vegetarian" 

The inspiration for Heath Ledgers Joker perhaps?

Onward in history, journalism has on occasion been burned by this promethian retouching fire. Some who you would have thought surely would know better like National Geographic who in 1982 digitally moved the Great Pyramid of Giza so that is would fit better in it's vertical format.
Or the swiss publication Blick; after 58 tourists were killed in a terrorist attack at the temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor Egypt, they digitally altered a puddle of water to appear as blood flowing from the temple. What were they thinking!
Even my own beloved Abbey Road cover retouched by my dad has been profaned when an American poster company decided to airbrush the cigarette out  from Paul McCartney's hand; is nothing sacred!

On a grimmer note in 2006 Reauters published a photo of a Lebanese town after an Israeli bombing attack, nearly every major news organization complained that the image had been doctored as did hundreds of bloggers. The cartoon below reflects the general consensus of outrage and anger at t this  falsification of the truth.

One of the things that has happened to this artform  in resent years is the woeful lowering of professionalism.
Many untrained novices run riot out there and give the rest of us a bad name, the amazing thing to me is some of the big names that have allowed these retouched botch ups to see the light of day, like this one for Ralph Lauren in 2009 featuring the model
Filippa Hamilton, and then next to it a USA Today retouched image of Secretary of state Condoleeza Rice looking like a Goa'uld from stargate which after complaints got this pathetic excuse from the editor "Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice's face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards." No kidding!

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