I have a love-hate relationship with photo retouching. I think those who do it well are amazing artists, especially those who work on people. Skin and body proportions are so easy to screw up — and so terribly obvious when wrong. At the same time, I’m not comfortable with the retouched reality in which we live. It’s redefined our definition of beautiful and is used to sell us products that “help us” get closer to an ideal that doesn’t really exist.

Pascal Dangin is one of those artists who amazes me with his talent and frustrates me with his work. The New Yorker did a piece on him in 2008 that I happened to stumble upon while researching Dove’s Real Beauty ad.

I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual “real women” in their undergarments. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” he asked. “But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

See, right there? Both sides of me are conflicted by just one sentence.

People in his industry describe him as “sort of photo whisperer, able to coax possibilities, palettes, and shadings out of pictures that even the [photographer] who shot them may not have imagined possible…he is a translator, an interpreter, a conductor, a ballet dancer articulating choreographed steps.”

I’ve done plenty of photo retouching in my career and know how hard it is to get right. I am definitely better with things than people, but no one has every compared my work to the grace of a dancer. Maybe that’s why I look at what Dangin does with such awe. He’s just that good. Maybe he’s too good.

The article is a fascinating read on Dangin’s life, work, and style. It describes his creative space and process, as well. Pixel Perfect: Pascal Dangin’s virtual reality.

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