Random Thoughts In Editing Mode

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After hours and hours of staring at photos I begin to memorise people’s faces. One of the other peculiar things about what I do, but may prove to be useful at some point in the future. After staring at people’s faces, I think of my own and how long it took me to reach the conclusion that perfection is totally overrated.

I feel qualified to say this as someone who was not just a wallflower in school, but dreaded school photos like the plague. Someone whose face has somehow caught up with her teeth (or rather, the size of her teeth) and whose nose doesn’t look as awkwardly flat as it did once, or maybe her face just grown into it. I had buck teeth as a child and my parents didn’t have money for braces or the dentist, so absolutely nothing had been done to correct my teeth since getting fillings around 10 years old. I’ve had dental coverage for over a year, and I haven’t used it yet. I still have the same fillings, the same buck to my teeth, the same everything that I had when I was 10. But strangely, my face changed enough so nobody notices my teeth anymore, not even me. How did that happen? Or rather, not happen?

Same thing with my nose: when I was in high school one day and my class was heading outside to witness an eclipse, I remember one classmate making a joke about my face colliding with a dog house. Seriously. I still have the same flat, bridgeless Filipino nose that I had when I was 14, but I don’t even think about it anymore. It took a long time to ignore it — it’s smack in the middle of my face! — but I finally did.

Maybe I’m thinking about all this because I’m participating in a research study about body perceptions at the University of Toronto (my interview is on Tuesday). It got me thinking, and while I’m looking at faces and bodies all the time editing portraits, I think about it further. Women are particularly hard on ourselves, dwelling on things that ultimately do not matter. Maybe if we had nothing better to occupy our time than the business of attracting a mate, it would merit a greater amount of attention. But this is 2010, and for many of us it may not even be a consideration. While women in the developing world still struggle with equality in the workforce and in other areas in life, for the rest of us in the developed nations who experience struggle to a much lesser degree there should be less time and money spent on the pursuit of beauty and more on general health — especially mental health.

When I edit portraits, I never alter bodies. I only ever touch up faces and even then my rule is I don’t remove anything that’s a permanent part of the face; I usually just end up applying digital makeup: clearing up skin, brightening eyes, reducing reflections on glasses, that sort of thing. Once in a while I’ll get a specific request for Photoshopping from a client, but thankfully this has been rare. Perhaps it’s easier because I’m on the other side of the lens, but I do study people’s attitudes and reactions to photos and have an idea of what angles are more flattering to people. I also consider my own experience with self-portraits and I try to do the work in-camera than in post-production.

One thing I do know, though, is that I have a more global idea of beauty than a Western-centric or Eurocentric idea of beauty. I see beauty in skin of all shades, in eyes of hues both light and dark, in hair of all types, and I value the diversity of people. I hope this shows in my work as much as it exists in my mind.

Back to editing….

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