Beauty Retouch before Photoshop: an Example from the 1930ies


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In my opinion, beauty retouch getting out of hand is rightly being criticized. It distorts our perception of beauty and has a very bad influence particularly on the self-esteem of younger people. What I find irritating in this context, however, is this close relation of beauty retouch with Adobe’s image editing program Photoshop. There is talk of “evil Photoshop” – you get the impression that the tool is responsible for the result, not the person who makes use of it, and the impression is conveyed that beauty retouch has only just existed since the era of computers. That this is not true can be seen in the comparison below, depicting an unretouched and a retouched version of actress Joan Crawford’s portrait. The photo was taken as a promo image for the film Laughing Sinners in 1931 by famous Hollywood photographer George Hurrell. Subsequently, it was being edited for 6 hours in the darkroom by retoucher James Sharp.

beforeafter

Viewing the final outcome, Sharp did a good job. He smoothed out the skin of the actress, removed flecks, birthmarks, wrinkles and even lightened up the shadows around the collarbone. And he did all that almost 60 years before the emergence of Photoshop! The following GIF by Reddit user 1SweetChuck exemplifies the differences between original photo and its edited version:
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2 thoughts on “Beauty Retouch before Photoshop: an Example from the 1930ies

  1. I think that photoshop is the one tool used today to… ehem, turn a beautiful person in a wax version of himself/herself. But I already knew that photographers of yore used technics to modify the photograph accord to their vision.

    • I think that photoshop is the one tool used today to… ehem, turn a beautiful person in a wax version of himself/herself.

      Yes, that is the problem. It’s being overused, instead of used to the advantage of the subject matter.

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