Airbrush Outrage (again)

If you are going to make a point and convince people of the validity of it, then you need to be

  1. Correct
  2. Succinct
  3. Provide irrefutable evidence to backup your point

I learnt this when I was 17 and studying geography and admit that I need to remember #2 more frequently when I blog, but then I am not a professional writer with an editor to whip my words into shape. Unlike, say the Daily Mail. Which attempts to make the point that Jessica was airbrushed to look thinner on a calendar for Campari. And the evidence they provide is this photograph:

Jessica Alba before and after photo manipulation

Jessica Alba before and after photo manipulation

We can all agree that the image on the right is different from the one on the left is different, ergo it has been manipulated. Check for requirement #1. Also, presentation of the offending images is certainly the most effective way of explaining the problem. Check for requirement #2.

The problem with the Daily Mail’s outrage is that they have not presented evidence to justify their position. A brief look at the image on the right shows that it in no way resembles the  photo on the left, even a child can see the background is completely different. Furthermore, closer examination of Jessica Alba shows that this is almost certainly not the same before image used to create the after (her hair is different, her knees are in different positions, her head is held at a  different angle etc) So to agree with the Daily Mail we need to accept that the pool background can be changed and no-one should care, but because there is a person in the front it must be a truthful representation and we have to accept their (possibly flawed) evidence as proof.

Sorry, but the image on the right is art. Just as van Gogh, Picasso, Francis Bacon or Turner created images that were based on what they saw, so have Campari.In the case of the Jessica Alba she has provided the muse, the inspiration and the source material to create something that will adorn the walls of thousands of people. And Campari have even tried to head off the criticism by providing a behind the scenes look at the photo shoot– in fact, it looks as if the Daily Mail have taken one of the behind the scenes shots (i.e. not a photo taken by the photographer) and used that as the photo on the left. Now, if the behind the scenes photos have been retouched, then we have a problem. Otherwise, can’t we just look at Jessica Alba?

I have already commented on the practice of photo manipulation and wondered whether an image that is considered ‘photo realistic’ needs to resemble the source material and therefore convey the truth. For the record, I don’t think it does, but that is for a different discussion. My concern here is more that an established media outlet has expressed outrage, without presenting evidence for it. And, here comes the kicker in this connected age, other sites such as the Huffington Post and now Batblog itself are further perpetrating the distribution of the error. Hey, this is the way invasions can be justified…


  1. Uh, batty… if you look at picture 17 on the Campari slideshow, it *is* the same as the Daily Mail-supplied picture on the left. It certainly is the same photoshoot, the same pose, everything.

    If you compare the Daily Mail photo to the Campari photo, there isn’t a lot of proof of airbrushing – for that shot. Still, given that Campari shows both photos in the same set, I think it is very reasonable to assume that at least the outfit and the model are the same between the shots on the left and right, and as such, the removal of the wrinkles in the shorts and the shrinking of the waist are pretty tough to deny.


    1. P,

      Yeah, but the photo #17 also shows the photographer in it; ergo photo #17 is not showing the same image as the photographer was seeing through the lens that was used to create the final image. This was my point; if you wish to express outrage at photomanipulation, at least provide the correct before and after shots.

      And IMHO, there are other images in the Campari calendar that show far more body changes than this one-Slimming at the waist in #4, lengthening and slimming in #6, outrageous slimming in #8 (no-one who has a 1 year old baby and curves like Jessica has a waist that slim!), slimming again in #9 & #10 etc.

      I guess I was just taking a swing at bad journalism, not photo airbrushing per se.


  2. BTW – I agree with you that this the airbrushed final photo is art more than realism. The sum total of the retouched photograph is beautiful. So – if you are arguing that there isn’t enough proof to show airbrushing, I’d have to heartily disagree. In this case, however, this isn’t a magazine cover advertising the model’s name, this is an image created to evoke an emotion. As such, it is a fantasy to begin with, and I think they did a lovely job.


  3. It isn’t the same shot, but I’d still say the evidence is pretty strong.

    You can’t see it in the crop of the shots you show – but the red shutters are the clincher. Same model, same hairdo, same outfit, same red shutters – different waist, different hips.

    I don’t think it’s much of a stretch from a journalistic perspective. Call me crazy.

    Besides. Frankly, I’ve worn belts like that they don’t curve inwards at the middle. Ever. Only an airbrush will grant that little fiction. Still, it’s a very nice fiction.


  4. Hello,

    I am a graphic artist and speaking from this perspective I can safely say that it is more than possible to completely alter backgrounds, change the shape of an individual’s hair, as well as the dimensions, angles and even the positions of one’s limbs using the correct digital tools. In fact, many professional retouching agencies have portfolios clearly demonstrating this.
    However, since none of us know for sure if that the image on the left was in need the original image that was altered to become the work on the right, we can neither agree nor disagree with what Daily Mail is claiming. I just wanted to make the point that it is very possible to do the things the Daily Mail is talking about, so one cannot claim this is all a lie as much as one cannot claim this is the truth.


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