Kit Steinkellner
October 20, 2014 1:50 pm

We think of retouching as being a very modern problem. But, as it rather shockingly turns out, photos were being retouched LONG before the program Photoshop even existed.

Here’s what we learned today from the website Petapixel, which gathered its information from Mark A. Vieira’s two books, Hurrell’s Hollywood Portraits and George Hurrell’s Hollywood: In 1931, super-duper movie star Joan Crawford had her picture taken by photographer George Hurrell to use as a publicity shot for her upcoming film “Laughing Sinners.” Below, the original shot that Hurrell took. 

Then, Hurrell sent the photo off to professional retoucher James Sharp who, get this, spends SIX HOURS retouching the photograph. Because back before Photoshop, if you wanted to get your retouch-game on, you had to use a machine that backlit and vibrated the negative of the photograph while the retoucher went in with a pencil and physically removed lines, wrinkles, blemishes, all that jazz from the face he was retouching. SIX HOURS OF THIS. There’s nothing going on with any movie star’s face that needs SIX HOURS of fixing in post. I thought I just couldn’t with modern Photoshopping but I REALLY just can’t with old-timey photo retouching.

In any event, six hours of retouching later, Crawford’s photo looked like this:

Do you need to see the photos side by side? Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, here you go:

So the media has been manufacturing impossible standards of beauty and sending the message that women are inadequate without photo-retouching for over eighty years. So if you wonder why you get so stressed out over the way you look, remember, the popular imagery didn’t just get into your head, it also got to your mom, and your grandma and your great-grandmother. We’re coming up on a hundred years of these shenanigans happening. Maybe we can right this ship for our daughters (and granddaughters and great-granddaughters), because we really don’t want future generations to mistake doctored photographs for real life.

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