Rachel Sklar of the Huffington Post has launched an attack on those who criticized Newsweek last week for its decision to run a cover photo of Sarah Palin in extreme closeup without the benefit of retouching. “Let’s just state for the record that we’re in crazyland at the outset.,” Sklar writes.
Let me explain what “retouching” is, for those who have yet to learn how to do it yourself with digital photo programs. News photographs are taken by high-speed cameras; those photographers capture dozens and dozens of images for every single one used. The cameras, which magnify, capture distracting and unflattering aspects of everyone — a weird grimace, an eye half-rolled up. In the case of photographs of women, they capture facial inconsistencies even through make-up — a stray hair growing in an unflattering place, a pitted cheek.
The retouching of photos is almost precisely analogous to the experience everyone has when he goes on television — makeup, often very heavy makeup, is used to offset the unflattering aspects of TV studio lighting. A man’s bald pate is patted down with powder to make sure it doesn’t shine. Everyone has his hair brushed and even teased. Women often get the full blow-dryer treatment and a form of spray-on makeup that is called (just like photo retouching) “air-brushing.”
The Palin image on the cover of Newsweek captures skin mottles and hairs she had not yet plucked from her lip. The editorial purpose of not doing the standard work of retouching is to show “the real Sarah Palin” — and since Newsweek’s editorial package is extremely unflattering, so is the photograph. It is, therefore, an intentional effort to uglify her. And pointing that out is not “crazyland,” as Ms. Sklar thinks it is.
But if she is so sure, then I have this challenge for her. Rachel Sklar does a lot of television. I think she should go on television without any makeup on. For several weeks, she should appear without makeup or hairstyling help, until the number of people who see her equals the number who will see Sarah Palin on the cover of Newsweek in every airport and newsstand in the country. Oh, and run an unretouched photo of herself, in extreme closeup and in ful size, with her column. And then come back and tell us how it was for her.