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May 9, 2008

Final Fantasy — Pascal Dangin is 'The Photo Whisperer'


Probably the world's most expensive and in-demand photo manipulator, Dangin (above) is profiled in a superb article by Lauren Collins which appears in the current (May 12, 2008) issue of the New Yorker; excerpts follow.

    Pixel Perfect — Pascal Dangin's Virtual Reality

    In the March issue of Vogue Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore.

    Pascal Dangin is the premier retoucher of fashion photographs. Art directors and admen call him when they want someone who looks less than great to look great, someone who looks great to look amazing, or someone who looks amazing already—whether by dint of DNA or M·A·C—to look, as is the mode, superhuman. (Christy Turlington, for the record, needs the least help.)

    To keep track of his clients, he assigns three-letter rubrics, like airport codes.... AFR (Air France), AMX (American Express), BAL (Balenciaga), DSN (Disney), LUV (Louis Vuitton), TFY (Tiffany & Co.), VIC (Victoria’s Secret).

    Vanity Fair, W, Harper’s Bazaar, Allure, French Vogue, Italian Vogue, V, and the Times Magazine, among others, also use Dangin.

    Many photographers, including Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Craig McDean, Mario Sorrenti, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, rarely work with anyone else.

    Around thirty celebrities keep him on retainer, in order to insure that any portrait of them that appears in any outlet passes through his shop, to be scrubbed of crow’s-feet and stray hairs.

    Those who work with Dangin describe him as a sort of photo whisperer, able to coax possibilities, palettes, and shadings out of pictures that even the person who shot them may not have imagined possible.

    As renowned as Dangin is in fashion and photographic circles, his work, with its whiff of black magic, is not often discussed outside of them. (He is not, for instance, credited in magazines.)

    "Because I look at life as retouching. Makeup, clothes are just an accessorization of your being, they are just a transformation of what you want to look like."

    One night in April, Dangin agreed to show me his basement laboratory. He led the way down a flight of stairs, past rows of shelves stacked to the ceiling with books and back issues of every conceivable publication. Enormous data processors, encased in glass cubes, whirred in the distance, as though we’d landed in a NASA laboratory.

    Finally, we reached a cool concrete room with no windows. It was pitch-dark, except for the ambient light of monitors. (For eighty hours a week, these screens are Dangin’s exclusive visual stimuli.) "This is what we call Las Vegas, because it’s always the same weather, it’s always the same time," he said. "It’s always seventy degrees. If it rain, shine, snow, we don’t know."

    But playing with the representational possibilities of photographs, and the bodies contained therein, has always aroused the suspicion of viewers with a perpetual, if naïve, desire for objective renderings of the world around them.

    To avoid such complaints, retouchers tend to practice semi-clandestinely.

    Retouchers, subjected to endless epistemological debates—are they simple conduits for social expectations of beauty, or shapers of such?—often resort to a don’t-shoot-the-messenger defense of their craft, familiar to repo guys and bail bondsmen.

    When I asked Dangin if the steroidal advantage that retouching gives to celebrities was unfair to ordinary people, he admitted that he was complicit in perpetuating unrealistic images of the human body, but said, “I’m just giving the supply to the demand.” (Fashion advertisements are not public-service announcements.)


Augmented reality?

Don't bother, it's here.

May 9, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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