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Nick Knight on Photoshopping in Magazines: ‘If You Want Reality, Look Out of the Window’

Kate Moss, Nick Knight, Vogue May 2008

Kate Moss for Nick Knight on the cover of Vogue Spain May 2008 / Image:

Photoshopped fashion images have generated a lot of outrage in recent months: there was the Instagram/MirandaKerr scandal, the Lena Dunham for Vogue controversy, the Beyonce thigh gap outrage, the Lady Gaga x Versace shocker. On blogs and across social media, the practice of airbrushing celebrity photos is one of the least polarizing aspects of the current fashion status quo; many of us agree that the abusive Photoshopping that goes on is not okay.

But in the industry, some people may feel a little differently. Speaking with The Independent's Alexander Fury for a feature on fashion's increasing willingness to embrace diversity, photographer Nick Knight explained why, in his view, Photoshop's critics have it wrong: “You have [titles] like The New York Times saying you can’t use retouching, as if that’s something intelligent to say about image making, but it absolutely shows a total lack of understanding of how an image is created… I can change how someone looks enormously by the lens I use, how close I put it to their body and what lighting I use… That’s my craft, and retouching is part of that craft. I don’t see why taking a pimple off somebody’s nose, or changing their eye colour, or elongating their body, is wrong.”

Fury writes: "When Knight photographed the famously voluptuous model Sophie Dahl in the Nineties, he used Photoshop to exaggerate her curvaceous silhouette. 'If you want reality,' Knight has said, 'look out of the window.'”

Okay, but that's missing the point: Opponents of the technique criticize the widespread use of airbrushing in the mainstream media, which produces commercial images that conform to a physically impossible standard of perfection. It's not about taking a tiny pimple off someone's nose (which, as Knight points out, is a technique that can be achieved by lighting) or using Photoshop to layer surreal elements into a picture. Knight is one of the most original and inventive photographers of the past half century, known for his unsettling and otherworldly images; he uses Photoshop to make models look like bizarre and beautiful aliens, not Barbie dolls. That's not what people are talking about when they criticize the use of retouching in fashion images.