Cover Art



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Last Thursday, my roommate tried and failed to upload a picture of the two of us to Instagram. I say “tried” because she did and “failed” because I immediately demanded she remove it.

“Take that down!” I yelled when the unflattering image in question appeared on my iPhone’s illuminated screen. “I look ridiculous.” Oh, and also: sweaty, messy, and slightly cross-eyed.

Being the good friend that she is and also because I know where she sleeps, she eventually complied. But no sooner had my socially mediated anxiety abated than the very same photograph cropped up on my Facebook page. Well, at least, it seemed the same. Sort of. In truth, the aforementioned image was basically unrecognizable. What had once been mortifying evidence of the previous evening’s festivities was now rather nicely saturated and rendered in suddenly high-contrast hues. The combination of effects was almost . . . attractive.

“What did you do to it?” I marveled.

“X-Pro II,” she replied, smugly stipulating her Instagram filter of choice. “Plus, I blurred it. A lot.”

She was clearly satisfied with her amateur Adobe efforts, and even I had to admit that the photo looked good. Perhaps this otherwise unremarkable anecdote accounts for my interest in the very public outcry currently engulfing Kate Winslet and her recently revealed Vogue cover.

Earlier this week, Vogue unveiled a windswept Winslet preening atop its November issue. Heralding “Amazing Kate,” the magazine’s cover lines also touted “her new movies, new love, and new life.” One thing they didn’t mention? Her apparently new face. As interpreted by Vogue, the award-winning actress bears little resemblance to her respectably 38-year-old self. Never mind an errant wrinkle or telling trio of crow’s feet, this version of Winslet seems to lack her usual rosy-cheeked glow.

The question is neither whether the digital doctors at Vogue have given Winslet a figurative face-lift nor whether she’s any more striking for their handiwork. The fact is they have and she isn’t. Still, I wonder just how much their obvious intervention matters.

After all, isn’t a degree of “unreality” exactly what we crave from Vogue and its highly stylized peers? Season after season, approximately 90% of my would-be mood board is ripped straight from Vogue’s decidedly aspirational pages. Ironically, it’s Kate’s spread in this very issue that has most recently captured my attention. The shoot is as thrilling for its dramatic staging as it is for its refreshingly respectful depiction of the actress’s pregnancy. She looks as beautiful as I’ve ever seen her.

For me, fashion and fantasy have always been gloriously intertwined. The transformative capacity of clothing is what makes Karl Lagerfeld’s runways so arresting and Alexander McQueen’s latest ad campaign unforgettable. It’s why so many of us once played dress up and some of us still do. The right outfit or undergarments or even shade of lipstick can be metamorphic. Sure, Stella McCartney and Céline have made minimalism more appealing than I ever thought possible, but it’s precisely the delicious fiction of fashion that I’ve always found most captivating.

It’s easy to denounce newsstand magazines for their relying on retouching, but aren’t we guilty of the same practice? Aren’t filters and Photoshop just two sides of the same digitally modified coin? At the very least, don’t our literally overexposed Instagram feeds suggest as much? You heard it here first: mine does.

The year is 2013 and Photoshop is officially as prevalent as foundation. But how should art departments use what’s essentially their version of cover up? I think we can all agree that an accidental amputation (a la Doutzen Kroes) doesn’t do anyone any favors, but what about more ostensibly “aesthetic” airbrushing? What about Winslet?

Let’s talk about it.

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  • Brittany Irvine

    I think the biggest deal about this is that although magazines aim to solely enhance color and aesthetics, they push the envelope way too far. With instagram filters (at least basic ones that are provided by the application itself) users are limited and can only enhance the essential “experience” of the photo.

    • Brittany Irvine

      As far as magazines, it’s about body image and stealing innocence from a person and their body (imperfections, etc…).

  • NinjaCate

    Instagram filters are not even playing the same game as professional retouching. IG is limited in scope. There is only so much you can do and the degree of unreality DOES matter. To me it’s like comparing flattering makeup to surgical enhancements. It’s not the same thing and equating the two is disingenuous.

    Yes, we want to look like our best selves, and on an individual level, that’s fine. But when “your best self” is being used for the express purpose of influencing the way that other people view themselves to that they’ll buy something, there are larger social implications at play. My 2¢.

    • brunetteletters

      You’re right! You can’t compare an Instagram filter with a retouched nose from Photoshop.
      I just saw the cover and she looks SO different!! I hate how they make ‘age’ a bad thing and unflattering and magazines make people feel like they should get ‘retouched.’

  • Stacey Freeman

    I completely agree with you that using instagram filters is no different than magazines using photoshop. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure a lot of fashion bloggers use photoshop. My husband (who is my graphic designer) was just mentioning how this one blog I follow (not you) obviously uses a lot of photoshop because her images always look really blurred out with this halo of light. I think the issue as a consumer is that its often difficult to remind myself that the images I see aren’t reality. But its certainly hard not compare myself to those versions of beauty that don’t really exist.

  • Lindsay Crouch

    Really interesting topic! I think, as Brittany said, the difference here is that instagram users have different tools in their arsenal. When I filter a photo on Instagram I am not capable of making my arms look thinner or making smile lines disappear. This article does make me think twice about how much I manipulate photos though–there is something to be said about putting something up without a filter or drastic alterations.

  • Hannah Keegan

    I completely agree that fashion and fantasy are gloriously intertwined and it’s the ability it has to transform us into another world and lifestyle that we crave. Wether its looking at the heavily photoshopped beauties in Vogue or watching the dark and dramatic models at Louis Vuitton SS14 strut with their mohawks. Without this element of dress up we would be totally dissatisfied, I don’t that it’s realism that we truly want. And Instagram is us having our own little go at playing with this idea, recreating the illusions fashion and photoshop present for ourselves!

  • Coffee + Champagne

    Feminism aside. Photoshop (well people who know how to properly use Photoshop) make these women the “fantasy” that you are talking about. I get it. When I want to see real people I watch the news or read Time Magazine. Vogue (and it’s kind) is meant for the hyper unattainable beauty that we all want to look at. I like the new covers and am not at all angered by them. They are great, make a great point. But I’m betting they are still Photoshopped just not in the same way. End of the day, the only reasons people look at those glorious magazines is (1) to see pretty people in awesome clothes (or often lack there of), and (2) look at those pretty people while sitting and eating a oversize vat of Rocky Road bitching about how they wish they had “her” body.

  • Aubrey Green

    I personally don’t care for the cover picture in general, the photos inside are great though- she’s beautiful. I agree with Instagram not being quite as bad as professionals retouching images. On another note, I like that so many women are having children after 35 (not that having them young is a bad thing, it’s not in anyway).

  • JSchiff

    I think the facial airbrushing fuss is a bit melodramatic but I don’t agree with all of the body retouching [which we don’t do on Instagram–at least not that I’m aware of?] because it just feeds into society’s fucked-up ideals. I don’t blame the media for eating disorders, they’re deeper than that, but they definitely don’t help.

  • liv

    With the Facetune App we can all look just like Kate in our Instagram feeds 🙂

  • marie a

    I just don’t think that we should pretend that we are photoshopping people for the fantasy of it in the same way that fashion is a fantasy.
    Fashion is fantastical because of diversity and change. We like to see imaginative and different pieces and styles, that are practial or impractical, artistic, beautiful and in many different ways, aesthetically pleasing. Even in our everyday wear, we pick different outfits that reflect how we want to look that day compared to another. When we are photoshopping people, it is about ONE fantasy- what society believes is the ideal woman (usually young, thin, feminine, small nose, luscious lips, big eyes, medium boobs, small waist, etc, etc.) At least in fashion, the fantasy is (relatively) accessible- everyone can play dress up, do their hair and makeup, and find cheap alternatives for what they see in magazines. However, these images of women’s bodies are often times absolutely unattainable.
    Fashion should be fantastical whereas photoshopping bodies should not- or at least we should get more creative with it if we are going to put it under the guise of fantasy!

    • marie a

      And for the record, I have seen Kate Winslet look much more beautiful than in that overdone cover photo- its like we don’t know where to stop anymore.

      • Mattie Kahn

        Oh, I completely agree that the cover doesn’t do Kate justice! The jaw-dropping photos to which I was referring are the Mario-Testino-lensed ones that appear inside the mag. They are, I think, utterly hypnotizing.

        But to your larger point: I hear what you’re saying, and so I guess I wonder whether Photoshop can ever be deployed in a way that amplifies creativity (the way, as you say, fashion and beauty do). Is it doomed to be a collection of ultimately homogenizing effects or can it be used in an artistic way?

        • marie a

          You’re right, they are jaw-dropping. Do you think though that they would have less of an effect on you if a few of her wrinkles were showing? Is that a crucial part of the fantasy? I don’t really think so, for me anyway, because I still think she would be beautiful.

          That’s such a tough question, because I’m sure if I was being photographed I’d love to take advantage of the ability to erase a pimple or two and shave an inch off my thigh- and is it so horrible, considering it is not unimaginable that that pimple will clear up and I could lose 5 pounds? In this way, aren’t we just striving to look our best, like we all try to do sometimes? But where do we draw the line between what’s real and what’s not? I can’t help but feel that it is important for us to stay in touch with reality in our portrayal of women in the media- but maybe this is only because I cannot conceptualize a way Photoshop could be used to amplify creativity rather than perpetuate narrow and unrealistic physical standards.

  • Will Code For Clothes

    Fashion and fantasy DO go together. It’s not really that fun to flip through pages of old, real women, right??

  • Sasha Jane Shanks

    So true. Unfortunately for some, the problem arises when people can’t distinguish between the glamour and the fantasy and take it too far. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle where I feel my dwindling bank account can afford those Proenza sandals…..

    • Mattie Kahn

      Yes. “Finances: Where Even the Fantasy of Fashion Can Only Go So Far.”

  • All the people harping on Photoshop have obviously never had access to it themselves. If it was as readily available and easy to use as Instagram filters, every last one of you would be skinny, tan, young, etc. {at least in photos}.

  • Fashion is really a field I am not confident at all, so this is the most difficult thing I see, I always liked the simplicity, lightness and dark colored outfits. The information I found on this site is incredibly interesting.

  • Armchair Fashionista

    I’ve read for a long time but finally felt compelled to comment: Is it not odd that we/the editors/aesthetics at large love the run down, decrepit, old, ‘experienced, lived in’ building but rush to photo shop and de-age the main subject of the photo?
    PS: I should add that I’m not an English major here so the terms might be off ( subject/object!), but I feel like ya know what I mean?

  • celine

    I actually love the images with impromtu aputees… they remind me of barbies.

  • Hannah

    I 100% disagree. An Instagram filtered photo, although in it’s essence is doing the same thing as Photoshop, is not typically seen by millions and millions of people. If it were me on the cover of Vogue, I would be insulted by someone’s desire to change core parts of my appearance in a drastic way, just for the sake of their “creative license”. Isn’t a Vogue’s cover actress supposed to be profiled? It seems fake to want to change someone while having the pretense of “..we still adore you, we just need to make your butt smaller…” The only feasible reason I can find is not to portray a work of art but as a means to make more money. It is a confusing position. On the one hand, we all are seemingly motivated and inspired by unattainable beauty. Why, if it at it’s core, is fake? Personally, I am getting sick of it. Art has the ability to create emotion, inspiration, thought, all within the observer. When is the line drawn however, when unrealistic perceptions are continually pushed and yield a miserable observer/consumer. (This is beginning to change; i.e minimalism trend.) Frankly, there is also a ridiculous level of triviality and vanity that goes with Photoshop. I love to see a model on the street, in the raw. That is way more attractive to me then looking like a Barbie. Maybe I am more of a personal style enthusiast and not a high fashion consumer, where the former is untouched by lucrative fingers.