Amanda Marsalis Goes Unfiltered for People magazine
It’s impossible to escape retouching. At every turn we’re inundated with photographs that are manipulated to expunge imperfections. And it makes sense. Advertising was created to sell products, and the way we’ve learned how to sell products to each other is through aspiration and perfection. But sometimes it gets a little out of hand. This year, for the second year in a row, People Magazine published a story featuring famous faces from entertainment that weren’t retouched at all. The magazine invited Amanda Marsalis to photograph Rachel Bloom, Miranda Cosgrove, Michaela Conlin, Hilaria Baldwin, Gabrielle Reece, Robin Roberts, and Tracee Ellis Ross. “Whenever you’re a photographer you are asking somebody to trust you and there is a real back and forth but this one really felt special,” says Amanda. “It meant a lot to me that all the women I photographed trusted me. A lot of them mentioned that they post photographs of themselves on Instagram all the time that aren’t retouched but this feels like they’re more exposed.”
The rules were simple: the final photographs couldn’t be retouched to lengthen or narrow body parts. Ripples and wrinkles wouldn’t be smoothed. Instead, the women that Amanda photographed would be presented as they are in their natural glory, totally unfiltered. But this is more than an experiment, it sends an important message. “It’s really good for women to see how other women are not perfect,” explains Amanda. “We’ve just gotten really far gone in how much everyone’s been retouched. Not that I don’t use retouching; I love retouching. But it’s also about a natural balance and I also think the women that I photographed were all really awesome for saying yes to that shoot and also for trusting me. That was a really super big deal.” Retouching is a tool to be used, and one that Amanda does use. But it shouldn’t be a cudgel to reshape images into impossibility, creating standards of beauty that are beyond human accessibility.
For Amanda, this was an awesome project, but it wasn’t so different from what she does every day. Her historical career experience goes back to a time before digital manipulation so she relied on the skills she’s comfortable with. “I always just want to shoot people looking their best,” says Amanda. “I pay attention to detail when I’m shooting, always. I started my photography career in the days of film. So I’ve spent many years where the kind of level of retouching that we do now wasn’t an option for me anyway. That’s how I learned to be a photographer. So in a way it was perfect. Just like the old days.”