GW: Hello Meghan, I’m gonna get straight to the point. Are we being lied to? I mean, do you lie awake at night worrying about all the young girls that will be trying to be as fantastically beautiful as your photos?
MF: Yes, we are all being lied to! Basically every image you see printed anywhere, in any magazine has been through some stage of touch up. Not just the people, either. Food, Architecture, Outdoor Scenery, Animals… you name it. The question of how retouching effects young girls lives is something that I do think about often.
At times I have been personally blamed for all the image problems women face in today’s society. I can’t help but believe that isn’t the case. I try to look at it this way – when I go to the store and I want to purchase a make up or hair product.. I would be far less likely to purchase something advertised from an un-retouched image where the model looks like she has a hang over and a bad out-break of acne. That is just life – as consumers, we flock to purchase goods that we think will enhance our life. It may be all one big lie, but hey, it keeps the economy going. Also- I try whenever possible to educate people about retouching. The more they know the less likely they are going to feel inadequate with their own image. It isn’t just the girls either – men and boys need to realize what is going on too- that way they don’t have such unrealistic expectations of women. And don’t be fooled, men get retouched too!
MF: The main job of a retoucher is to make an image look better than it did at the moment it was taken. Sometimes it means as little as changing the lighting and color correction, and sometimes it can be as extreme as changing out body parts or wardrobes. Basically, what ever the photographer or art director who you are working with wants.
GW: Where are the lines between reality and art? How blurry does the distinction actually get?
MF: This is an interesting question. I think because I studied fine art photography, there was never really too much of a gap between the two for me. I viewed art as just a means to express reality through ones personal experiences. It is a way to force a viewer to see the world the way you- the artist sees it, if only for a moment. With photography, and photo-retouching, we tend to feel that it s a pure translation of reality, but that just isn’t the case. Even un-retouched photographs that were shot in a studio, with special lighting and equipment create an image that isn’t entirely real either.
GW: So, lets try a little thought experiment. You just finish art school. You’re sitting in the café near school and thinking about your future and the 100,000 dollars you just spent on your BFA. What were you thinking and what did you do next?
MF: After graduation I felt I immediately needed to start working in my field. However, at the time I was still devoted to fine art photography and refused to "sell out" as an artist. I didn’t want to intern with a commercial photographer, even though the opportunity did arise. I decided I would practice and learn photo-retouching as a means to earn a living, and work on my fine art career on the side. I started retouching at the bottom- doing clean up work on sports images. Clean up work is basically removing dust and scratches on scanned images. I was shelling out 250 images a day. This got my foot in the door and let me get very familiar with Photoshop. Now many years have passed and I have learned how to turn retouching into an art form in itself.
GW: I have always wanted to ask you this. Now that you have touched up thousands of models, hundreds of celebrities, seen them all in different states of, shall we say, grace… Now that you have seen all of that, how do you define beauty?
MF: Beauty – that is a difficult word to define. I think society has forced certain ideals down out throats and tried to pawn them off as beauty. And, most of us buy into those ideals. Models and celebrities represent a certain form of beauty. And as a retoucher, I do know what they look like before retouching, and it isn’t always what one comes to expect from them. That is where I step in to make them look the way consumers want and expect them to. But personally- for me, beauty isn’t something that is defined by the media. It can’t be standardized into measurements or features. It is a calmness, and a sense of emotion. A longing for… and a sometimes getting.
GW: When I watched your DVD the thing I came away with most was how much like painting your touch up work is. To say it another way, its like you are taking all the variables of real-life and simplifying them in almost the same way a painter does when she paints something. Can you respond to that?
MF: Yes indeed- I am also a painter and when I began to learn retouching, I instinctively used my knowledge of painting and combined it with my understanding of photography. That is why I love retouching so much. I get the best of both worlds. When I was learning how to paint in school I leaned how to create an image based on how light was falling on it – retouching is the exact same way. You need to understand how light hits an object and then you can reshape it to whatever you would like it to be.
GW: One very cool, but simple thing I learned from watching your DVD was how the ALT button toggles between Dodge and Burn. What is one of the bigger tips that you have found has helped you work with Photoshop faster? One that a lot of people just seem to miss.
MF: Well that is a good one – also I think setting the buttons on your wacom pen is one that people often miss. I have my pen’s lower button set to the "alt/option" key and my upper button set to "right click". That makes a world of difference. I don’t have to constantly be hitting option all the time – its just a very simple click on my pen. Another thing that people who are just learning the depth of photoshop don’t always seem to realize is that you don’t have to sample only from the layer you are on. You can sample from any layer and then draw onto another.
GW: Thank you for talking with us today
MF: You are welcome