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'Not Just Making Girls Skinny, We Often Make Them Bigger!' - In Conversation With a High End Celebrity Retoucher

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"I wish retouching wasn't getting such a bad rap by people thinking we are making girls skinny" says high end retoucher Carrie Beene, "that is the very least of what we do, in fact we often make them bigger!"

As the controversy surrounding digital manipulation of celebrities and the negative impact of these unrealistic images on young girls remain high on the news agenda, I speak with world class photoshopper Carrie Beene.

At the very top of her profession, New Yorker Carrie has 'worked on' the faces and bodies of Queen Latifa, Liza Minnelli, Alicia Keys and Katherine Zeta Jones among many others. I catch her on the way to Guatemala, to do workshop for a team at a production company, 'one of the perks of having written a book on retouching and being known as a teacher of said expertise is being invited abroad to teach!'.

We talk about what she calls 'the artistry of retouching', why image manipulation regulation means censorship, manipulation ethics and her Photoshop effect wish list.

I start by asking if she finds current level of magazine cover photoshopping to be un tasteful.

Q Where at the very start of beauty retouching practitioners attempted to keep manipulation secret or at least subtle, it now seems an accepted part of publishing any image. Looking at magazine covers, do you find that the level of manipulation applied is over the top at times?
Have our eyes got so used to it that super white teeth and freakishly smooth skin seem like the norm?

A It's always been that way, it was never all that subtle, I think people just didn't notice! Now people notice because it's been brought to their attention. And even now I think people are just used to it. The general public knows very little about 'retouching'. Good retouching is undetectable.

Q Do you personally feel there should be any regulation when it comes to image manipulation within the media? some for example say that news images should never be touched or that should be a message letting viewers/readers know that a particular image was subject to beautifying.

A I agree that news related images should definitely not be Photoshopped for the obvious reasons. But images used for advertising, magazine editorials and all artistic imagery must remain free from regulation. How dare anybody tell us what we can and can't do to an image!! That's censure. This is our artwork and we are in the business of making beautiful images and that has much less to do with making the girls skinny than it does with composing pieces of an image together (as planned prior to shooting)  and manipulating the colour to give a certain feel. It's usually all planned out pre-shoot. And by the way I often make the girls look a little fatter rather than skinnier. 

Q We spoke when your book Real Retouching: A Professional Step By Step Guide, first came out and I wonder what the response from practitioners and would be retouchers is.

A The book was written for a relatively small audience and it seemed to do well in that group, it got very good reviews on Amazon. The only complaints came from people who did not already know Photoshop and I tried to make it clear that this book was for learning 'retouching' not Photoshop. I expected the readers to have a pretty good working knowledge of the software already. I still get emails from people who are discovering the book and learning from it.

Q Have readers used the DIY section where they could put to practice your advice and
display it on your site? I wondered if would be retouchers were brave enough to do so. 

A Actually that didn't pan out so well. I was surprised as retouchers are not usually shy about showing their work, but I wondered if we had made that possibility clear enough on the book. I wasn't sure if people knew they could do it.

Q How has your career started? where did the interest in high end retouching come from?

A I graduated with a degree in painting and spent several years pursuing a traditional art career and had some success, too. But after a rather long stint overseas I returned to the U.S. and everybody was using a computer and I was late joining in. Strangely enough I had actually been doing some multimedia using snapshots of people on a photocopier, but never considered doing 'art' on a computer, then someone introduced me to Photoshop and I felt like I had found the one! It just fit and now Photoshop is my musical instrument; my piano.

WhenI recognised that it was a career I could pursue I focused on making that happen by making it my job to get up everyday and spent eight hours a day learning Ps. I snagged the first low level retouching job I came upon and worked there for two years while I continued to hone my high end skills at night and by attending PhotoshopWorld every time I could afford to. Finally I managed to get a high end NY studio to give me a test and that got me into my first 'real' studio. So...about three years to get in the door in a high end position.

Q What type of work you execute - magazines/beauty/advertising?

A I do mostly beauty, hair and cosmetic work. Hair is the most difficult retouching job. My work is published in magazines, used for promotions in store and as durantrans ads. These days, some work is used for social media promotions as well.

Q Why is a graphics tablet a must for anyone serious about becoming a retoucher?

A So important. Retouching has everything to do with being specific with your brush strokes and much of it is just plain straight up drawing. You wouldn't try to draw a portrait with a mouse. And tablets have pressure options that are not available with a mouse. And I'm a stickler for using the right brush for the job at hand, otherwise you're just fighting yourself. Retouchers just roll their eyes when they are asked this question.

Q What must you do if you wish to become a high end retoucher? Can you perhaps
expand here about your course? This is very important as I believe many considering retraining (due to harsh economic climate would find this useful).

A Now this is an annoying question. It takes years. So unless you really really dream of being a "high end retoucher" then I would say choose another direction. People seem to think they can take a weekend workshop and next week they are a retoucher. Not quite so simple.

But if you really want it; learn Photoshop like the back of your hand, take classes if you can find them, go to PhotoshopWorlds and take the appropriate classes there, study colour, anatomy, and search for tutorials on the internet and finally try to get your foot in the door anywhere that will hire you as a retoucher so you will be doing it everyday. Then work your way up the ladder until you have the skills to nab a job in high end studio.

- Have you given Gimp a go by any chance? it seems to be building quite a following with some US colleges adopting it.

No as Ps does everything I need it to.

Q What Photoshop tool/effect can you not live without?

A That's kinda of a tough question. They all work in tandem so I need them all. I guess I'd have to say the Liquify Filter helps me in my compositing and saves me more time than anything else. Or maybe Blending Modes, which I rely on daily to do dozens of tricky little time saving color effects.

Q If you could wish for a new Photoshop tool/effect or to expand an existing one, what would you wish for?

A That's probably a question that could get a bit technical and bore your audience, but ok...I'll tone it back; maybe I'd like to have the shadow/highlight adjustment as an adjustment layer? Adobe made a major upgrade to Liquify in CS6 and that shut up me up for a while. There are always tweaks that can be made to the tools...how about being able to set points on the warp tool that can be moved with the arrow keys. And I also wish I could reapply a puppet warp to multiple layers (supposedly you can do this by making an action, but I haven't been able to make that work). I could keep going.