Last week, after readers complained about a T cover featuring Julia Nobis–whom they felt was disturbingly skinny and young-looking–T EIC Deborah Needleman issued a response to New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. In it, Needleman mentioned that she had “considered adding some fat to her with Photoshop, but decided that as it is her body, I’d let it be.”
This raised new questions about the New York Times‘ treatment of photography–didn’t the paper of record hold itself to a higher standard than to just Photoshop some fat into (or out of) a model with little more than a second thought?
Turns out it does–but fashion photography is a different story.
In a more in-depth article about the paper’s treatment of photographs published yesterday, Sullivan confirms that in news photography, “manipulation of images is strictly forbidden.”
Fashion photography, however, is considered an exception. “Fashion is fantasy,” assistant managing editor for photography Michelle McNally told Sullivan. “Readers understand this. It’s totally manipulated, with everything done for aesthetics.”
Needleman confirmed that images are retouched in T, but only in the case of “fashion/glamour photography.”
But it seems like T is the sole exception here. The Styles’ Section’s Stuart Emmrich and The Times Magazine‘s director of photographer Kathy Ryan both don’t allow for photo manipulation, even in fashion shoots.
McNally’s point that “readers understand this” is particularly interesting–do readers understand it? Part of Needleman’s explanation for the negative response to T‘s Nobis cover was that the Times readership is “not necessarily a fashion audience.” So even if the fashion-obsessed (like us) are painfully aware that most, if not all, of the images we see in fashion magazines are Photoshopped and retouched to extremes, the T reader might not assume as much.
So, what’s the solution if T‘s fashion photography is to continue to project a luxurious fantasy (which it will)? Sullivan suggests “a brief statement in each issue of T stating its photo practices.” Couldn’t hurt. The fashion industry could always use a little more transparency if you ask us.