Photo retouching is a controversial subject in fashion magazines, with over-eager use of the airbrush often criticised for helping to create an unrealistic image of beauty.
Pylot magazine is a new title seeking to combat that problem by promising to only print analogue photography, and to never retouch for beauty. In his introductory letter, editor Max Barnett warns readers not to mistake the resulting images for an attempt at authenticity – they’re just a different type of fashion fantasy. So I began by asking why he was inspired to create this alternative fashion vision.
I’m interested in the fact that you’re aiming for a different type of artifice with Pylot. What made you want to do that?
We wanted to take a different approach to the other fashion magazines. People have come to think that it’s completely normal to edit images in post-production, but that has led to an excess of beauty retouching. We’ve made a magazine without any of that and it still looks slick – lots of people who have seen it said they didn’t even think about whether there had been retouching work.
That was absolutely the case for me.
We were never trying to show models looking bad, or say, “Look, here’s someone with spots!” It wasn’t about that raw edge – it was more about presenting a refined magazine without resorting to the retouching we normally see.
In some of the stories you take an old process and give it a modern twist, but in others I honestly wouldn’t be able to say whether the images are analogue or digital.
For some of the shoots, for instance the wet plate shoot, we were very specific about making sure that people know it’s wet plate, and so we’d leave the edges of the images in. But then some of the other shoots could probably pass as digital.
That was really important. People who don’t have a huge knowledge of analogue photography tend to associate it with a specific style of indie photography, especially the newer wave of analogue photographers who are using expired film, or having red light leak on the images. But I wanted to prove that we could present a publication that looks different to that.
You mention in the editor’s letter the skills involved in the creation of the fashion fantasy. What effects do you get as a result of that?
A lot of fashion work produced today relies solely on the editing process. The phrase I hear more than any other is, “Oh we’ll fix it in post”. That’s the one thing we really want to get away from.
I really want to respect the teams that are good enough to make these images as finished as possible before anything else is done. We can make these images happen in-camera, and not in-computer. And that means focusing on the skill. The first issue is the craft issue because we want to promote and examine this process, in which you work more freely with your hands rather than thinking about what you’re going to do afterwards.
That desire to get everything in the camera chimes with the idea of taking your time to do things properly, which is a theme I see a lot in independent publishing. It seems this is something that has grown up in a digital generation, when we’re used to being able to constantly change and iterate.
Exactly – the idea that you can shoot 10,000 pictures before you get the one. Analogue photography really forces photographers to take their time, process their thoughts and compose the image, and then take the picture. I think that’s a lot more meaningful than just snap snap snap snap, and work with something you get out of that.
Come and see Max speaking about Pylot at our Printout Photography Special, on 23 September
Photography of Pylot by Daniel Clatworthy