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Tag : Covid-19

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Photography in the time of early COVID-19

As 2020 reached its dramatic conclusion, and the world approached the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, websites and publications all shared a similar content strategy: curate the most harrowing images from across the globe that depicted life turned upside down. The visuals captured moments from hospital ERs, overwhelmed funeral homes, lonely and isolated home lives, overworked essential workers, and traditional events rendered anew in the face of public health protocols. National Geographic, in its January 2021 issue, asked, “How did photography capture such a year?” It swiftly replied that our digital culture made photojournalism one of the most significant tools of documentation.

Seen through that lens, it’s easy to think of photographers and photojournalists as the truth-wielding, emotionally wrenching, cultural arbiters of our time. But photographers themselves have been impacted immensely in the past year. While images flooded our screens with daily depictions of distanced lives, professionals behind the cameras were challenged to flex new skill sets, reimagine their income sources, and simply find a way to make it all work without the regular opportunities to fund their lives and careers. Here were the cultural arbiters of our time, tasked with turning water into wine.

“The photo industry is still struggling to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic after being hit hard last year,” Rangefinder Online wrote in a March 2021 article that summarizes a Zenfolio survey of professional photographers. The survey found that 63 percent of photographers saw a 40-percent decline in business in 2020 due to COVID-19, and almost 78 percent saw a decline of at least 20 percent. Not surprisingly, wedding photographers reported the hardest impact, and landscape and fine-art photographers reported the least. 

Still, for an industry that offers as much cultural impact as it does today, a whopping 68 percent of photographers are seeing their business slower than expected in 2021. So, how have photographers been coping?

The Pivot

It’s safe to assume that few professionals are tasked with “thinking outside the box” as often as creative professionals. Seeing and operating differently than the norm is part of the job (or calling, if you prefer). When life itself was upended around the globe, photographers found themselves needing to pivot on a dime to stay afloat financially. 

Refinery29 took a closer look at how 29 photographers were responding to the moment at hand. In Milan, Italy, Lucia Buricelli wrote, “I can’t wait to go back to photographing outside. I am really interested in documenting how life will have changed in the streets after this situation.” She added that the circumstances call for photographers to break out of their comfort zones. “Even if we are confined and limited in our spaces and contact with other people, we can always find a way to produce something cool.”

German photographer Julia Lee Goodwin echoed that sentiment. For the past four years, she is working as a fashion photographer. But when lockdown orders took hold, she pivoted: “Now, with no access to a team, I threw myself into shooting food, trying to translate my eye for fashion photography into still-life shooting. With this project, I created a typology as a study to see the way your eye is drawn to subjects depending on light, coloring, and layering.”

English photographer Ana Cuba found herself with a new approach to visual documentation as well. “I take a walk every day between 6 and 7 p.m. when the sun is really low, and I take my film camera with me,” she responded, adding that the habit has prompted her to pay closer attention to where light falls. “When I get to the park, the sun is gone from this beautiful, huge lavender plant, so I’m going to leave earlier today to try to get a nice photograph of it. Kind of makes me happy to have a tiny purpose like that.”

A new perspective?

How-to blogs and articles sprung up to guide photographers towards new revenue streams. Vallerret, a Norwegian company that designs premium photography gloves for cold-weather shooting, published a blog titled, “How to survive as a photographer through Covid-19 when all your gigs get cancelled.” With tones of encouragement and sympathy, they recommend that photographers consider selling photos online, putting together a photo book, harnessing the power of social media through YouTube and TikTok, creating a virtual course, and selling image presets

Similarly, Toronto-based photographer and digital artist Alana Lee sought to soften the economic blow for photographers through a similar blog post. She wrote, “By using the resources and skills you already have, you can diversify and create new income streams to keep your small business running!” She recommends lending photo editing and retouching skills to businesses with marketing campaigns, and hosting virtual photography sessions. She also advises that photographers move their business online by selling additional images to clients from past sessions, selling photography stock and digital assets to sites like Shutterstock and Getty Images, and rendering their prints as wall art

Are these drops in a bucket that will usher photographers into a new industry level, or is this simply photography in the COVID age? It depends on whom you ask and who’s up for the challenge. Lensrentals found, in an April 2020 survey of more than 1,000 photographers, that 18.6 percent were considering a new line of work altogether in the face of such challenges. 

The New Reality

At present, the world is slowly re-emerging from the isolating stillness of quarantine, and reckoning with the devastating fallout from COVID-19. Vaccine distribution in Europe, North America, Asia, and South America has offered glimmers of normalcy on the horizon — or rather, a new reality. 

The fashion industry has been steadily making its cautious return, and the lingering side effects of the pandemic still pose a number of obstacles. Fashion photography, after all, needed to pivot just as much as other creative professions.

A Vogue Business feature shed light on the different ways brands have been executing their marketing campaigns and promotional efforts. Truest to the traditional fashion shoot, Brooklyn photographer Mary Fix has managed a skeleton crew alongside a stylist, makeup artist, and model, and followed a number of safety protocols. She also introduced a new photography method of photographing models over FaceTime with an iPad or iPhone, which caught the attention of Victoria Beckham Beauty and resulted in a partnership. 

In other situations, brands scaled back their on-set roles and asked models to perform the styling, lighting, and dressing themselves. The Vogue feature includes model Daphne de Baat’s insights on the new norm: “One client took the time to go over everything with me over Zoom, so I was prepared [to wear] a bunch of different hats… I just didn’t anticipate how much work it was going to be.”

Some fashion photographers have found their presence altogether eliminated because shoots are not a viable option for the time being. Drapers wrote in an April 2020 article that fast-fashion brands like Asos, Boohoo, and Zara invested in their trusted influencers, tasking them with snapping photos of their garments at home. The publication remarks: “The results are impressive. Although — naturally — less polished than a professional photoshoot, the content remains aspirational and appealing. Seeing product worn in bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens feels both more intimate and more relevant to consumers stuck at home.”

Marketing photography isn’t entirely lost to the quarantine mandate, though. Public health guidelines from governmental bodies have been filtered through various organizations to get professionals back to work. The Association of Photographers (AOP), headquartered in London, recently outlined protocols that affect every aspect of production, from contracts to casting to managing sets to catering and transport. The protocols are sweeping, detailed, and comprehensive. 

The AOP didn’t graze over the challenging realities of being a photographer in the COVID age, either. Among other guidelines, they offer recommendations from a perspective that seems both familiar and sympathetic. They suggest taking a break from the news cycle for the sake of your anxiety, avoiding social media message boards, and keeping in touch with friends and family to “feel that bit more connected,” among other pearls of wisdom.

Similar to the how-to-pivot-your-business blogs, they issue guidance on remote working, cancellations, and managing existing and current work. They implore, “We suggest that now more than ever, you do all that you can to keep hold of your own cash — if clients want something paid for, upfront, for a commission, you really need to make every effort to get your client to advance you that amount, or for them to pay for it directly.” From top to bottom, they communicate a desire for photographers to take care of themselves so that everyone can get back to the business of photography, of documenting reality — of capturing life itself. 

The future, of course, remains to be seen. The world may very well have no choice but to adjust to new realities, and life will fall in line accordingly. Zenfolio’s survey reflects a few anticipated outcomes, all a little different in their own ways: one-third of photographers are optimistic about business between now and June, one-quarter of them expect their business to continue to decline, and 50 percent expect it to take at least a year for business to return to normal. 

Regardless, let’s hope that enough photographers haven’t lost their momentum. History, as it is written in the present, relies on their vision. 

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Please let us know. We also look forward to reading your own experiences in the comment section. You are welcome to share this post. We are very grateful for every recommendation.

A heart-warming Story of Nina Kramberger

It’s easy to see at the moment how the Coronavirus pandemic is not psychologically good for the people of Germany. The last 5 months have been cold and also socially cold. Lockdown time. However, we have found a retoucher who listens to her heart and has found what she needs to be happy and healthy. That’s what it’s all about, right?

Traveling gives her back a piece of freedom, a fresh mind. An opportunity to do her job in a healthy and happy way and in a heavenly place.

I would love to start with the story of Nina Kramberger. For those of you who don’t know her yet, I’m here to give you more insight into her life.

What was your unique personal journey to becoming a retoucher & photographer, Nina?

After a few difficulties starting, I decided to take photography training in Munich. It is not easy to find a perfect option where you can learn a lot but at the same time have a certain level of professionalism. I definitely did not want to take passport pictures, but the human-related direction was important to me. Through the vocational school, I came to Schöttger Photography. They are a photography duo focused on the product area (Swarovski, Marco Polo, s. Oliver, etc.), but they also do beauty. Their equipment was very impressive.

They really challenged me there, and I learned everything from start to finish. Schöttger Photography also had a fixed in-house retoucher. He did a lot of CGI and even finished a lot of technically built retouching for products in Photoshop. So I learned a lot about this type of retouching and had a lot of fun playing around. Which is really important.

Shortly before the final exam, I heard from a friend who found out via Facebook that Andreas Ortner was looking for an assistant.
The day before my final exam at 7 pm – I remember it as if it was yesterday – I had been invited to meet Andreas at a job interview in Munich and was really nervous. So many thoughts were running through my mind.
Actually, it was more like: I wanted to get to know him, but could not imagine that I would get the job in the end.
The team and I then talked. Initially, only one internship was announced. But I immediately told him I would also like to earn money with it and actually want to travel. The retouching topic came up, and he told me that you do not need to worry anymore if you are good at retouching. And I started to smile. 

Everything went superfast from there. I was invited the following week to do some trial work.
But I still know that I was overthinking everything after that day. Of course, I did my best on the day. So I sat on the ground, and he said, “Niiina?” And I thought: Oh God, what is he going to tell me? And then he told me that it’s nice that I’m here. Then, at that moment, referring to Andreas, I was so happy. It was definitely the right choice. I took care of his studio for one and a half years. It was a lot of work, but I learnt a lot.

I also tested a lot because I could use the studio. I had many notable publications in that year, and it was a really fun time for me.


I partly did the retouching at night, while working as an  assistant during the day. The whole first year I was working 24/7, but I also loved it.

I put everything  that was not my job as the 2nd priority. I had a boyfriend back then. In the end, he told me: “If I don’t come over to the studio, then I don’t see you anymore.” And it was actually like that. And naturally, I had no social life. It did not matter if there was a birthday party or another party. I always said I have no idea what’s going on at work at that time. So I made no plans at all.
After a year, I realized that I could not continue that way. 

Furthermore, I realized that the assistant job was not the right option for me. I’m not the best assistant either. 

After that time I called Andreas howling: “Andreas, I’m so sorry, but I need to stop the way I’m working right now.”

I knew that helping out in the studio might be connected to working with Andreas.

So how did it end?

I still remember it clearly; I assisted with a Dolce & Gabbana campaign in Milan, while working for Andreas. I was mega nervous. And I also know that before I went there, a friend asked me about my life goals. At that time, I said: Exactly this kind of campaign photography.

Then I was on the set. I hung on a one-meter cable with a laptop on the photographer. And D&G campaigns are quite crazy because they run around on the street without the road being closed. About 20 people are paid just to get the releases signed from random people in the images. Accordingly, the photographer was running on the busy roads around Milan to have these models photographed. Can you believe this?

The photographer did a really good job in that situation. However, I could see how stressful these days have been. That was my turning point. Of course, not every campaign is shot like that. I only started to generally question my goals: Which working conditions do I prefer (also in the long term)? Which ones do I like?
So I switched perspectives. With my retouching:

  • I earn good money.
  • I can survive well.
  • Not only that, but I have freedom in my life. I can work from anywhere.

It is the perfect thing. I found my dream job and can still work with Andreas.
And whenever I like, I still have the knowledge and connections to slip back into the role of the photographer.

Tell me when was the first time you traveled with a client or boss?

In general, I’ve been traveling a lot. I always combine traveling with photography. When I travel, I still have my camera with me and then trigger myself to take photos abroad because there are new locations.

Back then, Andreas said to me: “Yes, go travel with me.” It was really fantastic when I was on the road a lot with Andreas during my  time as an assistant.

We have been to many great cities: from Amsterdam to Switzerland. And the best places were L.A. and Malibu. I was not only an assistant and retoucher but also a digital operator and filmmaker, which was also very exciting, I have to say. That was by far the greatest challenge of all. During those three weeks, I didn’t sleep at all because I couldn’t cope with the time difference. Also, I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver the best possible results. In retrospect, everything went well. It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot.

Getting to where you are currently in your career means a lot of hard work. There are always a few people who have given us special support. Who would you say “thank you” to again at this point?

Andreas has now become my best friend, my mentor, my role model. I just really like him personally. He’s a super social, great person who does really cool things, and I take my hat off to him.

It’s just his thing. He can take photos every day. He can deliver on set every day, is always motivated, and he never gets stressed out. When you can see that the people you work with appreciate your work – as Andreas does – that’s fun – and then it’s almost not like working. I can do night shifts without any end if I really love the project. And, of course, the positive feedback afterward – I love it. That gives me so much energy. 

I think I could thank Andreas every day. Sometimes I have to take a step back because I’m a very emotional person and really appreciate it. I have to be careful that I don’t tell him every day how great he is. But I think he knows.

It is really exceptional that I made this connection with Andreas. I was just very, very lucky.

Now that you are no longer on-site in the studio, do you think that could lead to Andreas also working with others?

Every day he gets inquiries from some retouchers who would do everything for him for free. Often he says that he is just so happy with my work that he doesn’t want anyone else. So every time he sends me things, it’s just fun, and I really appreciate it.

I just do what I think is right, and I return it to him, and he says, “Amazing shit, send it over!” and it fits. I still don’t really want to work with anyone else because I just love it that much.

Let’s talk a bit about your energy sources.

You told me you are a bit addicted to the sun – it’s like a magnet pulling you outside. No doubt, the sun makes us all healthy and happy. How do you manage to enjoy the sun during the day and work in the evening/at night? What’s your secret recipe?

So I love great weather. I am a sun-loving person. I can’t sit in front of the computer when the sun is shining outside. The same is true in Hamburg or in Munich in the summer.
I always arrange my work in such a way that I work at night. If you can make the day more flexible, then you can do sports whenever you want, and much more.

A lot of people think that with me, that I’m not working because I only post pictures of myself sitting in the sun online. They don’t know that I’ve just done about 10 night shifts. However, I don’t understand the point and purpose of posting my graphics tablet pen every day. Sure, I love retouching. And that’s why I post enough material on my channel. But that’s not something I have to share in my stories every day. I work enough and hard enough to shape it up, which I’m actually quite proud of.

For Nina, it has become a permanent routine to travel to Cape Town in winter. When we talked to each other, I noticed how happy she was there at the moment.

What advantages does Cape Town have for you?

Actually, I’m a social-connected person. At the beginning of my retouching career, I came home, and because I had nothing to do there, I sat down in my chair and worked nonstop. After some time, I became aware of the feeling of being alone. Similar to what people feel during the home-office lockdown time right now.

It felt like an inner crisis – I noticed ok; it’s merely having contact with others; this is what I need. So I changed it by working with others side by side, like my own private concept of a co-working space. 

On top of that, in Hamburg, it’s not very nice in the winter. Cape Town is ideal:
The weather is a dream.
The landscape is a dream.
Also, the food! It’s a super cheap life here. With great people … everything is just a dream.

Since last year, when I was in Cape Town, I’ve noticed that it’s best to combine it with work. Especially in the sense of the very slight time difference.

Besides, there are many people in the business here. You can make a lot of connections all the time, which is really worth it. Sure, this is partly true at the moment. Now, from a professional point of view, it is just as deadly as at home.

On the other hand, we have restaurants, and everything is open. It’s livelier here, a thousand times better than in Germany.
I don’t think there has been anyone I have met in Cape Town who has somehow said they regret being here.

Can you imagine living in Cape Town?

So really living here, as some do, I can’t imagine that. I think then I would no longer appreciate it the way I appreciate it now. And I also think the German summer is totally awesome. But in winter, I think there’s no better place to be.

This is a personal question. Nina, tell me three things that make you feel comfy while traveling/being abroad?

Here’s my favorite quote: “Find three hobbies: one that makes you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to keep you creative.”

It’s also the location which we found and learn to love,
the like-minded people here in Cape Town. We are together 24/7. Because of the international mix in the house, every day is somehow special.

Here’s a deeper insight into the villa, the location.

The villa is really amazing; you can actually only get in via connections. This is not an Airbnb hotspot. Friends of friends actually come in via a recommendation. The reason behind it is that the mindset is similar: Those people want to work a little, make connections, and get ahead somehow together. That’s a part of the villa’s concept, and I think that’s awesome here. Everyone has the same vibe.

There are 14 bedrooms on four floors, with a kitchen on each floor. There are two pools, plus a gym.

We are pleased to provide a special deal for our readers. Of course, we are also looking forward to supporting the expansion & amenities of the villa at the same time.

Contact: Steve van Rooyen
+27 61 510 6385


Let’s talk about things that keep most of us trapped inside our comfort zone. Some people have fears or uncertainties about combining holidays and working somewhere else. Can you refute these – according to your personal experience, that could help someone be braver?

What cultural, local rules should we know about when traveling to Cape Town?

It’s clear that in Cape Town, there is a massive gap between rich and poor. You just have to be careful. Many are frustrated because they don’t have anything here. On the other hand, you also see the other people who are grateful that you are there. Because without you, tourism wouldn’t be possible at all. 

But as I said, if you stick to the country’s rules, that’s not an issue here. You can also prevent theft by not wearing jewelry or leaving anything valuable in the car. Don’t walk around alone at night; Uber is the safer alternative.

This year there was a curfew from 8 pm or 9 pm, which meant you didn’t even experience walking around alone at night. This year I didn’t have that feeling of fear either. I think it can happen to you anywhere else.

We all know it can be a nightmare when a deadline gets closer and the internet connection gives up. What do you recommend doing or buying to guarantee a stable internet connection?

First, Cape Town is a really good choice when it comes to co-working spaces.
However, there is load shedding here. Meaning, the electricity is simply gone for 2 hours. Then the internet is gone, and then the water supply is gone. That’s not so nice. 

At the same time, there are a lot of places here that have generators. So Steve, the property owner, is doing his best so that people can work here without restrictions. 

You can help yourself here, and you don’t need it all the time.
Sure, it’s difficult in terms of live retouching. You will need to reschedule.

Load shedding happened maybe 10 times, of which you don’t notice five times because it was at night. So it’s not that bad if you are aware of it in advance. And I think that load shedding is the worst that can happen here. In the worst case scenario, the internet can also fail at home. And even if it does happen then, I think it’s like at home. If the internet fails, you have to make a phone call or develop some kind of plan B. Fortunately, I know a lot of people who I can go to who will help me out. So that was the case when my internet went down recently in the other Airbnb apartment. I always had a plan B in the back of my mind.

Fortunately, I’m superb with my deadlines. I don’t think there has ever been a job that I finished on the last day. 

I’m very German with my submission times (very punctual). There are so many things that could happen: I can hurt myself, or a friend needs something, or the internet just doesn’t work. So I’m usually so good at my deadlines that it always works out with at least a day’s buffer, even if the customer still wants something. And when you plan a little, almost nothing can actually happen.

In theory, you can even communicate with your clients. Somehow you noticed that it might be getting too tight that you ask how bad it would be if you sent it over one day later or in two parcels.

I want to free myself a little from these fears. Sure, it’s good if you are prepared for it. For example, I have a mobile phone contract with unlimited internet data. Sometimes I sit in a café with no internet. Then I can send pictures via my hotspot. Sure it’s not working for a 100 photo package, but for urgent and essential things. I think I should find out why I am afraid and decide how I can deal with what I am so scared of with a plan B.

What kind of internet speeds do you have?

I’ll check it out. It’s not as fast as it is at home, but I haven’t had any problems either. But as I said, it is so important to Steve that everyone can work here comfortably. Sooner or later, there will be the craziest internet speed here and probably the craziest generator that everyone is well-equipped with.

If you are a remote worker with several clients, do your clients need to know that you are currently traveling? How did they react in the past? Do you get booked less on average when you’re in Cape Town?

Not at all. So far, it has not bothered anyone. As long as the essential requirements are ok, e.g., meeting deadlines and delivering the same quality.

The only critical things are large image packages. And when you have to match colors of sent products with the monitor colors accurately. In this case, you can use the product shots they sent as a reference. Sometimes it is even better to use these product images as a guide. So that the online results are all consistent. The process of color matching with actual products is definitely more error-prone.

How many clients/images do you think you can look after as a retoucher when you are in such a wonderful place? Do you have to cut corners here?

Of course, you have stressful phases, and then you consciously seek balance. But so far, it has not been the case that I intentionally looked for less or accepted less work because of traveling.

Three more questions that are more Corona related.

I know we all no longer want to deal with the subject of Corona. However, many did not have the opportunity to experience firsthand how traveling has changed due to Corona. Can you give us some insights and experiences? 

As I said before, I am a very social person. With Corona at the moment, being at home permanently isn’t easy. And then you sit at home the rest of the time because of work … and I had the feeling that everyone was scared. Afraid of me too, because I came from Cape Town, and they heard about the mutations.

Flying – that’s no problem if you really look at the guidelines. Now, for example, you needed two tests. Then it’s easy on the plane itself, because it’s almost empty there, and the airport is also empty. So as long as you have your Corona tests, everything is fine. It makes sense; the rest is like normal flying. It’s actually even better. Every time I had a long-distance flight, I had a complete row of seats where I slept. They are currently making it difficult to enter and leave Cape Town. Then you have to fly over Johannesburg. I had to accept it as part of being here.

When entering the country, you have to be in quarantine for 10 days. Alternatively, you can be tested after 5 days. That’s not a problem for me either. 

But it feels like there is no Corona here. The number of cases is decreasing. In the beginning, of course, I was skeptical.
But I was very happy to be here again in Cape Town. It’s a massive difference in comparison to Germany. 

What did you learn concerning work-life balance in the Corona period? 

I am convinced that the psyche is super important. And that’s why I find the current situation in Germany very extreme. I just see what’s going on in everybody’s minds. I noticed on the street how people interact with one another.

It’s awful to see that because I know that it will shape our image of human beings. 

And of course, when the media communicate Corona news every day … I’ve been home for three weeks in between my Cape Town visits. I was in that same pattern again. Not only that, but I also noticed that I was not doing well at that time, and therefore, you can’t blame anyone for that. I’m actually worried about where this is going. I have no idea what long-term consequences this has. Furthermore, I look at my friends, who reach their limits; how long will they be able to work with low levels of energy? That’s why it was worth it to me to take the risk of coming to Cape Town. You can also book a flight every day. Obviously, it’s a 12-hour flight now, but it’s not the end of the world. And as I said, it’s really very progressive here, at least in the areas where I’ve been to.

In terms of work, you never know about the future. Last year for 2 or 3 months, business was completely dead for me, and then I dedicated myself to do my own special Corona project. And this year … Well, January is always relatively quiet, and February too. But somehow around the start of the year, I felt with the whole Corona thing that it will get worse this year. More of a feeling. So it’s still quiet at the moment. From the end of March and especially in April, there is a lot to do. At least that’s what my calendar tells me at the moment. There are always phases during the Corona time.

In between, I also notice that you are on the verge of worrying when there is a quieter phase. And then suddenly another job confirmation comes the next day. 

Meanwhile, I’ve also learned to live with these ups and downs, to really enjoy it when there is nothing to do. Because it is really rare that there is nothing to be done. So when there are high amounts of work, I really work through a month without a break. So it would be best if you had these other moments as well.
Of course, you are first worried because you don’t have any kind of paid vacation, and that’s just part of self-employment. I have no idea what exactly is going on next month – no clue. I don’t know if everything will be canceled again. You can’t plan anything.

I think you have to trust it a little. I mean, I am super motivated, and I believe in myself and my skill set. And when you trust it, you are less afraid. We’re all in the same boat. If you put yourself under too much pressure, that is somewhat counterproductive.

I hope that this Corona madness stops or at least gets a little better. And we get back a bit of everyday normality. At least I wish that to everyone who’s sitting at home right now. 

In times like this and in general, my family has always been my greatest support. They mean a lot to me.
Because they are so far away, we often talk on the phone during the retouching. Without them, I might have given up in difficult times. They always believed in me and encouraged me on my way. This is the best present in life.


Last but not least, is there anything additional you would like to say right now?

One thing is still on my mind. I don’t like these days because of the shit storms on Instagram based on everything you’ve done or not done since Corona. This is not something that helps us right now. To reproach each other, with even more negative thoughts and discussions.
I’ve also been asked if I got any shit storms so far. Fortunately, not at the moment. For me, it was more like everyone just said: “Stay where you are and enjoy.” But I heard it from other people. 

I’m not the one who has to party all day long, but as I said, if you approach it with a human mind, you can have a good time, but you don’t have to overdo it.
Sure, there might be a few people who are probably not writing what’s going on in their minds. But people make up their minds, no matter what you do.


I hope you have learned a lot from Nina today. Now it is time to think about what makes you happy and healthy. We wish you personally all the best during this time.


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Magazine page - Lois Vuitton - L'Ame du Voyage with retouching lable

Revisiting the Photographie Retouchée Label: Is it effective?

France is often described as the standard-bearer of the world for high-end culture and fashion, representing the ultimate in effortless sophistication. Iconic designers present the very latest of designs twice a year, ushering in the next chapter of sartorial ideals that spark the musings of designers everywhere. What coincides neatly with this is the image of the chic Parisian woman who translates these visions into everyday class and style. Countless blogs, videos, and tutorials exist to teach audiences how to mimic her essence. She’s the epitome of the fashionable feminine with a tall, slim silhouette and prominent bone structure.

Yet behind this iconic imagery — of the photographed model who embodies the fashion world, and the everyday French woman who’s watched with envy from afar — is a challenging reality of visual media representation that’s in the throes of change.

French new legislation

In 2015, the French government passed a law stating that in order to walk the runway, models needed to provide a doctor’s note showing proof that they had a body mass index of at least 18. Failure to comply can result in a fine. The goal is to scale back the influence of images of extremely thin models. It’s been part of the country’s effort to rein in the prevalence of eating disorders and more responsibly manage unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards. The image of the Parisian woman, it seems, has gone too far with her slimness. Italy, Spain and Israel followed suit with the same runway model bans. 

Two years later, the French government passed another law with a similar goal: any commercial photograph showing bodies that have been digitally altered to appear thinner or thicker must also have a notice of “photographie retouchée,” meaning, “retouched photograph.” Failure to comply could result in a fine of 75,000 euros, or up to 30 percent of advertisement funds. 

The legislation has been championed by French politicians, including former health minister Marisol Touraine. Touraine expressed, “It is necessary to act on body image in society to avoid the promotion of inaccessible beauty ideals and prevent anorexia among young people.” Numerous articles at the time cited alarming statistics about the epidemic of eating disorders that uniquely affects France:

    • About 600,000 young people are believed to suffer from eating disorders in France [as of 2017] 
    • Eating disorders are reportedly the top cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in France, making it the second leading cause of death in that age group [as of 2017]
    • Anorexia affects between 30,000 to 40,000 people in France, 90% of whom are women [as of 2017]
    • Seventy percent of girls ages 10 to 18 report that they define perfect body image based on what they see in magazines [as of 2015]
    • Out of all Western Europeans, French women have the lowest BMI, at 23.2 [as of 2009]
    • 11 percent of French women are considered “extremely thin” [as of 2009]

Altogether, the content paints a portrait of French beauty ideals that are more damaging than desirable.

Developments towards body authenticity

Across the Atlantic, American brands made strides in the spirit of body positivity and authenticity as well. Getty Images announced that year that they would no longer accept creative visuals and stock photography that featured altered body shapes (despite acknowledging that retouched photos are rare in stock photography). Getty spokeswoman Anne Flanagan remarked, “Our perceptions of what is possible are often shaped by what we see… Positive imagery can have direct impact on fighting stereotypes, creating tolerance, and empowering communities to feel represented in society.” 

The push for body authenticity and accurate representation often draws praise from those within the body positivity movement who are pleased to see “regular women.” At long last, real women can see themselves represented in fashion via magazines, social media, commercials and print advertising. And if they don’t see themselves because the image has been retouched, they can rest assured knowing that the image they’re seeing isn’t even accurate.

But questions remain, rather quietly in the background of the fashion and beauty industries: Is labeling a photo as retouched an effective means of preventing eating disorders? Have eating disorders slowed or even fostered the sort of body positivity that proponents work towards? Do people feel better about themselves when they see that an image has been altered?

The background of eating disorders

Answers to these questions run the gamut. Eating disorders are complex psychological conditions that can arise for a number of reasons. Traumatic experiences, genetic links, sports performance requirements, and family dynamics can all be precipitating factors, according to the Eating Recovery Center. The center recognizes that culture plays a role in causing eating disorders, too: “Every day, we are besieged with messages about beauty, unrealistic body images and fad diets.” 

That the overwhelming pressure to be thin can trigger body dissatisfaction and disordered eating habits isn’t news. But it just so happens to be what proponents consistently use as their main argument for skinny-model bans and retouch labels. Findings from clinical research tell a slightly different story.

Studies & discussions about the retouching label

In a study conducted by Elisa S. Danthinne and Rachel F. Rodgers, they found no empirical evidence that supports the usefulness of retouch labels in slowing body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. In fact, they have the opposite effect. They write: 

“A majority of research evidence indicates that single exposure to the presence of a label alone is not effective in improving body image, and can in fact be harmful by increasing comparison tendencies. This finding does not seem to have reached many policy makers and players in industry, who have continued to favor labeling practices.”

Another study, conducted in 2015 before the bill became law, arrived at similar conclusions. Belinda Bury of Flinders University conducted four experiments about the effect of retouch labels, one of which included giving subjects an informational message that preceded advertisements. She concluded:

“The thesis found no overall benefit from the use of either generic or specific disclaimer labels appended to thin ideal fashion magazine advertisements. Rather, specifically worded disclaimer labels actually directed visual attention toward body areas specified as altered, with this increased visual attention itself resulting in increased body dissatisfaction and being worse for women high on trait appearance comparison. The presentation of digital alteration information before exposure to advertisements with disclaimer labels did nothing to enhance the effectiveness of the labels, nor did instructional set.”

Interestingly, a number of proponents of skinny-model bans and retouch label legislation who work in the field of eating disorders recognize the lack of effect. Tom Quinn of Beat — a charity geared towards eating disorders — told the BBC, “It’s simplistic to suggest that looking at Photoshopped images will cause eating disorders. But many people who look at altered images have low self-esteem.” He added, “We support any measures that contribute to a society having a healthier view of body types and everyone being more aware of which pictures have been touched up.”

Last year, Dr. Luke Evans MP, of England, proposed the Digitally Altered Body Images Bill, which would require a logo to indicate a person’s face or body has been digitally altered. He wrote, “Knowledge of when an image has been digitally manipulated will have positive mental health benefits for a wide cross section of our society affected by body image.” In support of the bill, the UK’s Mental Health Foundation responded: 

“Labelling edited images is just one approach and unfortunately there is a scarcity of research to show it will solve the overall problem. For labelling (or any other industry change) to work, it will need to be co-produced with experts by experience and its implementation needs to be carefully evaluated.”

The timing of Dr. Evans MP’s bill is notable. He introduced it in September, five years after the passage of France’s skinny-model ban and three years after the passage of its retouch label law. Just one month prior, in France, researchers conducted an online cross-sectional study of college students at the University of Rouen-Normandy. The aim was to identify the characteristics of eating disorder categories and help- and care-seeking among college students. They surveyed nearly 1,500 students. They concluded:

    • The prevalence of likely cases of eating disorders was 24.8 percent, with a higher prevalence in female students (31.6 percent) than male students (17 percent). 
    • Of that 24.8 percent, 13.3 percent were considered to have a bulimic eating disorder, 8.6 percent hyperphagic eating disorder, and 2.9 percent restrictive eating disorder. 
    • The pressures of academic performance caused significant stress, which causes “a change in the habits of young people related to their practice of physical activity and food.”

It bears repeating what is widely known about eating disorders: They’re incredibly complex and can have several precipitating factors, not just visual media. How much can we reasonably expect a retouch notification to achieve — especially if studies show that it has the opposite effect? And why do politicians keep introducing these bills if they don’t accurately address eating disorder prevention and awareness? 

Back in 2009, Valérie Boyer, then a member of the French parliament who also has a background in health administration, drafted a bill to address digital retouching that would require all advertising images to carry a retouch label. She said she was inspired by watching her teenage daughters manage the pressures of having a thin body and perfect skin. In a New York Times article, she remarked, “If someone wants to make life a success, wants to feel good in their skin, wants to be part of society, one has to be thin or skinny, and then it’s not enough… one will have his body transformed with software that alters the image, so we enter a standardized and brainwashed world, and those who aren’t part of it are excluded from society.”

In that same article, Anne-Florence Schmitt, editor of Madame Figaro magazine, called it a “fake debate.” Former model and clothes designer Inès de La Fressange said it was “demagogic and stupid” because the causes of anorexia are complex. And French fashion photographer Dominique Issermann said that Boyer has not only “misunderstood the problem” but the nature of photography altogether. “There is this illusion that photography is ‘true’ … As soon as you frame something, you exclude something else,” Issermann said. 

She then added a poignant detail about the inherent limitations of a single snapshot, seeming to gesture to the notion that whatever is in the frame doesn’t tell a complete story: a photograph is “a piece of reality, but the reality of the world is different.” 

Current developments during Covid-19

As you can see in the video above, eating disorders have resurged and become even worse as a result of the pandemic. Comparisons of the numbers of the recent years cannot give any neutral information about the effectiveness of the retouching label. But coupled with the studies above, reality seems to favor the underlying psychology that precipitates eating disorders, as opposed to visual media being the main culprit. If stressful, overwhelming and traumatic situations can trigger setbacks and prompt new body dissatisfaction or disordered eating habits, how much can we expect a retouch notification to accomplish?

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Do you want to read more about the execution of the french law? Find out more in our previous articles Presence analysis of the retouching label “Photographie retouchée” 2018 or Retouching label “Photographie retouchée” – A tour through France.