Save our skin tones | Monocle

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Have you noticed that Hollywood, Taipei and Cairo celebrities are looking increasingly unwell? In the pages of Vogue and InStyle leading boys and breakthrough girls appear as if they might have liver conditions judging by their skin tones, on the front pages of Taiwanese dailies some of the biggest Chinese pop-stars look like they’ve had nasty run-ins with deep-fryers, and in the Arab world’s celebrity weeklies Egyptian soap stars have complexions that suggest they’ve been trapped in sandstorms. At first glance the obvious answer to all these conditions is too much time spent with the cosmetic surgeon. On closer inspection however it’s not a case of a nose job gone wrong, exploding lips or ears pulled too far back. Could it be one acid peel too many? Perhaps. Or is the source of the condition completely unrelated to the world of dermatology? What’s more concerning is that no one is immune.

If you think your looks are intact, try this experiment. Go to the shoebox, album or envelope where you keep your photos. The only photos you have on paper are four or five years old? Even better. Now get your hands on a recently snapped party picture. If it’s living inside your Olympus digital then download it and print it. Now place your four-year-old 35mm snap beside the digital one you’ve just printed and take a good, hard look at yourself. Ignoring the 48 months’ difference, who’s the more attractive? The slightly glowing, grainy you on film or the greyish, smooth, pixelated you that emerged from the Epson? Not convinced? Here’s another exercise. Reach down beside the sofa or high up on a bookshelf and pull down a glossy magazine from circa 2001. Flip to a fashion story or the party pages and study the subjects. If you forgive the lapses of judgement in styling and make-up, doesn’t everyone look like they maintain a decent diet and follow a la Prairie skin regime? Now pick up something fresh off the newsstand and compare the same types of stories. Are the party people not suffering from some painful-looking strobing disease? Does the girl in the Lanvin dress look like she’s been made up to lie inside a satin-lined oak box?

Curiously, the Japanese don’t suffer the same afflictions, or at least not on the same scale, despite the fact that they’re behind most of the technology. At Japanese publishing houses there hasn’t been quite the same rush to shoot every image digitally. Indeed, virtually all of our ­stories shot in Japan, which is a considerable number, arrive on our photo desk the old fashioned way – as a stack of contact sheets in a Kodak or Fuji box. While the process is, of course, slower than going straight from digi Canon to MacPro, the results on page are well worth the old-school effort – particularly where skin is concerned.

As our cover suggests (shot on film and featuring Fuji’s recently released 35mm camera) and as our Tokyo bureau Fiona Wilson reports in our culture pages, there’s a growing resistance movement against going totally digital. We tend to agree. While hard, angular objects shot for still-life stories don’t necessarily demand a move to film, and news stories that require a quick turnaround and ­transmission make more sense shot digitally, we’re proceeding with caution. So too are savvy publicists.

Fed up with complaints from clients who pose for cover stories only to end up looking like they have a critical vitamin deficiency, many PRs are now demanding that their most high-profile (read: high-maintenance) stars be shot exclusively on film. And who can blame them? In our dash to do things faster and cheaper, 2005 to 2010 might be remembered as the “pasty period”. While the major manufacturers are working hard to improve the quality of skintones, future generations who look back at this period might need to be reminded that we were a little too hasty to adopt new technology and the planet wasn’t crippled by an epidemic of eczema.

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