The Standard Package Trilogy

Liv Pennington

A large number of the British public who own digital cameras admit to retouching their family albums to make themselves look better, but surprisingly only a fractionally smaller proportion admit to making others look worse. Now for £15 and a 72 hr turnover you can have a digital makeover & digital liposuction, rather than exercise or food and so much cheaper and painless than surgery you can be cut, cloned and emailed.

Through previous work I have been exploring identity through chemical photography, now with The Standard Package Trilogy I am venturing into the world of digital photography. Family albums are and have always been edited by the collator of the pictures, photographs left out, people physically cut out pre photoshop. We have an expectation that our children will look like us and hopefully will inherit some of our better characteristics. For future generations, if they want to look like their family they are going to have to pay emotionally, financially and physically through either digital or physical surgery.

My recent focus has been on standardisation; my understanding being that it is the removal of variation and irregularities to make something the same. I am interested in both the processes and the products of standardisation, in those objects/photos that aren't meant to be seen and those that are. There is delight and horror to be had with the seemingly inevitable corruption (individuality) or deviation from the standard how ever minute the detail may be.

The Standard Package Part I: Make Me, 2008

I stumbled into a world of online beauty pageants, mostly for children and was immediately attracted and repelled. The vast majority of competitions are for girls, with different categories such as 'Natural Photogenic' and 'Digital Photogenic' and all photographic entries are expected to have undergone some level of retouching. I started looking for retouchers who aim their services at home users, the model, the mother.

The retouchers know I'm a photographer but not necessarily the model. On submitting the image for a makeover I stated 'I trust your judgment on the level of retouching needed', there after I avoided offering instructions on the possibilities of retouching that could be done and accepted the first image they sent.

Can be screen based or as c-type print 40 cm x 60 cm, edition of 5

The Standard Package Part II: Partial Recall, 2008

I submitted a studio portrait of myself as a toddler to seven different online re-touchers. The request to the re-touchers has been the same 'please can you do a pageant makeover?' Six very different final images have returned, I had one rejection! They are all seriously intended to be ready for competitive entry.

The six images are presented as canvas prints as a tongue in cheek way of reflecting the current domestic trend and the longer standing belief that canvas equals high art.

Canvas prints in three sizes: Relative/Family/Mother, edition of 5

The Standard Package Part III: The Standard Package

(work in progress -- to be presented in digital picture frame/slide show)

The Standard Package is a set of between fifteen and twenty four images exploring the beautifying, glamorisation of myself as a pregnant beauty queen. The retouch service selected would be the 'standard package' where prices range from $6.99 - $40. It is important that the retouchers selected are in the same market and price bracket to keep the feel of the domestic home user. The instructions would be kept to a minimum, the level of retouching left to the retoucher to decide. I am curious to see how the pregnancy is treated, minimised, excluded or exaggerated and celebrated.

My interest in this project is multi layered, ideas of beauty, feminism, ageing, and the digital visual world. It reflects the current curiosity and concern with visual truth regarding photography and the disappearance of the chemical and physical. The pursuit of the ideal woman seems to result in the disappearance of women, they become digitally re-mastered and with this their appearance and identity is transient, erased and refilled.

It is amazing the small details that the retouchers feel have to go/be tweaked. It is mesmerizing and consuming watching the images as a slide show. Flesh starts to undulate, my lips get bigger/smaller, fat disappears and reappears. It is this that underlines the need to present The Standard Package in a large digital picture frame, the ultimate contemporary home improvement item.