Just a fantasy or an unrealistic depiction of perfection? Dunham, Vogue, Jezebel, and now Leibovitz

I don't watch Girls and I don't read Vogue, so the recent controversy involving Girls' Lena Dunham and her appearance in the glossy magazine failed to catch my eye. However, when Amateur Photographer reported that Annie Leibovitz is threatening legal action over the unsanctioned publication of the shoot's original image files, my interest was piqued. Dunham appeared on the cover of, and inside, American Vogue's February edition (we weren't treated to her here in the UK) in a shoot by Annie Leibovitz that raised plenty of eyebrows and plenty of questions. Some people were perplexed by the apparent clash of principles when a feminist role-model could appear in and on the cover of a magazine that is famed for its stylised and heavily post-produced shoots. Other people wondered why Vogue had opted for a head-and-shoulders shot of a woman known for not being the archetypal Hollywood stick-instect, rather than the usual full-body shot for its cover. And some people just worried about the Photoshop job.

One of the publications most vocal about Dunham's dalliance with Vogue was Jezebel, the feminist blog. Jezebel is highly critical of Vogue's use of idealised, unrealistic images of women that are presented as objections of perfection. While it supported the notion that Vogue could feature a woman who was not its usual front page fodder, it was critical of Dunham being tweaked to make her acceptable for that role: 'Dunham embraces her appearance as that of a real woman; she's as body positive as they come. But that's not really Vogue's thing, is it? Vogue is about perfection as defined by Vogue, and rest assured that they don't hesitate to alter images to meet those standards.'

Jezebel then offered a bounty of $10,000 for Leibovitz's original, unedited image files of Dunham so that it could do a compare-and-contrast. From Jezebel's perspective, this wasn't intended to shame Dunham or criticise her for working with Vogue, although even if it wasn't intentional it's still easy to construe it that way. It's a topsy-turvy version of damning with faint praise. When Vogue is renowned for its fantastical presentation of women, why pick on Dunham's shoot to explore how far it will go if it isn't intended as a criticism of her actions?

Nevertheless, Jezebel got what it asked for.

Compare and contrast

Someone, somewhere, produced the original images and Jezebel was able to lay them side-by-side with the edited versions. Were they extensively retouched? Retouched, definitely. Extensively? That depends on your definition of the word. There's a whole lot more adjustment going on there than I'd make to one of my photos, but I don't shoot for the cover of Vogue and I'm not in the habit of photographing TV stars with pigeons on their heads or posing on the sides of baths wearing evening gowns. As Dunham said to Slate: 'A fashion magazine is like a beautiful fantasy. Vogue isn't the place that we go to look at realistic women, Vogue is the place we go to look at beautiful clothes and fancy places and escapism... '

The furore of whether Dunham should or shouldn't have posed for Vogue, whether or not she's betrayed the feminist ideals that so many seem to have ascribed to her, and just how much alteration the images have undergone has now taken a new twist. For Annie Leibovitz is reportedly extremely unhappy that the unretouched images have made their way to publication and is considering legal action. Precisely what legal action she intends to make, against whom, is unclear. But sources close to Leibovitz claim that she would never have sanctioned the publication of the original images. Vogue has declined to comment and Jezebel has stated that it obtained the images via an anonymous source.

What do I think? I studied history at university. Then I trained to teach it. And I taught it for a bit, too. I'm often asked how I can bear to watch historical dramas without picking holes in their accuracy. My answer is always the same: 'It's a story, not reality.' I don't advise that anyone should take medical advice from a BBC hospital drama, either. When I glance at Vogue, or any other glossy magazine, I treat it in much the same manner. It's a fantasy that deserves the same suspension of disbelief as a film or TV show. It doesn't matter if it's Vogue or Homes and Gardens, it's not reality. When you've resurfaced from your dive into stylised perfection, that's what you need to remember.

(Headsup to Amateur Photographer)

Just about every filter you could ever want from FX Photo Studio

There are 20 categories of effects, with a selection of different filters in each one. That's a lot of filters, guys.

So about ten days ago I had my very Violet Elizabeth Bott stamp-my-feet and squeam-and-squeam-and-squeam-until-I'm-sick moment when a free photo filter app didn't offer me the requisite degree of control I expected and left me feeling terribly hard-done-by. Obviously I threw all of my photo-editing toys out of my pram and went into the garden to eat worms because it just wasn't good enough. And then the lovely guys at FX Photo Studio thought that they might be able to placate me with a trial of FX Photo Studio Pro.

It's one of four photo effects options that they offer: FX Photo Studio for iPhone and iPod Touch; FX Photo Studio HD for iPad; and FX Photo Studio and its Pro version for Mac. All of them have the craziest number of filters that you can apply to your images, filters that can be layered one on top of another on top of another, and adjusted to just the degree that you want. All of this sounds as if it might have been enough to convince me to come back inside and play nicely. Was it?

Filters galore!

Well I cannot in any way fault the number of different filters that were laid at my disposal. They're divided into 20 different categories and cover everything from 'Color Fantasy' - which allows you to invert images, to 'solarise' them, and convert to tritone impressions - to a choice of ten different vignettes. Once you've applied a filter, you can apply another one over the top, and another one over the top of that, and, well, you can carry on until you've run out. When you've overlaid a filter, you can mask it and reveal the one beneath using a brush if that takes your fancy, too. If you can't find the look that you want, then I'm not certain you'll ever find it.

Should the mahousive number of filters be a little overwhelming for you, just click the die icon and see what the programme serves up for you at random. I confess that I spent at least fifteen minutes just rolling the die to see just what it would do to my photos, and it was good fun. It might not have produced an image that I'd want to hang on my wall, but it gave me a giggle all the same. When you find a filter, or a sequence of filters, that you particularly like, you can add it to your favourites so that you don't have to go searching for it every time you want to doctor an image.

Yay! Some kind of control!

Every filter that you apply can be adjusted individually using a slider, so you can determine just how much contrast you want in your cross-processed look, or how bright you want the glow to be in your glow filter. If you don't like it, you click the undo button and it takes it back a stage. This is the bit that makes me very happy; you don't lose everything, just the bit that you don't like. The Violet-Elizabeth-Daniela-evil-monster-spoiled-brat-hybrid's tears had dried.

The Pro version also has a set of basic editing functions, too, so you can crop, rotate, adjust the contrast, and sharpen your images. They are, however, basic and don't have anywhere near the nuanced control or variety of options that you get in something like Lightroom. They were handy, but not nearly sufficient for heavy editing. To be fair, they're probably only there to make it easy to make minor edits before you go scrawling over your photos and sending them sky blue pink with lime green spots. Better that than have to fire up another editing suite, make your adjustments, and re-import.

Importing photos

As for importing photos, FX Photo Studio Pro can handle up to 32 megapixel images - the non-Pro version has a slightly more restrained 16 megapixel capability - and can import them in almost any major file format, including RAW. You click the 'Import' button and taa-dah, you can import images from anywhere in your hard-drive, whether that's from Lightroom or from your already-organised and edited images. And when you're done and dusted, you click on the save icon and away your photo goes to whichever file in which you want to store it, in the file format of your choice. Or you could just thrust it onto your unsuspecting fans by sending it straight to Facebook or your social network of choice.


If anyone has ever used Lightroom, you can't help but notice the aesthetic similarity. It uses a deep grey background, the key adjustment panel is on the right; the import box appears on the left, and at the bottom the image you're working on appears in a scrolling band with every different filter applied so you get an overview before you do anything. You can even compare your before and after images side-by-side. It's clean, simple, and intuitive.


This is a super-fun piece of software. I spent far more time than was good for me turning a friend into an alien, making a butterfly look as if it'd survived a nuclear explosion, and applying 11 different cross-processing effects to a picture of a pile of leaves. If you're someone who prostrates themselves at the altar of the post-processing filter, I'm sure that you'd be prepared to make a sacrificial offering for FX Photo Studio. With over 170 different filters that you can layer ad infinitum, a slider that controls the degree of impact each filter has, and easily undo something if you reckon that your forty-third layer of filter has gone that bit too far, there's almost nothing you can't do with it. And that might just make it worth £10. Me? Despite all the fun that I had, I'm just not that into filters to warrant splashing out on it and installing yet another piece of software on my computer.

Is the £16 extra worth it for the basic editing functions on the FX Photo Studio Pro? If you're only really looking to have a bit of fun with your photos and need to crop, rotate, fiddle a touch with the exposure, sharpen a smidge, and then let your imagination rip with neon lights bump-mapping, then sure. They're there to make it easier for you to get the look you want from your filters, not to be your major editing workhorse. If you want to carefully adjust the violet hues, work on the contrast, and exert precision control over the white balance in your photos - at which point you probably aren't really going to want to apply a rippled mirror effect followed by a rainbow filter - then it won't be nearly refined enough and you're better putting your money towards Lightroom.

The verdict then? Love filters and you'll love FX Photo Studio. You just need to decide whether you need the £10 version or the £26 version. So yes, I'll play nicely again. But can I please have a pony?

All the details

FX Photo Studio Pro £26.13 or $39.99

FX Photo Studio £9.80 or $14.99

FX Photo Studio HD for iPad $2.99

FX Photo Studio for iPhone or iPod Touch $1.99

Head over to the FX Photo Studio website for more details.