Hit & Run: Stars of the silver sheen

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The Independent Online

You might have heard of airbrushing and retouching, but there's another, less ubiquitous weapon in the photographers' war on flaw – solarisation. And Madonna is the latest subject to try out its perfecting powers in Louis Vuitton's autumn/winter ad campaign, shot by fashion photographer Steven Meisel.

The technique makes use of the deliberate over-exposure of photographic prints to light during the developing process, which causes the instances of light and shade to invert, a bit like an X-ray. It was American artist Man Ray who discovered the effects in the 1930s, along with his then-assistant, the fashion-turned-war photographer Lee Miller. Legend has it that an intruding rat upset a tray of chemicals in the dark room, and Miller put the light on, causing the developing prints to solarise. "The technological wizardry of solarised images was in keeping with the radical Avant Garde art of the inter-war period," says Professor Penny Martin, Rootstein Hopkins Chair of Fashion Imagery at the London College of Fashion.

Today's silvery solarisation-like effects are created on computer screens. Meisel's Vuitton ads are a digital rendering of Ray and Miller's technique; the results are similar and Madonna looks as other-worldly as she did, um, 30 years ago. Last week, pictures of Madonna's rather too sinewy arms were pored over by the press, but here she appears plumped out, astonishingly youthful and thoroughly beatific. "The intense tonality that has bleached out all surface detail on Madonna's face and dramatically contoured her bone structure is just one of many digital cosmetic treatments available to retouchers," adds Martin.

But, surely, in this case at least, this isn't a case of a picture not telling the truth; the 'solarised' look is a visual effect rather than a touch-up. "It's sheer embellishment," agrees Martin, "not an artistic statement. The Vuitton shots may bear a resemblance to historic solarised images, but they have none of the masters' radical intent."

Meisel works regularly with the digital artist Pascal Dangin, who is known in the business as "the photo whisperer" for the magic he regularly works with wayward, uncooperative or just downright unflattering images.

Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson spoke out on Monday about the amount of manipulation that goes on behind the scenes on shoots with celebrities for magazines or billboards. "Adverts contain completely unattainable perfect images that no-one can live up to in real life," she said, after a week in which Gisele Bündchen's baby bump was "touched" out and Victoria Beckham's latest Armani advert was unveiled, in which the star's stomach appears so miniscule that it couldn't contain her vital organs, let alone any (shudder) food. But promising perfection and providing unattainable goals are advertising's very raison d'etre; after all, who wants to look like a normal person?

Harriet Walker

Commercial appeal sexy

Tear your eyes away from the tube, square eyes. A new report from the TV marketing body, Thinkbox, claims that Britons' are watching an average of 16.7 hours commercial television a week. This doesn't include forays online to view Channel 4 oD, or watching anything on the BBC, so the figures finger us as a nation of couch potatoes. Break those box-watching hours down and it works out at about two and a half hours a day. That's 143 minutes of Channel 5, Men and Motors and The God Channel. But while Hit & Run is a big fan of these stations, the main reason it tunes in isn't the prorammes. It's the ads. The one that features a giant rubber duck that drinks only squash? It's better than East Enders. The drumming monkey flogging chocolate? Genius. And the building society that's decide to use celebrities to announce it's name change is better than the last three Big Brother series put together. Commercial TV – the clue's in the name.

Rebecca Armstrong

The repellent truth about mosquitoes

The buzz of a bug near your ear in the middle of the night. The bites that itch for days. Malaria. There are plenty of reasons to stock up with insect repellent before you go away. But now researchers at the University of Angers in France have found a link between the tropical tourist's trusty DEET (the chemical diethyltoluamide) and nervous system damage. The study in question, documented in journal BMC Biology, explores the effects of the substance on bugs, and how it interferes with an enzyme (acetylcholinesterase) that humans share with insects. While "insect repellent in insect death shocker" won't rouse too many travellers from a caipirinha-induced poolside snooze, for the alternatively inclined it provides an excuse to look at the non-chemical ways to keep mozzies at bay – in malaria-free zones, anyway.

The other options tend to mask human odour, thus spoiling mosquitoes' detection mechanisms; oils such as soybean, citronella, cedar, peppermint, lemongrass and geranium can offer limited protection. Eucalyptus oil is thought to be particularly effective, and you can always pull on some clothing infused with the insecticide permethrin (although another popular alternative, this is toxic to fish and cats). Or why not slather your skin in the sensitive traveller's balm of choice, Avon's Skin So Soft? The metrosexual's choice, it combines a moisturiser and insect repellent to batter airborne critters.

"Any essential oils can be effective, but just for not as long," says Pat Thomas, a former editor of The Ecologist, and travel health expert. "DEET stays on your skin for ever because it's a mix of not very nice chemicals. It is worth investigating alternatives."

You might need to cut down on the six packs. Vitamin B12, found in Marmite and beer, can be excreted through our skin, pulling in bugs like a magnet. Not only are they tiny and deadly, mosquitoes are the world's biggest killjoys.

Rob Sharp