As we have pointed out in the past on Glamourphotography.co, retouching is not a Photoshop phenomenon.
In yesteryear, retouching was a common, though mostly secret process that occurred behind the closed curtains of the photographers’, printers’ and retouchers’ studios.
The Internet Archive holds a digital copy of a 1941 textbook entitled, “The Art of Retouching and Improving Negatives and Prints.” The first edition of the book, according to the preface, was published 30 years prior to this…
When you think about it, photography has always been about processing and reprocessing light and materials to create images, which please or are impactful or otherwise meaningful to audiences.
Except for the Poloroid, there has always been some degree of processing and decision making in the choice of various manipulation techniques, during capture and in readying display competitions. For example, even choosing a different processing lab or different film stock created a different final look.
The opening chapter of “The Art of Retouching and Improving Negatives and Prints” ask and answers the question, “Why retouching is necessary.”
“There are certain defects … in the photographic process (which) make it difficult or impossible to get in the print just what is desired…
Sometimes there are patches of uneven pigmentation on the skin, not apparent to the eye … or other blemishes that should be subdued or eliminated in order to improve the portrait … by careful application of pencil …
The photographic lens is an instrument of great precissions (which) does not discriminate between the essential and unessential …
There is often …. clear definition of detail where it is not wanted”
The job of the retoucher then, according to the old school text here, is to reduce in prominence the unimportant details, like facial lines and blemishes and to enhance important details on the image, be it a film negative, digital or other medium, prior to its completion for display.
“The Art of Retouching and Improving Negatives and Prints” is usually available used on Amazon, often for under $10.00, or free in a low resolution digitized version in the Internet Archive.