Gee Greenslade (www.geegreenslade.com) is a photographer, artist, Photoshop freak, and University of South Australia lecturer based in Adelaide, Australia, who is also a vegan food aficionado, a lover of beautiful objects, and addicted to all kinds of tea, not to mention a bit of a hippy.
Tell us about yourself. How did you become a retoucher/digital artist?
I’m kind of this strange jack-of-all-trades, I guess. I’m an artist first and foremost; I studied at the University of South Australia. I live in Adelaide with a cat, a dog, five rats, and a boyfriend. Making art is my first priority and I use it as a means to speak very openly about my life stories and stuff that’s important to me. My pieces are large scale artworks printed at 1.8 meters each on Photo Rag, which is a fine art paper.
I’m also a professional coach for photographers who need help with retouching, lecturer at Uni SA on a casual basis, retouch artist, and business owner, and I adore any kind of artistic expression and creation. I think retouching is an extension of that, really, but it happened entirely by accident.
Back when I was a teenager, I played around with a copy of Photoshop I got from one of those PC Magazine disks – I loved the idea of making images with a computer. Then I started editing people’s photos for MySpace (cute and disgusting I know!) back in my emo kid days and people would pay me an odd 10 bucks here and there to fix their images. Just remove blemishes or do stupid stuff like put their awesome ‘xXxhardcorexXx’ name on the shots. It was a really fun time in my life and complimented my work back then, which was making websites for friends.
When I graduated high school, I had the choice of doing either Visual Arts or Drama; at the last minute, I moved to Adelaide on a whim, took up Visual Arts and kind of fell into the photography scene. It resonated with me the most. I got my first real retouching job not long after and the rest is history.
Did you have any formal training in photography or either traditional or digital painting?
I did a Certificate IV in Multimedia early-on, whilst in high school, so that was a lot of design, then University – digital media, photography, and a little bit of drawing and sculpture.
What types of retouching do you do most for clients and are your clients mainly private individuals or companies?
In Adelaide, retouch artists tend to take on anything and everything. Yesterday, I was editing birth photos; today, I was doing a wedding; and tomorrow, I will be working on a fashion shoot for a local suit company. Next week, I’m working on wine bottles and beer bottles for a national campaign. Monday/Tuesday are my art-making and selling days. It’s really quite random!
What type of retouching is your favorite? Do you mind working on something that’s not your favorite? Are you doing anything to shift your workload into the area that you enjoy the most?
I’ll work on anything; I live for making my own personal artwork, but I adore the challenge of lots of different things because I take lessons from each one back to my personal work.
What are three personal qualities that have really helped you to become successful in your craft and business?
I’m someone who is stubborn as hell and can sit patiently for hours, meticulously fixing something.
I try lots of different things and push really hard to get across what is in my head. I’m also not afraid I’ll screw up.
I feel really good about where I am as an artist and have built up a lovely client base of people who are more like friends than anything else, so that makes for a really beautiful working environment with lots of understanding about my creative process.
When you were starting out, what were your main sources for clients? Where would you recommend beginning retouchers advertise their services?
Networks are really important, and building relationships that are honest, open, and full of enthusiasm is the best thing for anyone. I have never had to advertise based on that idea alone and, so far, it hasn’t failed me. Be good at what you do, put in the hard yards practicing your craft, and make rad friends.
What are the common photographer mistakes you encounter that make your retouching job more time-consuming?
One of the problems I encounter is that some photographers just don’t know what is and isn’t possible. For example, one of the insane ones we get fairly regularly: “Could you please turn this person around a little bit so that their back is not to us?”
It’s hard to keep a straight face, but you just have to let that go and level with the client, not insult his or her intelligence, and explain that’s not how it works.
Another one is when I’m asked to make harsh sunlit images look like nighttime or to change the weather. It’s hard to rein people in; you’ve got to respect that they are asking you a serious question and try to explain that although it can be done, it will take time.
And then there’s the bride who goes for the hardcore tan on her wedding day, standing next to her pasty-white partners. Although it’s not directly a photographer problem, it still drives me mental trying to find a way for it to look less “oompahloompah-like”, because depending on the light, correcting for it can be problematic.
Bad-colored bridesmaids dresses also make me cringe. I will never forget the season that fluorescent-coloured dresses were the “in” thing. My team and I spent a week just hating that poor bride for her decisions. We ended up telling our photographers to start warning their brides about fake tans and bad colour choices in their meetings with brides and that helped a whole lot.
Do you have any practical advice to give to photographers who are trying to master retouching for their own photography?
Basics are an absolute must. When teaching, I find students really struggle with basic masking principles. I try to explain that masking really is the Holy Grail of Photoshop and instill in them the idea of a non-destructive workflow. It can be difficult.
The other part is: you really need to know photography, so study how a photo should look and don’t get carried away with the crazy Photoshop effects just yet. For me, the biggest learning experience was having to learn to shoot black-and-white film. I hate that I’m saying this, because at the time, I was really grumpy that university made me learn film. I wanted them to get with the times and let me shoot digital!
But I learned my most valuable retouching lessons of controlling highlights and shadows in the darkroom, and that’s something I took with me. Even now in AIPP awards, that’s the thing I get the most comments on, especially when our clients’ work goes up for judging.
One of my proudest moments was when I’d heard how well Harmony (my retouching partner-in-crime) and I had controlled the blacks in a judged piece we’d retouched for another photographer. Unfortunately, I can’t show much of the work we do because many of our shooters choose to remain anonymous.
Do you teach retouching privately? If not, is that something you would you like to do?
Yep! I adore one-on-one retouching sessions. At the moment, we only do them on-site, but we are hoping to expand our teaching by including Skype and other delivery methods. We will see how it goes!
If artist friends were to ask you if they should become professional retouchers, what would you say? What qualities would make it easier for them to succeed? Under what circumstances would you recommend they not pursue this profession?
I would tell them to go for it. Retouching has been the most brilliant job for me; it has given me the flexibility to grow as a photographer and artist through working on other people’s images, as well as given me the kind of flexible life others only dream of having. I work in my pajamas with my pet dog and cat chilling out at my feet, I can work any time of the day, and my clients even show up to my studio in their pajamas and slippers once they know I’m the comfort-clothing kind of girl.
It’s a beautiful community and I am truly grateful to be a part of it. I want that life for the people around me too, especially the students and up-and-comers. Being a retoucher has given me access to so much equipment and advice, and to people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
What is your favorite art, motivational/inspirational quote, or piece of advice?
I’m a massive fan of the quote by Theodore Roosevelt – brought to light for me in a talk by Brenae Brown on 99u.com:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
For me that really sums up what a creative life is all about. You have to get in the arena, you have to take all the blows that come with it and recognize that it’s not the critic who counts (or the people who will judge your life for what you do); it’s the fact that you’re actually out there doing what you love and giving it a go. You can’t win the lotto if you don’t buy a ticket…I bought my ticket and I won.
What is your most exciting project at the moment?
I’m working on three separate projects at the moment. The first is called bludlines – it’s an exploration of family and the fears that are had, the bits of them you carry on through your life and the traits passed on. Mostly, it’s a series that is deeply personal and symbolic.
The second is called 1,000 Paper Cranes, a project in which I folded 1,000 paper cranes and made a wish for peace within my family. I’ll be using these cranes to tell our family history and in the end, hopefully pull us all a bit more together.
Finally, I started work on a series called The Arena, which is loosely based on the Theodore Roosevelt quote. This series is more of a technical exploration of light and dark than anything else, with themes of superheroes, good-vs.-bad, and even a dash of The Hunger Games. It’s my “fun” series.