José Paulo: The Midas Touch

Midas transformed everything he touched into gold, and maybe we can say the same about José Paulo’s work. But the tale we tell here has a much happier ending, where the talent of this artist only helped him grow and prosper, and everything he touches shines brighter.

Photos: Vincent Peters, retouched by José Paulo

Whenever we see a photograph by Peter Lindeberg or Vincent Peters, what we do not see is the number of people involved in the process, whose hard work ensures the image arrives safely in our hands in a way we love to see. After the photographer has pressed the button, there is a whole process unknown to others: retouching. And this is something Portugal is seriously good at.

In 2008, José Paulo was working in a manufacturing company. Creating packaging designs and taking his first steps in Photoshop were essential to his growth as an artist. But that was only the beginning and José quickly began giving workshops and training in digital art. The desire to go digital took him to Frederico Martins, one of Portugal’s most renowned photographers. Just two months later, José Paulo joined the team of Lalaland Studios in Porto. He began by doing skin-retouching. “It was a real challenge for me to risk everything and come work for someone who at the time I didn’t know, but who had been working in the fashion business for some time,” he says. “My first instructor in skin-retouching was Frederico Martins, backed up by many hours of research and hard work, many mistakes and attempts to do better. We spent 12 years together on this journey, of which I’m very proud.”

In 2020, he decided to change tack and venture out on his own. “In 2020 I decided to take on a new challenge and at this time I’m collaborating with Frederico and with world-renowned photographers and agencies,” José Paulo tells us. At the moment, he’s working with names such as Vincent Peters (USA) and photographers from Saudi Arabia. Which has ended up being even more of a challenge. “I’ve had to recognise there are different standards of beauty when it comes to retouching. For example, these two countries have very different ideas of what constitutes beauty. In the USA, it’s beginning to take off in a new direction, where agencies and the photographers themselves are beginning to want a more natural look. Perfect, but more natural.” On the other hand, “in the East (in Saudi Arabia), the skin retouching process more than anything is very demanding, a bit overdone. But that way, we learn how different cultures around the world see photographs and embrace alternative notions of what makes something perfect.”

So, what’s so special about retouching? “It’s a very demanding profession as we have to analyse each job that falls in our lap, understand what the client wants and make sure it gets done, as much from the point of view of the photographer as the person we are retouching. Each job is unique and has its
particularities and hurdles to overcome.
Some are simpler, and others are more complex. The greatest challenge is for the retoucher to adapt to each one and achieve the most perfect results within what’s being asked of them,” José Paulo tells us.

When the demands are ever greater, is there room for talent to shine? In this area, José Paulo tends to think not: talent is only one part of the equation. “Talent is the result of dedication and patience” to which should be added a great sense of responsibility. “I have an enormous responsibility towards and respect for the professionals I work with.”

In fashion, the work of the retoucher is essential, but for the public, it’s a process that goes almost unnoticed. “Anyone not working in fashion photography and retouching, I believe, has no idea about the kind of work a professional retoucher does. Nonetheless, I think whoever does work in the area, from photographers to agencies, graphic designers, producers, make-up and hair artists, is perfectly aware of what a retoucher does because they get the chance (unlike the public) to see photos before and after. That’s when you notice the difference! In the product or final image!”

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