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Rubens is just one of numerous European painters to have depicted the beauty contest in the mythological story of The Judgement of Paris. Attitudes towards beauty contests have changed dramatically over the last 50 years and these are now felt to be far less socially acceptable. Many photographers in the Magnum Photos cooperative have documented beauty contests in ways that expose awkwardness and absurdity, but shows that promote ideal non-human specimens, such as dogs, or cars or vegetables, remain enduringly popular. Martin Parr’s and Elliot Erwitt’s gently humorous photographs explore our often strange notions of beauty and our obsessive pursuit of perfection. Interestingly, some of the most powerful and enduring portraits of Hollywood stars hint at the more complex truths beneath the beautiful façade. Richard Avedon’s unsettling portrait of Marilyn Monroe is a good example.

Film-based photography

Digital photography

Film and video

Magnum

Martin Parr

Elliot Erwitt

Richard Avedon