In a joint statement provided by Unilever regarding its "Campaign for Real Beauty," the company, Ms. Leibovitz, who created the ads in question, and the celebrity photo re-toucher she works with -- Pascal Dangin, who kicked off the controversy with a quote he said was taken out of context in an interview with The New Yorker magazine -- all denied substantially altering images in the much-lauded campaign.
In the joint statement Mr. Dangin said, "The recent article published by The New Yorker incorrectly implies that I retouched the images in connection with the  Dove 'real women' ad. I only worked on the [2007 Dove Pro-Age] campaign taken by Annie Leibovitz and was directed only to remove dust and do color correction -- both the integrity of the photographs and the women's natural beauty were maintained."
"The 'real women' ad referenced in recent media coverage was created and produced entirely by Ogilvy, the Dove brand's advertising agency, from start to finish, and the women's bodies were not digitally altered," Unilever Senior Communications Marketing Manager Stacie Bright said in the statement, referring to the 2005 ad, which showed younger women in their underwear.
Ms. Bright and Mr. Dangin's company, Box Studios, did not immediately respond to e-mail queries about precisely what the "color correction" entailed. But the Pro-Age ads were a later incarnation of the "Campaign for Real Beauty" than those apparently referenced in The New Yorker.
Calls and an e-mail to The New Yorker and Lauren Collins, author of the piece, weren't returned by press time.
Quoted in New Yorker
In a profile of Mr. Dangin in the May 12 issue of The New Yorker, Ms. Collins writes: "I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual 'real women' in their undergarments [the 2005 ad]. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. 'Do you know how much retouching was on that?' he asked. 'But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone's skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.'"
In a separate statement Mr. Dangin issued through Box Studios, he said: "My quotes have been taken out of context and my role with Dove misconstrued."
Though he did not work on the "women in their undergarments" ad, he said, "In my experienced opinion, based upon what I have seen, it does not appear that the women had been retouched."
The photos for that 2005 ad were taken by London celebrity fashion photographer Ian Rankin, not Ms. Leibovitz, with whom Mr. Dangin long has worked. Mr. Rankin couldn't be reached at press time.
"As directed by Ms. Leibovitz and Ogilvy & Mather, [the Pro-Age] photographs were retouched for dust and color correction," he said. "I did not mean to suggest that the women's shape, size, facial features or age were retouched. Consistent with the intent of Dove, Ogilvy & Mather, Annie Leibovitz, and my own guiding philosophy, the integrity of the photographs and the natural and unique beauty of the women were maintained."
In her statement, provided by Unilever, Ms. Leibovitz said, "Let's be perfectly clear -- Pascal does all kinds of work -- but he is primarily a printer -- and only does retouching when asked to. The idea for Dove was very clear at the beginning. There was to be NO retouching, and there was not."
Dove: Accurate depictions
The work on all the ads was consistent with Dove's mission "to make more women feel beautiful every day by widening the definition of beauty and inspiring them to take great care of themselves," Ms. Bright said in her statement. "Dove strives to portray women by accurately depicting their shape, size skin color and age."
Several readers commenting on Ad Age's Thursday story saw the controversy as a tempest in a teapot. "The issue is being massively blown out of proportion," said one. "Retouching to adjust skin tones, remove shadows, or combine two or more photos from the same session for the sake of shot composition is commonplace and completely ethical."
"I think we are losing sight of what this campaign is really about -- loving your own body," said another reader. "Even if the photo was retouched a bit, it still conveys the fact that all women are beautiful, no matter what size or shape."
Important issue for the models
But Unilever and Mr. Rankin, the original photographer on the campaign, had made a point of saying the ads hadn't been touched up in some media reports. And the retouching issue was important at least to the Pro-Age models -- women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who posed nude for the ads and had been told their images would not be retouched, said one of them, Wendy Katzman, of San Francisco, in an e-mail.
"We asked and were explicitly told that none of our [Dove Pro-Age] photos were retouched," she said on Thursday. "I just heard about The New Yorker article last night and was pretty upset about it!" She didn't recall who had told her the photos wouldn't be retouched, but said it wasn't Ms. Leibovitz.