As a follow-up to the "KGB'd!" discussion:
Ctein noted in one of his comments that "As for immodest cropping, yes that can (and in fact has, at times) violate ethics by eliminating substantial elements of importance to the veracity of the scene."
Unlike adding or deleting pictorial elements, cropping is to a much greater extent a "gray area" in photojournalistic ethics (a subject on which I am not an expert, by the way). It's a given that every photograph is "cropped," literally, or effectively by the mere act of pointing the camera, and it's a form of possible non-objectivity that we're used to and that everyone assumes. (And, of course, one that's most often done just to fit an image to an available space.) And yet Ctein's right. Here's an example of a crop that changes meaning. In my opinion that's an example of an unethical crop.
We should have a contest...like one of those contests where you have to change the meaning of a word by changing only one letter, or the meaning of a phrase by changing one punctuation mark: change the entire meaning of a famous picture using just a crop. Here's my offering:
And in case you're not smiling at that, here's the whole picture.
(I added the lettering just because I didn't want to unleash into the wilds of the internet such a gross misrepresentation of Weegee's picture, lest my Bowdlerized version take on a life of its own.)
Before the comments start, a reminder: when we talk about the ethics of cropping, we're only talking about journalism, not all kinds of photographs. The rules are different.
(Thanks to Peter Erbak)
ADDENDUM: A reader who wishes to remain anonymous sent me this comparison, which should make it more clear to all that the issue with the Economist cover is not a matter of cropping (and that an even longer lens would still not have made the cover shot possible as an unmanipulated image).
ADDENDUM #2: A number of people have forwarded to me other Economist covers that are clearly illustrations, such as this one:
I still call foul on the Obama cover, however, despite not being keyed in to the Economist's typical practices. The reason is that the illustration cover is obviously an illustration: not one person in a thousand would mistake it for an objective, unaltered photograph. But, as Ctein put it, "The President photo...looks exactly like a straight, unmanipulated photo and that is how people will read it."
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Gordon Lewis: "What I find most troubling about this type of digital manipulation is that it allows for an insidious double standard. Large organizations such as The Economist can justify the image manipulation to their readership as photo illustration. They have lawyers on retainer to protect them against claims of factual distortion. The individual photographer who tries the same approach, however, is much more likely to catch hell if and when caught. No wonder so many photographers these days are caught stepping over the line: The line is always moving. The question is, who's moving it and why?"
Featured Comment by Jim Hughes: "As we all know, things are rarely as they seem, especially in publishing. I don't know where you found your 'uncropped' Weegee 'Critic,' but it too was cropped. Look again; it is rendered in an almost square format, and Weegee of course photographed with Graphics, 4x5 format. I have a framed print in my living room of that photograph, enlarged on an 8x10 sheet but keeping its typical 4x5 dimensions. But I already knew, as your version shows, that in my print, the bottom was cropped off. Your square shows more of the elegant ladies' garments, and more of the so-called critic's much plainer coat. Years ago, at one of the NY auction houses' pre-sale exhibits, I saw, and handled, a full-frame, uncropped and probably very early print of that image that included significantly more in the background behind and to the right of the three players in this famous drama, including, as I seem to remember, at least one other (rather indistinct) person."
Mike replies: Jim, your indistinct person on the right is there, along with three rather distinct persons on the left! See below....
Featured Comment by Pat C: "Mike, Check out this, which I found simply by feeding your cropped version to TinEye.com. It seems even your uncropped image is a fairly heavy crop too!"
Mike replies: Ah, beautiful. I like that one best. But now we're in to the dark night of "what Weegee intended." A photograph is like a statement, and the statement is the photographer's to make (although often with the "collaboration" of an editor or some other person). The crop I chose is similar to the way the picture appears in Naked City (at least as I remember it there—I don't have the book at hand). But then, if that shows more than the original print Jim owns, who decided to crop it that way for the book? An editor might have. What was Weegee's intention? Seems clear he was after the juxtaposition of the fancy ladies with the poor one. Surely the title ("The Critic") is his—check out this one that he signed, presumably (!) shown whole and entire: