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Friday, 13 May 2016


Re: The rickshaw pic- Instead of compositing [cloning] the distracting features out I would've gone for darkening and [slightly] blurring the background, maybe enhance colours and brightness of the subject, the rickshaw people a bit.

Would that be permissible considering the mode of image journalistic?

I find this debate about retouching/altering photographs quite interesting. As I see it you can do it two ways. If you are an artist, you can do as you please because you are actually creating something from nothing. You might be starting with an actual scene or event, but how you wish to share it with a viewer is up to you. The photograph Rhine ll by Andreas Gursky quickly comes to mind. It is heavily retouched (the buildings across the river have been removed) but it is a far more interesting image. The other option is if you are a photojournalist, recording events as they happen. Then the insertion and removing of elements of your picture definitely crosses the line. As for Steve Curry's photo in your article, I agree with your 3 suggested changes. I actually like the image in its original form. Its not as clean as the altered version, but in general I hate "perfect" pictures. They seem just a bit too artificial.

McCurry has been criticized for portraying a romanticized view of India and other parts of the world. I'm not bothered by a photographer searching out scenes that portray the world the way he wants it portrayed; photographs intended to send a message. That's the power of photography in a nutshell. But changing scenes to portray a world that doesn't exist is something different. Not bad (unless presented as reality), but definitely different.

A friend in Sherman, CT sent me a link to a news story about a man who escaped from a Georgia prison 48 years ago and has been living in his town ever since. The news man is standing in a parking lot with a house behind him saying "this is downtown Sherman and this is about all there is". As my friend points out, if the camera were angled slightly to the left, you'd see the grocery store and a few other businesses share that parking lot. (Granted, there REALLY isn't much to that downtown ... but the camera angle exaggerates the situation greatly).

Your post points out how many shades of gray there are in all of this. I do a lot of "corrective" edits (especially shooting events in my daughter's school, where the contrast on the stage is too great for the camera's sensor to deal with in a way that resembles what you remember seeing (you don't remember seeing half the kids blown out white with no detail, nor do you remember seeing half the kids in deep shadow, so you can't make out who they are). The pole growing out of someone's head gets to the point where I start to feel uncomfortable; not adamant, but I thing it over. If the shot is worth it, I'll remove some stray annoyance. The McCurry edit is way over the line. Not an ethical line, just not what I enjoy in taking or viewing photographs.

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to photograph it, Is the image still there ? Or if no tree falls in the forest......

Mike, I've been following this.series of posts with interest. I start from the 'hurnish' standpoint that our messy world contains enough that is wonderful and interesting that there is no need to reinvent it. That is for a different form of art, possibly including photographically derived illustration;)

This post picks up some useful themes on the slippery slope and I think it's worth mentioning the subset of justification that runs along the lines of, 'altering the scene to make it more like I feel/felt about it.' I think this is a further abstraction from your contention of alteration in the direction of majoring an image better represent the (experience of) the scene. I think it also easily leads down the slope...

For myself, I just photograph the rubbish in the landscape.


Are reporters held to the same standard of accuracy when they choose their words for the story? If a reporter was describing the rickshaw, would he/she include in his/her description the apple cart at 2?

[No doubt not, because a written report doesn't describe like a photograph does. But the verbal reporter could include other things, such as a description of sounds or temperature. And those should be accurate representations of the truth. And the reporter couldn't say "there was no fruit cart nearby" if in fact there was. --Mike]

The first thing I taught in broadcast journalism and documentary filmmaking needs to be discussed here: you can't capture reality. You're making tons of decisions (location, lens, moment, aperture, etc.) that have an impact on how the scene in front of you gets rendered.

You're arguing that those are all okay plus a few more decisions: tonality, color, and I suppose lens correction/vignetting as well as a few others.

What everyone is trying to do is "draw a line." As in "you can make these decisions but no more."

Frankly, I don't know how you justify an arbitrary line like that. To me, a documentary is "what the documentarian wanted you to see" and a photo is "what a photographer wanted you to see." Any reality is only in the practitioner's mind, it isn't in the end result.

And we haven't even gotten to the point where we ask whether McCurry was solely reacting to a truly ephemeral event that happened right in front of him and he shot it spontaneously or whether he was working with the subjects in some way.

[You're misreading this post. I said nothing about all the decisions we naturally make up to the instant of exposure, which are many, and I'm not saying anything about any arbitrary line, only the decisions *I* would make. I went out of my way in several places in the post to acknowledge that we all make our own decisions.

I think the line between correcting toward honest representation and correcting away from it is not that hard to parse. The laughing man was in the rickshaw. --Mike]

I think the dichotomy of making a photo more or less like the actual scene requires an objectivist outlook on the nature of reality. What does it mean to be "more true to the scene the way it was?" As individuals, we view, and more importantly experience the world differently. I can understand the need to not alter a photo when the photo's goal is to play Joe Friday, "just the facts mam." But where a photo reflects the photographer's individual experience of a person, place, thing, or time, my opinion is that even wild changes could be the truest expression of the photographer's experience.

I believe that technology always gets used-for good or for evil. But then when I saw the photo of Kent State it took me again down the road I have been on since that day in 1970 that changed me forever.

While interesting, this is the same ongoing, philosophical discussion that began for me in 1972 when I started taking photography classes in the art department in college. Interestingly, there was a lot more discussion in the art department than there was in the journalism department where I also took photography classes.

Always makes for passionate discussion though.

For me, the challenge has always been to go out in the real world and in some way or another, through choice of lens, positioning, timing and exposure come up with something that serves as a record of a singular moment. There is no such thing as 'truth' in photography, everything is interpretive to some degree or another. The only thing one can hope for is that if that person happens to be a documentary photographer that they are doing so in a matter which is honest and forthright.

To me, Steve McCurry is guilty of deception. There, I've said it.

This whole debate about art and photography is interesting (and I read all the 3 posts, including this, and the comments) but just think about it, were it not for this revelation by an astute visitor to one of his shows, would McCurry ever own up to those edits?

According to Petapixel (http://petapixel.com/2016/05/06/botched-steve-mccurry-print-leads-photoshop-scandal/#disqus_thread), this shot, and the one of the kids playing football, were silently removed from the Magnum archive as well.

I think that says a lot!! For me, I'll never pick up a book by Steve McCurry to properly appreciate his photos again - my mind will be thinking which parts of the image he has retouched.

Nice series. I think it's a good exercise for everyone to think about where they choose to stand on the issue, and as you point out different answers for different people are fine unless you are presenting the work as news or an objective document.

The heart of the issue though goes back to your contention that Photography and Digital Imaging ARE enough different to be considered separate but related disciplines.
I think you were spot on with that.
Digital photography has made changes in content easy and ubiquitous enough so that when people see a spectacular photograph they ask 'Has that been Photoshopped ?' It's now assumed that it is almost standard practice.
But this new power of digital imaging to easily alter content is robbing photography of one of it's greatest assets--the 'seeing is believing' truth of what we see.
We have willingly traded that for a new era of amazing convenience and new imaging capabilities which has resulted in the exploding popularity of 'photography' as well as our using pictures to communicate instantly --often replacing words.
I love digital imaging, but you were right, it IS different from Photography in several important ways. But it is also similar enough that it is no longer possible to make the distinction you accurately recognized.
Re More truthful -less Truthful
Gene Smith's or Ansel Adams' Prints often didn't resemble their subjects in many objective ways. They were far more dramatic than reality, so in that respect they were less 'truthful' however they were truer to their respective visions of a message each wanted to convey, and the world has judged them favorably.
To be sure, they weren't moving content around - I get that, but neither was that ability easily available to them.

In Mr McCurry's case, if you are shooting for a news organization, or Nat Geo, doing short or long form photo essays the standard of accuracy should indeed be placed high.
If he was doing a personal project on his romanticized view of the changing culture india, in my view he gets a lot more leeway to use the newer capabilities of digital imaging.
Where I think he fell down, is not making those distinctions perfectly clear.

I'm in the artist camp, which means the image as object itself is what is paramount, not what it depicts per se, or whether that is an "accurate" depiction. Whatever was in that scene when it was happening is by definition a transitory moment, very fleeting. Cameras lure us into thinking that that moment has been accurately captured, but it has not on a variety of levels. Furthermore, making the image as a painting or drawing or photograph, etc., by definition means transforming the depicted from something transitory to something "permanent", and this in artistic terms is a transcendent process. Therefore anything that supports that transcendence and strengthens the final image as object is not only valid but required.

Some other types of photography, scientific ones for instance, may also require enhancements/alterations to achieve a needed goal.

Reportage is entirely different, in purpose and process. And therein is the real distinction: what is it you are doing, reportage or something else?

I have a question: how did the originals of McCurry's work come to light? I assume they were disclosed by McCurry. But why would he bother to voluntarily disclose the originals, especially given how heavily they have been altered? He has to know they would invite scrutiny, and thus controversy.

It's not so easy to figure out what's OK and what's not, in terms of "truthful representation"

Everyone who looks at a picture is going to have a slightly different idea about where and how the picture slips over in to "faked" versus "enhanced", although there will surely be general trends. As people much like other people, we *should* have a rough idea of where the line tends to fall, it's more of a blurry zone, and we should (if we want to be True To The Scene) stay well clear of that grey zone. Recognizing that, still, some few people will probably find our manipulations "fake!" and others will feel we could have gone much farther.

On another note, I find that the "poles/branches growing out of her head" thing a non-issue. I simply don't see these things until someone points them out. It feels, to be honest, as if it's a thing that only photographers who have been trained to notice it actually notice. And now, of course, it has been elevated to the status of FATAL MISTAKE!!!!

[Re your first two paragraphs, yep, that's what I was trying to say. They're all decisions and we each have to wrestle with them in our own way.

I don't know about the "FATAL MISTAKE!" though. I often play with the property...once had a fish perched on top of someone's head, for instance. And of course antlers growing out of a person's head is a joke of which neither I nor Three Stooges fans ever tire. [g] --Mike]

I have recently had a different kind of need for post-processing, as I need to deal with artefacts caused by dust that has got inside my Panasonic LX100 camera. The Retouch tool in Aperture has become a close confederate in trying to recover what was originally in front of the camera.

(Dust getting inside the camera is a known problem with the LX100. I have contacted Panasonic but haven't got any response so far.)

I don't think Gordon Lewis is right. There is a blend between fiction and non-fiction. Is Power's _Declare_ non-fiction because it contains real people and events? Should I really believe that the protagonist is the son of Lawrence of Arabia and a nun? While *Powers* might be sure what parts are fiction and which non-fiction we in the audience can not be sure - which is directly analogous to the problem at hand.

I was attempting to wrestle this problem into prose last night and came up with an essentially parallel formula, to wit: edits must be made with zero or minimal impact on the story, as opposed to the presentation which, it is assumed, will be optimized within the bounds of reality as it was perceived.

Obviously, one problem here is the dichotomy between story and presentation. The larger problem is the license afforded to the individual to define and refine the story told by the photograph. It seems to me the difference between the story of the rickshaw image lies between captioning it "Rickshaw in rain" and "Life on the streets - overloaded rickshaw" or some such. Each story is evocative in its own right. The edited version can be seen as more dynamic - absent the weight of the third passenger, the driver's pose can be taken for urgency rather than simple strain.

As the photographer one needs to be clear about one's allegiance to either the scene as experienced (accurate reportage) or some larger point (truthiness). In this instance we get truthiness.

Easy peasy! If McCurry sells "Rickshaw Rampage" for $25 at the local flee market or $250,000 at Sotheby's auction, good for him: the free market's "buyer beware" principal at work. But if McCurry's photo is used as evidence in Bayani's defense in the case of Bayani vs. State (violation of the HRC51.2C bill "Rickshaw 2-passenger limit statute"), then foul, strike three, "you're outta here."
BTW, is anyone marketing digital photo-grams? (LOL)

I am by no means a portrait photographer, but I normally set up off-camera lights with modifiers for the portraits I do. There is one type of "transitory anomaly" that I quickly learned would need attention in almost every portrait.

The shadows and highlights produced by my "creative" lighting can reveal blemishes and even distort features in a sense -- things the eye never sees. I have various post-processing techniques to mitigate these "defects" and consider them to be a simple correction, but never a lack of respect for the subjects.

I like your distinction between that which renders the photograph more true vs. that which makes it less true to the scene that caught your eye. There is a certain photo-blogger who calls the P on the camera dial the "Pro" setting, shoots only jpegs (not that there's anything wrong with that), and sets the "mindless camera image" to poke-in-the-eye saturation levels. No post processing needed! What we do on the computer after we get home is a juggling act for most of us. While editing, I know when I'm stepping over the (self-imposed) line, and I choose how far to go if I do. All the while hoping I don’t clock myself on the head with a misstep (a juggling pin reference). As for removing elements altogether, I almost never do that and, when I do, it almost hurts to do it–even if I like the resulting photo better. All too often, if I remove something, it is a bit of litter that I didn’t see at the time. I sometimes have a profound ability to not see things that are in the way, a sort of “wishful thinking” blind spot.
Speaking of not seeing, I completely missed that slanted line. Now, I can’t see anything but that slanted line when I look at the before photo.

Plus One for Jim Richardson...when I was a lad and taking photography in college, I had the opportunity to go to the Milwaukee Journal and watch their darkroom guys work, they slathered everything with potassium ferrocyanide, to a degree I could not believe. They also printed everything flat, dark, and with the corners burned in, no matter what it was (commonly know locally as the "Journal Burn"). It was my first experience of learning that many times, even tho printers had the ability to reproduce just about anything on any paper; they dictated that photographs be printed in such a manner that it would make them unacceptable for visual use, to make their reproduction problems easier!

I have a mental visual memory of the scene and I try to make the picture look more like the scene.

To thin the ice further, in addition to what you said about how we can easily filter out what we (subconsciously) consider unimportant details, it can go even further than that in some cases to the extent we 'remember' things that weren't there at all, and, more worryingly, this can be influenced by other people. If everyone else at an event says they saw something, your brain is remarkably likely to just add that to your memory without you even realising, such that you'd swear you saw it yourself.

I get all aerated about this stuff, but when I talk to my 22 year photography student daughter and her colleagues the more common response is "who cares?".

I guess I grew up thinking a photograph was akin to being an evidentiary document, we knew manipulation was possible, but it was still a mighty sin.

Nowadays a photograph is something different, a story perhaps or an impression. Whatever it is, it's no longer evidence.

"The neckerchief, the paving behind and around the woman student . . . "

Actually (IIRC), that "student" was a 14-year-old runaway who (obviously) wasn't a student at Kent State.

I do notice the pole behind her, but for news photos, I can ignore that, especially if it was the only chance the photographer had to get the shot. The pole is certainly not the first thing I notice when I look at that photo!

Curry's photo is more of a travel photo type of shot, so I don't expect it to be realistic.

I do think the unaltered Curry photo looks much more realistic with regard to the weather. The altered photo makes it look like the sun has popped out from behind the rain clouds. I consider it a poor use of Photoshop, notwithstanding the other changes that were made.

Gordon Lewis says: "Writing seems so much more clearcut by comparison. One is either writing a work of fiction or non-fiction. This doesn't necessary mean that works of non-fiction are 100% factual—human beings do, after all, differ on what constitutes fact vs. interpretation—but if the author claims a book is non-fiction then he or she has to be careful not to make --it up."

There is a whole recent genre of literature that deliberately straddles this boundary between fact and fiction. It's often in the first person in the narrative writing but is also done in the third person. It's even more blurry than the similar "drama-doc" or "docu-drama" forms in TV and film.

One example which is particularly relevant to photographers is the writing of Geoff Dyer. He wrote The Ongoing Moment a book of photography criticism or photography history or something (again it's difficult to put in a genre) even though he isn't a photographer. It's perhaps his most "straight" book (aside from the biography of Berger).

Ethan Nosowsky says it best:

Geoff Dyer is often described as an “uncategorizable” writer (I am among the offenders) because of his hostility to a well-policed border between fiction and nonfiction. His travel essays have the feel of short stories, and his “proper” novels feature extended riffs that are criticism in disguise.

Or in this reponse by Dyer in the Paris Review:

DYER: [The interview series is] titled “The Art of Nonfiction.” Now I could whine, “What about the fiction?” but that would be to accept a distinction that’s not sustainable. Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.

INTERVIEWER: You don’t distinguish between them at all?

DYER: I don’t think a reasonable assessment of what I’ve been up to in the last however many years is possible if one accepts segregation. That refusal is part of what the books are about. I think of all of them as, um, what’s the word? Ah, yes, books. I haven’t subjected it to scientific analysis, but if you look at the proportion of made-up stuff in the so-called novels versus the proportion of made-up stuff in the others, I would expect they’re pretty much the same.

Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful is an wonderful factual book about jazz and jazz performers but it's a fictional representation of some known (and some made up but probably happened) events in the lives of those performers. It reads like a novel but it comes across as "truthful". Some of his other books, Out of Sheer Rage which is a book about him failing to write a biography of DH Lawrence, are even more odd blend of fact, fiction and criticism.

WG Sebald's novels use a similar style that's neither fiction or non-fiction but somewhere between essay and novel. The The Rings of Saturn,has a narrator who narrates a story that may be true or may be a fiction. It's set in long walk around Suffolk by a person who university lecturer who works at UEA as Sebald was. He even includes includes black and white photographs that "illustrate" the story. In reality these photographs are often found images that he's collected and used to inspire his fiction. In others cases he deliberately misidentifies the content and location of photographs he's taken himself (on color film and then post-processed to black and white on a xerox copier). But the walk is real, the locations are real, the feelings are real. This use of photographs has also become a trope of its own.

With both of these writers (and others) it's very difficult to "see the join" between the actuality and the fiction.

I particularly like this form of literature because of its similarity to photography. Photographs are neither true nor false in themselves: they describe everything but explain nothing (as John Szarkowski said). The fuzzy boundary between actuality and fiction, however, is not unique to photographs.

A slightly more extreme view is that all writing is fiction but some of it seems to pertain to the real world in some way. This is a viewpoint that also could be applied to all photography too.

Somehow this whole debate reminds me of the arguments over whether the Bible is the literal "word of God" but tempting as that analogy is I won't go there.

There is a photographer, I don't recall his name, who is blind. He points the camera and trips the shutter. Someone else, I guess, develops and prints the images he makes (he uses film) and since I've seen mention of him multiple times in various media, he has made at least a modest reputation as a photographer. Assuming that his processor is doing 'straight' processing, I think we could all agree that his photographs are images of reality because they are in no way biased by his visual perceptions.

I, on the other hand, choose my subjects visually, choose what to include in the frame and what to leave out and process the images to emphasize what aspects of the subject I want the viewer to "see", the same way a writer chooses his/her words to create the mood or emotion intended. That act of choosing is, in itself, a departure of from the 360 degree, 5 senses reality of the instant in which the shutter was clicked. Given that awareness, I hope you will forgive my lack of indignation for editing photographs that are illustrative as (IMO) most of the photos in National Geographic are. When I look at their photos I am fully aware that they make them in much the same manner as I do.

Truth to be told, I wouldn't have shot that particular image of the bike taxi and if I had, I would not have brightened, saturated and raised the contrast to the degree that they did. Why? Because (for me) it too greatly alters the mood of the slog through rain and mud. Again, if I had shot it, I would have done much the same edits Mike suggests but unlike Mike I would have completely ditched the white square because it is totally meaningless to the photo and is distracting. I would have suffered zero pangs of guilt over doing it although it appears that I might well have suffered unemployment in today's world of journalism, a touch of irony when I see other much more egregious distortions in photographs which are ostensibly not Photoshopped.

I refer here to numerous instances in our current election campaign where news media tightly frame images of a modest campaign event to give the impression of a large turnout (that actually totaled a few dozen to a few hundred) while downplaying (again through framing) a turnout in the thousands, with the message of each reflecting the preferences of the media's management re: the politician involved. They also choose the individual portrait image on the same basis, a flattering image for someone they favor and an unflattering one for those they oppose. All this routinely occurring in mainstream media on matters regarding the future direction of our government. But we aren't debating that. Instead, we are debating an inconsequential photograph of anonymous people on a bike taxi in India in a publication that is largely apolitical (or at least it was before its recent change of ownership). All this disputation over a photograph, the precise truthfulness of which is of little to no consequence, makes me more glad than ever that I got out of photojournalism when I was in my 20s. Jeesh!

I felt for years that choosing to shoot Velvia was moving the pictures further away from reality, and yet that was a very widespread choice among professionals in that era. I see lots of people complaining that digital processing is often over-wrought in similar directions.

So I'm bouncing right away off your assertion, Mike, that "We change density and exposure, color balance, local contrast and sharpness, perhaps correct image geometry, not to depart from reality but to represent it more closely."

What I see in the original rickshaw image is four riders packed onto the back seat of the bike and the driver working hard to move them through the rain storm. This is probably his livelihood. To me the lie in the 'fixed' version, amongst other things, is that the two surviving riders are postured for a tight fit but there is only a phony blank space behind them and a missing glimpse of the fourth person.The exertion of the driver has lost its reason."

Thank you for this.

I confess that I had looked that both the "edited" image and the original several times and never even noticed that two of the four people had been removed from the back of the rickshaw. I noticed the edits to the cart and the background and other things and spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out if the puddles/reflections on the pavement had been changed.

Overall, I thought it was a boring image. Didn't say anything to me. I think at one point I had wondered why the guy was pushing the rickshaw - Was there a flat tire or was the chain broken or something? I also assumed, stupidly, that the guy pushing it was just goofing off pushing a couple of friends around.

If the final image had included all four people, it would have made a statement or at least it would have told a coherent story. It would have suggested that these people were passengers and that they guy was laboring mightly to move them around and make a living and that the reason he was pushing the rickshaw was because it was too heavy to pedal. (Of course, this could be wrong and it might have just been five friends goofing around.)

One can argue all day long about whether it is okay to remove stray fingers and distracting bits of the background. But when you make changes that substantially alter the reality of photograph, you mislead people about what reality is.

The problem with the McCurry images is that they were used in the context of journalism, not art, documentary or otherwise. This entire brouhaha is a journalism problem, not a photography problem.

So I don't see the controversy as being about the veracity of photography to "tell the truth," and how that's changed over time with technology; anyone who's studied photography knows better, starting with Sontag's "On Photography."

The problem is that journalism continues to use photography and its attribute of appearing-to-look-like-the-truth-but-not-be-the-truth in much the same way that it used the personal perspectives of sketch artists to illustrate stories of far-off conflict before the photographic era.

Photographs are used all the time in news pieces to set the tone of the story for the reader, a direct technique of propaganda, regardless of how much veracity the image might hold to the original subject.

The real problem of this McCurry story is that it displaces our attention from the real issue, which is the non-objectivity of journalism. Essentially we're being told that yes, the photo was faked, but our stories aren't; please keep reading and watching.

Interesting that they did that pole removal in 1971. We frequently talk about that sort of thing as if it was nearly impossible (very difficult) in those days, perhaps used for high-level advertising photos, but here they chose to do it for a news photo. Do you know if the first published versions removed the pole? Those would have been published rather urgently I imagine.

I'll throw onto this heap the issue of black and white vs. color representation of the world. Portraying the world in black and white tends to add drama to a scene, often when no real drama existed.

This, I believe, puts me in the camp of 'artists with intentions' camp mentioned by others here. I think its perfectly fine to create through some amount of manipulation, a photograph that represents what that artist wants to say about the world. When I go out with a camera into the world, I'm not much interested in coming back with just a bunch of facts.

My problem with all of this is Steve McCurry has traded and continues to trade on his journalistic credentials while his work in recent years has obviously moved in other directions. I met Steve a while ago when he presented a slideshow of his work. He began with his early pictures, showed us shots taken on 9/11 and talked about Magnum. Then he showed us his current work at that time. The impression given was he was still working in a journalistic style. In commercial photography I'd have no problems with the alterations we've seen, they would be quite normal. I'm also quite prepared to accept that someone as busy as Steve has people who make creative decisions in his name. Perfectly understandable. And yet, for the reasons I mentioned above, I feel let down by this business.

I would just like to say that in my opinion it is wrong to say that that photographers make changes to make a picture more true to the way it was. We make them to make it more true to the way we saw it - a very different thing. Just the acts of choosing the moment, the framing, reducing to 2D and black and white irrevocably alter the truth.

The degree of post processing acceptable is a subjective one. But a key consideration is how the image is to be used and presented. If intended as documentary(I define as intended to represent, as accurately as possible, real world objects and/or situations) then real restrictions as discussed are relevant and proper. In the legal process case, the easy modification has led to real problems as to what photos/images can be entered as evidence. However, if the image is intended as the photographer's impression of reality, or as a purely interpretive image, then all bets are off. It would make no more sense that complaining about George Seurat's pointellist painting "Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (which took him 2 years to do) because it wasn't accurate to a moment in time, and people shown may not have actually been there at the same time. Unless it is presented as "this is the way it really is at this moment", artistic license should rule.

>>Is Power's _Declare_ non-fiction because it contains real people and events?"

You might want to pick a better example, KeithB. The full title is "Declare: A Novel". Amazon lists it under genre fiction. Whether it contains real people or events is beside the point. Powers' intent was to create a work of fiction. He makes no attempt to hide the fact.
McCurry did the opposite, which, combined with his having presented the image as a work of photojournalism rather than art, is why he got into trouble.

Although you're careful to state that this is your personal opinion/preference, by defining certain types of manipulation as "permissible", I think you lend credence to the idea that a photograph can be an objective representation of physical and/or circumstantial reality. This is a slippery slope that's made doubly slippery by imposing an arbitrary continental divide; one side flowing toward a repository of "truth" and the other to the sea of fantasy.

I dunno. I don't think life is that black and white. No pun intended.

I'm much more in sync with this post on the subject than with some of the earlier stuff. I especially appreciate the acknowledgment that a photograph is simply not the same as the actual scene and that the brain doesn't parse it the same way. A good photograph simply cannot _be_ the real thing — it is always a stand-in or reminder or riff on that.

There is a similar situation in music, live and recorded. In a live performance we ignore all sorts of things (the cough of that patron two rows back, the clicking of the bassoon keys, the hum of the ventilation system) while we rely on all sorts of other things (the visual reinforcement from seeing players operate their instruments, perhaps the conductor to find a momentarily lost beat, etc).

Hence, the art of recording is far different from the art of, say, making a concert hall. Things must be adjusted in audio post in ways that compensate for the different mode of perception when we hear a recording.

A photograph can only aspire to evoke the visual aspects of the original subject — a subject that was probably moving, was accompanied by sound and perhaps touch and more. It stands to reason that a photograph that is literally only the visual twin will be a pale substitute.

Thanks for that, Mike. I think your post works very nicely to distinguish different subcultures of photography. The culture of hard knocks in which I first learned something of photography was making a few thousand slides while doing research on religion in Sri Lanka, and later in India -- so-called ethnophotography. The photos had one plain purpose, which was to illustrate some piece of behavior or person or building or whatever. They were almost all of them on slide film. So beforehand there was one decision only: how do I best illustrate this (X), where X equals ceremony, or typical posture or costume, or temple etc. And afterwards my only decision was whether the photo adequately illustrated what it was meant to illustrate. It made little difference whether people showed an awareness of my presence, unless it totally distorted the action of the scene. (Then the slide would be discarded.) And sometimes I even regarded my presence in some way -- spectators looking at me, or even my shadow in the foreground -- as a good thing. This is consistent with the rule in ethnographic writing about such scenes that you be as honest as possible about your own presence and role. So if I were researching the life and economy of rickshaw work -- which is extraordinarily difficult and economically highly precarious -- I would welcome that shot, the washed-out first version, with its four quite well-fed passengers, and especially the grinning clown looking at me, revealing that I was there.

Ethnophotography is a form somewhat different from the documentary-photojournalist photography Jim Richardson describes above, which itself goes with journalistic writing, which in turn is different from ethnography in that the journalist should not be part of the story. But they are not that different, and in relation to McCurry's work, both of these schools would set before the court of opinion this question: do you, the jury, think that this photo of McCurry's, the one that was published, passes the criteria of either of those fidelity-based photographic practices? And if not, jury, then what was McCurry being faithful to? Was he being faithful to anything more than a saleable sense of colour and of the exotically picturesque?

As you point out nicely, Mike, there are other cultures of photography, among them that of so many of your readers, including me, who photograph as amateurs to please only ourselves and a few others. So we are allowed, alongside art photographers, to do what we damned please. So that may be a plea in mitigation for McCurry. He can do what he damned well pleases. But even then, you hope he represented his photograph as doing that, art and/or self-satisfaction, and nothing else.


I don't think that's an apple cart. The fruit or vegetable on offer looks to me like evergreen Indian mangoes or chayote.

Thanks for the post-processing food for thought. The idea of being more- or less true to the original scene in post is a distinction with a big difference. This is all I ever need to know to justify my post-processing decisions.

The biggest deception in the McCurry photo isn't the cloning out, as such. It's that the original shows the guys in the rickshaw very much aware of the camera and photographer, and enjoying the attention. The retouched image tries to make us believe that McCurry was invisible, and that everyone was just heads-down focused on getting from point A to point B in the rain. In other words, he's fudged the very essence of the human interaction that occurred as he shot the photo.

I kind of concur with this analysis, but here's the rub. I don't have to sell images to a market obsessed with an ideal of perfection.

Landscape and fine art images are expected to be perfect. To have nothing distracting and nothing anomalous. Places like this are increasingly hard to find (as I found out when my 'perfect' rural landscape in Snowdonia had a row of parked cars behind a wall.

I cloned them out. I guess they would conform to your definition of 'transitory' but if you shoot in a city, the amount of transitory noise is overwhelming. Getting a clear shot is near impossible much of the time.

My brain filters these things out when I focus on a subject, but they appear in the image and stick out like a flashing beacon.

That's not what I actually saw when I took the image...

It's a tough one, and in the end I guess we all have to draw our own line in the sand.

I'm not sure why everyone is being so easy on McCurry and ignoring the unethical elephant in the room, talking about slippery slopes and shades of grey instead.

Steve McCurry, unlike Andreas Gursky or Cindy Sherman, does not represent himself as a creative arist selling artifacts created with the use of a camera and photo-manipulation. He represents himself as a famed photojournalist and ethno-travel photographer with an exceptional eye for found color and found composition.

It is that purportedly remarkable eye and talent that he promises to deliver in the form of a photograph. That is what he is selling, when's he sells (i.e. takes money for) his photographs, the sum being entirely a function of that promised talent.

The rickshaw and soccer boy pictures breach that promise. McCurry gets his money due a false premise on the part of the buyer. The false premise by the buyer arises because McCurry has lied-the image isn't what McCurry's special eye saw.

This is fraud, since there is an exchange for consideration.

In my humble but blunt opinion.

Many people seem to think that if you make a photo, what you get is what you saw. But it is not the case. A photo is a two-dimensional reproduction of what was in front of the camera, with a clear relation between the reproduction and what was before the camera, defined by the laws of physics /optics. The technique also has limitations regarding the range from light to dark that can be recorded.
I think that the idea that one would like to make the picture look more like what you remember is a error, leading to the fantasy images that started this discussion.
The better one handles the differences between the part of reality that one photographs and the resulting image, the better a photographer one is. More so if you succeed in making the picture look like you would like people to see. Alterations afterwards, if they are more then simple adjustments, make the photo less interesting. And the quest for beauty is another great temptation. But if it is not in the photo, do not try to put it in there afterwards.


> it always made me stop paying attention to the song and wonder if
> the phone was ringing.

Not to mention the car horn in Country Honk that always makes me look in the rear view mirror - every bloody time!

What Bill Tyler and Alan Carmody said.

The gif makes the contrast nearly shocking: the removal of the smiling man fundamentally changes the meaning of the picture. Fundamentally, on the most essential level. They are two entirely different works.

A fraud indeed.

Also, I would urge people to read and/or pay attention to Teju Cole in general. His earlier linked piece is spot on, but Cole happens to be a very strong novelist as well as thinker on photography. I've read both his novels, and have sometimes thought to myself that he 'sees' as a writer as Saul Leiter saw with his camera.

David Dyer-Bennet asks: "Do you know if the first published versions removed the pole?"

They didn't.

For example, the New York Times front page for that day shows the pole in this rather murky scan:

The Daily Iowan shows the pole too

The Los Angeles Times also shows the pole

Both the Georgia Straight and The Baltimore Sun show the pole (but those images are too wide to show -- click the links to see them).

The only contemporary front page I can find on the net that published the image and is missing the pole is the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Jonn Filo says in an interview with CNN that they were in a rush to get film developed (correctly!), the image printed and sent out to AP because the story was on the radio. I presume after the shooting the John Filo distributed the photo without modifications but some changes may have been applied by the papers that published it or the photo libraries that held the image. This matches the evidence we have.

But it is clear that the day after the shooting at least one paper published an altered photo (but it's not clear that it's the altered photo to me -- it seems to have a lighter block missing rather than just the pole removed). Perhaps there are multiple altered photos.

At a later date the modified photo in Time-Life Picture Collection photo library was published in TIME (Nov. 6, 1972, p. 23) and then multiple times later. The missing pole wasn't noticed until 1995 (and was published on the WWW at that time ... see link for a discussion from NPPA-L and a screen shot of Netscape Navigator on a Mac).

See http://v1.zonezero.com/magazine/articles/meyer/06.html

chris_scl's animated GIF is a great way to do a "blink comparison" between two images. I didn't notice the horizon (the kerb) is levelled or that the sky had been removed before or that the guys white clothing had turned blue. Bravo!

WOW, that GIF is quite damning. I do agree that this type of lie ruins photography. Looking at landscape photography at this point is a joke. I agree that there needs to be a clear delineation between photography and the other.

I would draw the distinction between "good" and "bad" manipulation by asking whether the photographer's intent was to reveal or to conceal. This distinction is a bit clearer than the one you use, but is limited to genres where "truthfulness" is key (I am a big advocate for allowing randomality in photographs, but that's beside the point).
Once you get on the beautification path it is very difficult to draw a line and any reasoning might look ad hoc.

I understand that my comments heretofore ("everything has been photographed") are not appreciated. But, I will persist. I'd argue that photography is not unlike a omni-directional mic in a busy cafe: it captures everything. The same professor at SFAI who made the statement re: everything already being photographed, also stated that photography is a very democratic medium. It gives the same level of importance and gravitas to everything it records. Photography makes no distinction - in both cases, it is up to the photographer to make those distinctions. Once again, it falls on the photographer to edit, distill, reduce and otherwise get to the very essence of that particular moment. It's really as simple, and as complex, as that.

"in the end I guess we all have to draw our own line in the sand"

That's the sensible conclusion that many thoughtful photographers arrive at.

But because everyone will draw a slightly different line it also explains why digital has killed the photography that over 40's once knew. An ambivalent line in the sand is the same as no line at all. So the oldster's rearguard actions won't gain traction, and in the meantime the youngster's ethical practises are informed by this,


RIP old style photography, any link between cameras and objective reality has gone.

I don't fully agree with the idea of limiting photography to mimic more truthfully how the original scene was (outside of journalism). I think we are missing some of the greater things photography has to offer when we limit its scope just to record and describe. The ability to absorb a scene, put it inside you, then pull it out and put it on paper, and see how it comes out is fascinating. It's the interpretation what really makes photographs interesting and makes some photographers work really stand out.

And for the sake of clarity, every single photograph made and observed by a human being is an interpretation in some way. The only possible way to avoid that is being there, in the scene, and have the direct experience.

I like Robert Frank's pictures by what they are as photographs, product of the artistic and political views he puts in them, not just because they are a record of a particular place and time. Recording reality is just one small part of photography, but there are many more. Why stop there?

All images are manipulated to some degree. You can wring your hands and cry foul, but there it is. I suggest your readers watch Rashomon, then talk about objective reality.

I continue to struggle with many of the issues described in this fascinating thread. Is focus stacking acceptable? In using ferricyanide in silver printing, such as is said to have been used to change the gaze of one of the women at the bier in the Gene Smith photo/illustration of the Spanish funeral, is there deception? Or the hand in his Schweitzer photo essay of the doctor by a window, and in the corner of the window there is a backlit hand, holding a saw, that is not present in another print? These photo "essays" still have remarkable power. Are they journalism? They were presented as such in print.

In Karl Marlantes' remarkable novel of the Vietnam war, Matterhorn, a soldier tells a story and, paraphrasing now, the narrator tells us that nothing in the story ever happened, but that nonetheless the story is true. Somehow, the characters in the novel hearing the story know this to be true, and so does the reader.

Ref. the rickshaw image, in my mind it is quite simple: if the author made the changes and did not disclose them, it was because he knew what the consequences were - the image would no longer be considered apt for PJ work.

So he gambled on no one noticing them, and lost his bet.

I can still remember seeing the Kent State photo on the day it first hit the newspapers - one of the defining moments of our generation worldwide - and thinking "What's happened to her head?" - so the retouch was probably justified.

Picture quality on the wire photos in the UK newspapers wouldn't have been that great.

No excuse for the rickshaw picture though.

The faithfulness or pervertion of a representation of reality is also a matter of expectations and intentionality.

The dishonesty in some of the images discussed here lies in the fact that faithfulness is expected by the viewer and implied by the photographer, editor and publisher, but a deceitfuly manufactured image is presented. And in certian cases the manipulation is made only to increase the market value of the image and not its representational value of reality. The proof is in how surprising and worthy of discussion the whole matter is.

Imagine for a moment if the Vivian Maier photos were found out to be staged montages manufactured in Photoshop.

And this is the crux in all kinds of journalism.

I use to say, as a journalist, that if it is on TV it is a lie, as a way to shock someone out of the assumption that those images and the discourse isn't manufactured. It always is, either to emphasize an argument or to simply deceive the viewer or reader.

I find the concept ofsimulacrum helpful in such analysis. Form the article in Wikipedia:

The simulacrum has long been of interest to philosophers. In his Sophist, Plato speaks of two kinds of image making. The first is a faithful reproduction, attempted to copy precisely the original. The second is intentionally distorted in order to make the copy appear correct to viewers. He gives the example of Greek statuary, which was crafted larger on the top than on the bottom so that viewers on the ground would see it correctly. If they could view it in scale, they would realize it was malformed. This example from the visual arts serves as a metaphor for the philosophical arts and the tendency of some philosophers to distort truth so that it appears accurate unless viewed from the proper angle.[5] Nietzsche addresses the concept of simulacrum (but does not use the term) in the Twilight of the Idols, suggesting that most philosophers, by ignoring the reliable input of their senses and resorting to the constructs of language and reason, arrive at a distorted copy of reality.[6]

Postmodernist French social theorist Jean Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. Where Plato saw two types of representation—faithful and intentionally distorted (simulacrum)—Baudrillard sees four: (1) basic reflection of reality; (2) perversion of reality; (3) pretence of reality (where there is no model); and (4) simulacrum, which "bears no relation to any reality whatsoever".[7]

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