You probably remember the discussion about famed photojournalist editorial photographer visual storyteller Steve McCurry's overuse of Photoshop cloning, which provoked heated debate here and elsewhere. Steve McCurry today addressed his critics—well, sort of—in an exclusive article published this morning at TIME magazine's website.
It's a strange, unsatisfying little article. McCurry vaguely claims it's all a category error: "I’ve always let my pictures do the talking, but now I understand that people want me to describe the category into which I would put myself, and so I would say that today I am a visual storyteller."
Alternated with his comments are comments by National Geographic’s director of photography, Sarah Leen. She first explains how great he is, then says sternly that his manipulations would never be tolerated by National Geographic. He then tells the story of how a National Geographic cover photo of his was doctored, and she says yeah but that was a long time ago and "it would never happen now."
Who's on whose side here?
The article concludes with McCurry saying that he can do anything he wants to do but that "going forward, I am committed to only using the program in a minimal way."
The original PetaPixel story has been shared over 25,000 times, according to Sharkey James's PetaPixel Photography Podcast episode 76, titled "Is Steve McCurry’s Legacy Imploding?" An update to the second of PetaPixel's articles notes that McCurry's entire blog was taken down after a number of manipulated images were discovered on it.
Meanwhile, McCurry himself appears to be hiding—more than one outlet reports that they can't get an answer to repeated emails and requests for comment.
In the podcast, James compares McCurry's fall from grace to Bill Cosby's, given the high stature and wide admiration his work once enjoyed and the dismay and disillusion these revelations have caused. Which seems a bit over the top, unless you concede that the scandal is having wider repercussions across the whole profession. Perhaps most damning, though, are these harsh words from a long article published by the NPPA (National Press Photographers Association), in an article called "ETHICS MATTERS: A commentary from NPPA’s Ethics Committee regarding the photographs of Steve McCurry," written by Steve Raymer, professor emeritus of the Media School at Indiana University and a former NPPA Magazine Photographer of the Year:
NPPA Ethics Committee chairman Sean D. Elliot says that no matter what McCurry calls himself today, “He bears the responsibility to uphold the ethical standards of his peers and the public, who see him as a photojournalist. [...] Any alteration of the journalistic truth of his images, any manipulation of the facts, regardless of how relevant he or others might feel they are to the deeper ‘truth,’ constitutes an ethical lapse.” Elliot also called McCurry’s attempt to blame an assistant “disingenuous” and questions the professional standards of a studio in which a lab assistant “feels they have the authority to radically alter the work of Steve McCurry.”
So was it our fault, for thinking he was a photojournalist and editorial photographer and was following the very clearly delineated and universally accepted rules of ethical practice of those professions? Guess so. In this morning's TIME article he says, "Reflecting on the situation…even though I felt that I could do what I wanted to my own pictures in an aesthetic and compositional sense, I now understand how confusing it must be for people who think I’m still a photojournalist."
Doesn't sound like much of a mea culpa.
The moral of this mess seems to be, if you want to claim you're only tellin' stories, best do it up front.
(Thanks to Pak WAN)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Steve Jacob: "Tellin' tales? Sounds about right...."
John Camp (partial comment): "This Sean Elliot quote really annoyed me: 'He bears the responsibility to uphold the ethical standards of his peers and the public, who see him as a photojournalist.' Oh, really? It's now the viewers who determine what the photographer can do? Maybe it's just me, but I haven't really thought of McCurry as a straight-up photojournalist for a while now...years, anyway."
glenn brown: "I do corporate headshots for blue chip companies and now people are asking for no Photoshop instead of lots.
"I also collect photographs, mostly B/W and pre-1980, but I did have a colour McCurry photo in pride of place in the entrance hall of my home. After a week I moved it to bathroom in the rear of my house. Just did not want it to hang with other images by Towell, Bailey and Newman. I feel better now."
Mark: "Let it be known that, while I am a photographer, I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor do I ever plan to be, a photojournalist. Now, back to my Photoshopping. did i get the commas right?"
Mike the Ed. replies: You did. But not the capitals in your final sentence. :-)
Rich Reusser: "...A more apt comparison than Cosby might be Lance Armstrong. Seems like Lance and Steve both blame the uneducated layman's expectations for their 'rule breaking' or simply doing what needed to be done as they'd have you believe."
Mike replies: The exact same thought occurred to me earlier. Cosby is better known, fell from far higher, meant more to more people, and did real harm.
Andrew Molitor: "It's just another nail in the coffin, another small step toward a world in which everyone assumes everything is 'Shopped.
"We've reached a world in which anyone who's paying attention knows that anything which looks like a photo could be 'Shopped. Anything that looks too good to be true should be viewed with suspicion.
"McCurry, with his venal 'Shopping of trivialities, is showing us that even if it doesn't look too good to be true, even if it looks perfectly possible, even mundane, it still could be 'Shopped, still should be viewed with suspicion.
"On the one hand, it was inevitable. That Pandora's box was opened a while ago, and it was only a matter of time before that particular creature escaped. On the other hand, way to go McCurry (heavy sarcasm)."
Ted: "Back around 15–20 years ago I considered trying to be a photojournalist/travel photographer. I had a lots of encouragement from friends and such and I had traveled extensively taking many photos. However I was always frustrated and discouraged by how my photos would somehow have so many more distracting elements and somehow just did not have the punch and pure style a guy like McCurry had, one of my absolute idols. I was a good photographer, very good, and still am. For a variety of reason I'm glad I did not pursue that direction (not that I would have succeeded but let's just say I found a way to make way more money and still very much enjoy my hobby), now seeing all this it all makes so much more sense now why so much of his work was so 'perfect.' It was a 'created/false perfection.' My impression of him and my awe of his work has shriveled considerably. Frankly I'm very depressed about it."