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Tuesday, 11 September 2012


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Here we are again: "What is reality?" The question we photographers cannot stop asking.

It's an apples-and-oranges comparison: the 2001 photographs are reportage, the 2011 versions are creative art. Like you, Mike, I find the originals preferable: I don't need to be told what to feel about the events; give me the information and I'll work it out for myself.

9/11 has been Instagrammed.

I, too, like the original, undramatized versions.

I have no problem with making images more dramatic in most cases. My usual defense when I'm guilty is, Hey, I'm not a photojournalist.

But when an image is presented as photojournalism, then we run into a real problem making alterations (other than those that are typically allowed in the major newspapers -- their rules are pretty specific). And when the photojournalism is as emotionally charged as 9-11, it's even more of an issue.

All of which makes me glad I'm not a photojournalist.

I agree with you Mike, the originals seem more authentic.

It was a very clear, dry day. Much like today in Connecticut, about 70 miles away. Video of the plane hitting the tower, or of the people falling will confirm that.

Somewhat eerily, here on the east coast it's exactly the same weather today as it was that day. It doesn't happen often, either. Almost never, in fact. I climbed the Provincetown monument today, after nearly forty years of thinking about it, and the skies were pristine. It almost looked photoshopped.

Severe clear doesn't describe what it was like under the burning buildings and the debris of their collapse.

(Disclosure: I've worked briefly for Jim, but not on any of these photos. I don't speak for him, but have the highest opinion of his integrity.)

If I had to guess: the earlier versions were were quickly developed, selected, edited and printed with adjustments made for a standard daytime appearance—all while the news was hot and time was short. The later pictures were re-scanned and Jim put some time and effort into making them look more like what he remembered.

Another thing to consider: maybe the original images were adjusted for print and the darkening of "dot gain"; and the newer ones for the brighter light-box we all stare at these days.

Has his vision gotten darker with time? Inferno isn't bright; have you seen his work on drug-resistant tuberculosis? http://xdrtb.org That's why I think the earlier images where overcooked by assistants, and their primogeniture makes us think they're more "authentic."

Perhaps some of the darker ones were darkened too much, but again, it's an effort to match photography, for which there is no easily discernible "proper" exposure, especially of the sky, and a photographer's psychological state. If the photographer remembered the sky as blue, rather than near-white, then a slight correction to get that blue will bring everything else down.

By the way, the first two photos are not versions of the same shot. They appear to have been taken nearly at the same time, but who knows? I've been to fires where the color of the smoke changed almost instantly because of water 9or other chemicals) being poured on them.

Having seen what fire and smoke can do to modify ambient light -without even considering the filtering effects of particulates from the collapsed buildings-it seems unlikely that any color film could render accuratel. Yes, the sky was clear, but under the smoke it was much darker and under the conditions, I wonder how accurate the exposures were.That editors, physically separated from the event may have made color shifts, or the processing was an issue is very likely. I would give Nachtwey's memory of the conditions the benefit of the doubt, as possibly closer to the reality than the quickly processed and run versions of that day itself.

To me this is about the difference between what a camera sees and what your eye sees. The later interpetations don't seem to raise an art vs journalism question for me. If the information being revealed in post processing was always part of the original image then it seems to me that no ethical line has been crossed and these remain legitimate news photographs.
Your eye almost always takes in a greater dynamic range than a camera so some burning and dodging to compensate for the limitiations of our gear is not out of order.
On the other hand if we were looking at pictures where elements of the image were moved around or removed for dramatic effect, like squeezing some pyramids together, that would be a different matter.

St. Nicholas , the Greek Orthodox church near the just outside the WTC superblock and in particular the cross never looked as dark in real life or any photo pre 9/11 and the first photo at the link shows it very dark and rusty at the moment of the first collapse before the dust and smoke cloud.

Some of the other photos were undoubtedly taken in dark red murky light.

I'd love to get into a discussion of what is the most accurate or "true" rendering of reflective objects in unusual or mixed lighting, but not in this context.

BTW The book Here Is New York - A Democracy of Pictures is probably the best of all the 9/11 photo books, and rings the truest to what new yorkers saw and experienced which seems to be much more nuanced than what many other Americans feel.

My first thought was that the original photos were processed for print--very light. With that said, I think the current photos are perhaps too dark, but they're very much in keeping with Nachtwey's style.

The main problem is that 9/11 has been mythicized so that makes any new interpretation of the story very difficult.

The top two original shots look like less than competently processed scans, which lost a lot of detail and tonal subtlety compared to the new versions. I don't think they do justice to the images captured on a technical level.

I think the new interpretations work well technically and aesthetically.

That said, as reportage I probably would have embraced the greater tonal range and detail from newer processing technology without darkening the top image or making the one of three people into a silhouette.

I remember when it happened. Public life came to a halt that day. Over here (germany), you had all the solidarity.
Thats long gone. These days, I remember another 9/11.

Well, praise the lords who invented tone-mapping....those shots were taken analogue (if memory serves) and back in the days after 11-9 they must have been rushed to the papers....so who knows what the scene looked like on that day except the people who know the scene....and what I recall from TV images....and read from some of the comments, well it wasn't as dark as the 2011 set suggests....but in fact....who cares, rules aside, pictures have always been used to tell lies if it justified the causes of the once using them. Remember the Bush babies of Kuwait and the pictures of the stolen incubators..... a Dutch proverb goes like this "Hij die een hond wil slaan vind altijd wel een stok"...."He who wants to hit a dog will always find a cane".

Greets, Ed.

It's tricky. My "journalist" ethos says photographs should as accurately as possible reflect the conditions on the ground as taken. My "artist" ethos says the image should be a representation of my perception of the event. In this case, over a decade since the event, I think is safe to go with the artistic route. The originals published contemporaneously with the events show how it was, these show how it is remembered.

Photographers I believe often vary the darkness in their photographs over the years.
Moonrise by Adams and Fay Goodwin’s English landscapes come to mind. Apart from the first photo, I personally prefer the lighter versions. My opinion is that ethics do not enter into the “lightness”/”darkness” of a print.

In the end it's all about personal choice. You choose how you program yourself when you choose first or second hand accounts on any subject, and specific second hand points of view, which in most cases are far from objective.
It's the whole "search for the truth/being an individual" thing.

"Oddly enough the two tornadoes..."

Whoa just a minute there! Over on this side of the water the Tornado is a combat aircraft, two of which were put on patrol in the skies over London after that fateful day. Just recently during the Olympics we have had their successors the Eurofighter Typhoon lurking somewhere. It's an ill wind that blows no good.

I'm not sure I'm bothered by the reinterpretation per se, but I viscerally disliked the reinterpreted images presented in that post. That fire looks fake red, the photo from the broken window looks like a frame from a 1940s movie "colorized" in the 1990s, and the first image looks like a ham-fisted HDR shot. From one extreme to another.

As the photographer for a college, I get the opportunity to chat with visiting artists, including James Nachtwey who is a graduate of our institution. I even had a chance to have a one-on-one breakfast with him the last time that he came.

He'll be back here for a while this year as a fellow and it would be very interesting to get his input on the subject.

These were the garden variety wind tossing cars and trees kind of tornadoes.


Worth reading just to be able to see the phrase
"turned into a tornado toward Breezy Point".

I wonder how that translates into other languages, it's probably the perfect storm for automatic translation.

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