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Saturday, 23 February 2013


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The role of the critic may not require an offer of response, but in this instance it was not a critique of a photograph. The BagNews story was reportage -- well researched, documented -- but clearly journalism. The photographer was being publicly accused of fraud. An opportunity to respond to the accusation would have been appropriate.

Whatever the merits of the image and caption, and whether or not Pellegrin has cheated, BagNews has some issues of its own. Their claim to be "critics, not reporters," is a cop-out. They state, "...what we’re concerned with at BagNews is not the integrity of a person but the integrity of the image..." Questioning the integrity of the image and caption, as BagNews did, is exactly questioning the integrity of the photographer. In news photography, these two issues are inseparable. Accusing the image and caption of containing misrepresentation and plagiarism is accusing the photographer, and they should have contacted him as any ethical reporter would have one. Following such an accusation that with a disclaimer that the criticism is strictly of the image and caption is ludicrously disingenuous.

The odd thing about this controversy is that the implied reality of photographs is so strong that people will argue that they represent an objective reality even when they obviously and clearly don't.

John Wayne, for example, did everything he could in real life to avoid the military -- but his whole image is so powerfully tied to his military films that people think him a Great Patriotic American because of what the photography showed, rather than what the reality was. Everybody who is interested in the subject understands that the photography represented a purely fictional construct, yet, they name streets and airports after John Wayne, because he was a Great Patriotic American.

In this present controversy, the guy with the gun is functioning as an actor, just like John Wayne was. He isn't a resident of the "Crescent," his gun handling has nothing to do with the problems of the area. According to a Gallup poll, something just less than half of Americans own guns -- rich and poor, tall and short, black and white. The possession of a gun means almost nothing in terms of defining an economic problem.

Now -- photography has hundreds of different functions, from purely robotic image-making that doesn't even require a photographer, through documentary work and "art" and family snapshots and forensics and purely fictional constructs done by artists like Jeff Wall or Cindy Sherman, and so on.

One of these functions is called "photojournalism" and it has a reasonably clear set of ethics which can generally be summarized this way: "No fiction." There's nothing wrong with fiction, but photojournalism is simply one function where it's not allowed.

That should be clear enough. But apparently, it isn't. (Or rather, it really is -- but sometimes, it pays to cheat.)

Sorry, man, I don't buy the we're-critics-not-reporters excuse. Critics, too, have an obligation to get their facts straight, and to present to their readers the clearest possible account of the circumstances they're responding to. It's not that they were required to talk to Pellegrin, exactly, but it would have been a good idea, and if Pellegrin had come up with a better explanation (I don't think he did), BagNews would have lost a lot of credibility.

Put it this way: a critic is a reporter plus an opinion, not reporter minus accountability. With no offense intended to the host of this comment, a reporter minus accountability is...a blogger.

Exactly. Transparency works.

I used to think that all news photography should be straight out of the camera, but it never was that way, was it?

Painters, sketchers and drawing artist that reported on events of the day did put in a personal touch to bring out more clearly what was important.

Later in the film days, and as evidence by the work of W. Eugene Smith, was it not the norm to doctor pictures to convey a more poignant point of view?

And even today, in the spoken and written press, the use of superlatives is still permitted. And why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Case in point: CBS's 60 Minutes.

But shame on today's news photographers who should use Photoshop. We pratically all do it, but it's forbidden for news photographers.

There have certainly been problems with "faked" photos all through-out the history of print media; sometimes they are discovered, but many times not. Who knows what accuracy existed in the past, or how many things were "dummied up" or re-staged later. I even remember stories of Wee-Gee kicking the hats into the photos, "cause people like to see the hat."

I think our history of the expectation of accuracy in photojournalism may encompass the era of post WWII until maybe the 1980's or 1990's, when the modern era of the study of photojournalism probably brought a level of professionalism to the industry that may have not existed before.

Now, starting with the Gen-X generation, and not to cast aspersions on them as a whole, there seems to be a shift in the understanding of intellectual property rights, what constitutes "ethics" in a situation, and a whole lot of other questions primarily fostered by the ease of data capture on the internet. I've read many diatribes by the Gen X, Y, and Millenials about how information should be "free", etc. etc., that just sound to me like justifications for theft and laziness. The result of these attitudes among the multitudes, is a slackening of professional demeanor, ethical understanding, and a host of other big and small "crimes".

What is most sure going forward, is the mainstream media's growing reliance on "citizen journalists" with cell phone cameras, and the paring down of journalistic and editorial staffs at newspapers, is going to result in more and more situations of questionable reliability. My brother works at a major daily, and they've cut back so far as to make anything more than a cursory examination of both typo's and story sources and accuracy to be almost impossible, and a higher reliance on content providers to be "doing the right thing", in an era where those providing the content have more and more "fluid" understanding of ethics and journalistic professionalism.

God Save Us All....

One of the things that makes science work (most of the time) is the fact that anyone publishing experimental results knows everyone else in the field will be looking, and looking hard, for errors. Why should news photography, or any other field for that matter, be any different?

To quote Harry Truman, "......."

Not only should there be more glory to those who play by the rules, there should also be more consequences for those who don't- not just inconsequential criticism from "the peanut gallery." Otherwise, it just mirrors the corruption so endemic in politics on the local and national level- leaders living the dream (of charlatans).

Much as I have admired his work, if Paolo Pellegrin helped set up that shot and then knowingly passed it off as "journalism," there should be professional consequences. Even Lance had to eventually give it up- and that's not to say anything of the countless others that got away...

That photojournalism awards seem, accidentally, to bring to light violations of photojournalistic standards is a reason for having them. Working to keep the profession clean and honest is both more effective and more ethical than working directly to shore up its reputation.

Well it seems that the rules of the game need to be stated more explicitly! at the outset of the contest. Pellegrin is not the only person at the center of controversy in this contest. Seems that Hansen's picture of the year is questionable: http://www.designboom.com/art/world-press-photo-2013-image-alteration-controversy/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DesignCorner_feed+(Design+Corner)
There is too much to gain in any! World Class event, to believe that doping in any of it's guises is absent is idiocy.

It's interesting to note that still photography isn't alone in the question of distortion/interpretation/reality. The movies "Lincoln" and "Argo", both have been nominated for "Best Film" and other Oscars. In particular, the Canadians have raised major complaints about the role of Canada being marginalized to the U.S. and CIA. In response, the director, Ben Afflack has said “The diplomats were heroic. That’s indisputable. But that part of the story had already been told. When you’re a filmmaker making a film based on a historical event, it’s your job to find a new way into a story.” NY Times, today). I think this raises the issue of when is a telling of a story legitimately permitted to edit, modify, add or subtract, from known facts? So far as I know, neither film has claimed to be a documentary, intended as historical reference, but will most viewers recognize that, or will they assume that if its in the film, its true?

[Gets back to our discussion the other day. --Mike]


By the way, just to be clear. I've got no problem with scrutiny and I think you've set the transgression in about the right tone: fudging.
And thanks to Bob Keefer for pretty much nailing the process that has developed under the contest system: hoards of photojournalists narrowly focused on contest-worthy subjects.


Your characterization of Mr. Pelegrin's activity as "fudging" is way too kind. There's no big philosophical or ethical question here, begging for an answer. He's a liar and he got caught. I don't care why he did it, although the ramifications of such activity, on his profession, raise completely different questions.


I agree with many of those comments above. Bag News should have contacted Pellegrin for a response. The original Bag News item doesn't resemble criticism at all. It's journalism, pure and simple, and their failure to ask for Pellegrin's side of the story was very poor judgment.

Oops, what a stuff! I used to believe every stuff on a news photo...

In the last couple of days there has been all this commotion about the captions or title of the winner of the "World Press Photo and Picture of the Year International award". As far as I know no one has attacked the integrity of the photos themselves.

On most of the sites the Title of the piece "The Crescent" is in a large font and the caption for the specific photo is in small type somewhere else on the page, including the Awards page. Some of the web sites reporting on it run it all together in a block of text changing the meaning entirely.

It's up to the writers and publishers of news to make the writing and layout understandable and clear, so I was wondering what the original publication looked like, and as far as I can thee it was this


"The resulting limited edition book is a collection of objects – a book, five bumper stickers, a newspaper, two fold-outs, three cards, a poster and five zines, all in a signed and numbered box – that collectively document the experience. Edition of 500, signed by all five photographers and the writer. $350"

I don't know about the photo in question , but the photos have minimal captions if any and most have none.

Maybe the real question should be why is "World Press Photo and Picture of the Year International award" including bumper stickers and postcards in editions of 500 in the pool of world press photos?

Shouldn't this be an artbook award?
(nice looking book BTW)

For that matter, why is there an award for most aesthetic news reporting then pretending it was about *facts* in the first place?

That's about as crazy as it would be to have a bombshell blond TV reporter "reporting live" at 10 o'clock at night standing in the dark by the side of the road near where something happened that morning.

Re: "the question of distortion/interpretation/reality"
Take Richard III most recently in the news on account of his body discovered in a parking lot. All most people know about him is what Shakespeare made up for the benefit of the family who killed him in battle, and mangling his line about killing lawyers.

When someone knowingly cheats one has to wonder at the motivation. If the motivation is significant and the probability of detection low, then one cannot be surprised if cheating becomes endemic.

If the only way press photographers can achieve notoriety is through a competition, and the prize of notoriety is great, some people will cheat if they think they have any chance at all of getting away with it.

You only have to look at sport (or any other field of competition) to see that. Is there a single professional sport that hasn't been tainted at some point in the last decade?

Either the premise for the competition is wrong, or competitions have too much significance in terms of career, or the nature of modern journalism has simply put a good story ahead of the truth, requiring photojournalists to concoct some kind of supporting illustration as a matter of course.

We tend to allow individuals caught up in this situation to take the fall for what is in reality a systemic problem.


I figure you are going to hate what I have to say, but here goes. The root of the conflict is right there in the name “photojournalism.”

The name implies one is speaking of journalism through photos. The assumption is that journalism is factual and that photojournalism is fact presented through photos. Then what makes one photo that presents fact better than another photo that presents fact? Is the criteria proper focus, contrast, color? If not, why not? Isn’t the idea to pick the photo which most accurately presents the facts? Well, of course not. We are talking about photographers so the best picture is going to win. What is the best picture? Usually the one than “moves” you the most; the one that creates feelings within the observer. We have now moved into the world of art. Art and truth don’t mix. Art can make you recognize a part of truth you never saw before, but usually by emphasizing one element of truth beyond its truthful size while untruthfully downplaying other aspects of truth. Whistler paints his mother and Picasso paints his mistress Dora Maar and which is more truthful? Who cares? We’re talking the ability to move your emotions. Whistler might say his is closer to truth because it is more realistic. Picasso might say his reveals the essence of the truth undistorted by outward appearance. But, in truth, neither cares about truth, just feeling.

People, not just photographers, will always judge pictures by what they evoke. Photographers will always try to evoke as much feeling in a picture as they can. To eek out that feeling they distort the truth, even if it is just looking for an angle of the light that emphasizes the craggy face of an old man.

Don’t look to photos for truth, look to feel alive.

Mr Camp hits the nail on the head when he refers to the many functions of photography. Some of these functions include the use of photographs as representative of truth (for example, police crime scene photographs); whereas others do not.

Photojournalism, in particular, involves a slippery slope. Even if one takes the view that what a photo-journalist must present is a print of a wholly unaltered negative (or digital file), the mere choice of what is photographed and a photograph's composition means that what is represented is an interpretation of reality as perceived by the photographer. And because a photograph is (excluding holograms) a two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional space, that interpretation may or may not be truthful. Moreover, such a view would exclude from the proper province of photojournalism many famous photographs taken in extremely difficult circumstances, and requiring significant manipulation for printing. For example, Bill Eppridge’s picture in Life of the Robert F Kennedy assassination involved printing the 35 mm print, rephotographing onto 5 x 4 film, and hand re-touching of the film. Yet no one could suggest that that photograph was not great photojournalism.

At the other end of the slope is the position that photojournalism is no more than illustration, apparently taken by numerous famous photojournalists. Ozzie Sweet - who died this week at 92 years of age (see the obit in the NY Times today) – photographed of a friend dressed in a German uniform, which was published on the cover of Newsweek to illustrate the German surrender is an example. (I have no doubt that the Newsweek editors knew full well that Mr Sweet was not at the German surrender but was used because the photograph nevertheless helpfully illustrated the news.) The controversy surrounding Robert Capa’s “The Falling Soldier" in the Spanish Civil War” is another example. And (to complete the war theme), an even earlier example is the post-WWI rejection by British Imperial War Museum of battlefield photographs of official Australian War Photographer, Frank Hardy, because they were darkroom created montages of several negatives and, hence, not “realistic”. Mr Hardy – who was famous before the Great War for his photos from the Mawson Antarctic expedition (the one on which the bodies of Captain Scott and his colleagues were found) – insisted the montages were necessary to create a realistic impression of the battlefield, which a single negative failed to do. (Prints are now (or were, when I was last there) displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and are clearly identified as montages.)

Returning to Mr Camp’s “functions” – photojournalists’ photographs function as entertainment as well as information. Hence, I only take issue with photojournalists presenting “illustrations” of an event - whether the images were reconstructions played by actors, or Photoshop manipulated to show images that were not present - if the presentation is misleading as to its content. No one would confuse the presentation of a reconstruction of a crime scene photograph if it was labelled accordingly (and one would construe it a lot differently to, say, a Weejee photograph). Nor could a photojournalist be misleading if they labelled a reconstructed photograph as being an “illustration”. But it seems to me that if a photojournalist presents a photograph as an un-manipulated representation of events, and it is later disclosed to be an “illustration” of them, the photographer (not the photograph) has been dishonest, and should be considered accordingly – whether or not they are Hardy, Capa, Eppridge, or Pellegrin – and whether or not the photograph has been produced as photojournalism, or for a competition.

I read up the links and the interview with the man, whose picture was taken.
So he was photographed, and this picture "transferred" to a topic he has nothing to do with. It was made up, that he has given (wrong) informations about his military background.
If this is correct, I would call the photographer a lyer and criminal as well.

Annnd, for those alarmed by a Magnum photographer harassing their daughters, here is the essay. Just watch it and then say he misrepredented anything. Or everything, whatever.

With your [well done] post on selecting the NFL Rookie of the Year, would your view of photo contests follow the same model? i.e. Do not award a single or predetermined number of winners, but rather award all photographs that merit acknowledgement. Never having been involved in such contests, maybe my question is simply one of ignorance, as they are already done this way.

As a bookmark for this discussion, today's New York Times carries the obituary of Ozzie Sweet, whose photographs appeared on "an estimated 1,800 magazine covers." Sweet died at age 94. The obit says that Sweet considered himself a photographic illustrator rather than a news photographer. To document the end of World War II for a Newsweek cover, Sweet posed a friend in the uniform of a German soldier with arms raised in surrender. As the obit says, such a photo would not win acceptance today.

The criticism of Bag News seems like a red herring IMO. Maybe they should have contacted the photographer to get his response, but that's an extremely minor issue in the context of the overall story and mostly an attempt to distract everyone from the simple fact that the photographer lied.

It might be instructive to read Perregrin's response in full. It is "defensive" in the worst way, self-serving as you might expect and starts with a statement about "I'm sorry they didn't like my pictures"...Completely besides the point. I sense a sort of lese majeste thing here, an arrogance from a big shot Magnum luminary suddenly caught in the headlights by lesser beings. He says that the ex Marine told him he was a sniper, or that's what he recalls or maybe misunderstood. The caption states "Former Marine sniper and his weapon" meaning his sniper rifle from the wars - actually it's a shotgun but no one seems to care. Bottom line: I see Paolo Perregrin as a supremely gifted, romantic shooter first and foremost, who over-dramatizes every scene with manual exposure-induced silhouettes and every trick of the trade. He is a fine shooter. Truth be damned.

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