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Wednesday, 11 May 2016


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Just goes to show how tempting it is to make "perfect" images - even for seasoned pros who make a healthy living from photography. This is why I am less into photography now than I used to be. Digital sort of ruined it for me, both as a photographer and as a connoisseur of photographs.

What about all the highlight bits in the dark background on the right. You could admit erasing those as well.

My wife once complained when she saw me using the spot healing brush on infant acne - my point was, without the acne our daughter's soul shines through.

I sometimes clone out light switches and other "distracting elements." I don't consider myself a journalist, but an artist. My camera is my tool, and my digital file is my canvas.

However, I am pretty lazy also, so I would have gone with the curves adjustment in that McCurry photo and left it at that. I only resort to the photoshopping when I am printing or if a distracting element activates my hypervigilance.

Great! Maybe this latest cock-up by McCurry will slowly inspire some of the big names in documentary photography to go back to film. A means of proving and silencing any doubts of the veracity of their work.

I think the issue of "truth in imaging" is one that pertains strictly to journalism and photo-journalism. Otherwise it is up to each photographer to convey to the viewer what standard he or she applies to the work. The truth is that in the world of art-photography today conceptualism rules, and realism of any sort, never mind truthfulness, is a very distant consideration. I work mostly in architecture based images, and while I generally present truthful representations of what I photograph, I also want to make beautiful prints, which often requires significant tonal manipulations, depending on the light conditions under which the image is made. I also stitch frequently--some shots have people in them, some don't, and I pick and choose in the final assembly. It's all truthful representation but artistic, with some latitude for alterations that enhance the image I have in mind. I see nothing wrong with alterations of the sort McCurry is criticized for above, as long as the work is not mispresented as photojournalism.

Mike, I am guess you will have a flood of these comments, but in the first two images there are two people (passengers in the cart) removed from the modified photo.

>>Not as bad, arguably, as the example of the soccer-playing boys on PetaPixel where a whole person was removed.<<

In the rickshaw picture a person was removed, too.

Correction to my previous comment, there are three people removed. Two from the cart, and a person in a red shirt from the store in the centre of the background. The red shirt becomes something for sale on the counter.

"Not as bad, arguably, as the example of the soccer-playing boys on PetaPixel where a whole person was removed."

I count 3 people removed, and 1 just moved. But I was never good at those find the differences puzzles, so there may be more.

I am afraid that every photo (or rather digital image)that I see now, my first thought is how much Photoshop was done? Add this to the disqualified wining landscape photos in prestigious photo competitions and I think it is a hopeless cause to expect see non-manipulated images. Bland sky? No problem just drop in a cloudy sky from a different photo.

"Not as bad, arguably, as the example of the soccer-playing boys on PetaPixel where a whole person was removed."

I'm not following your point here. There are at least 3 whole people removed from the example picture at the top of the article.

I've taken multiple photos of a group involved in an activity and chosen one, which I presume is what Steve McCurry did with the photo of the footballers. Sometimes the best shot is where one of the group isn't visible at all. So my photograph of the group shows just what was in front of the camera, but incorrectly shows that there were, say, seven players when there were eight.

Now, I am not in any way saying that it is correct to retouch a documentary photo and remove a player to improve the composition, but how does doing that differ from just selecting a photo which shows one less player than there really was? Or how does it differ from cropping a photo to remove one player and so improve the composition? Sometimes I'm not happy at all about doing either of those last two things.

My thought is that a photographer must have integrity, and be open about how or why a captured image has been modified. More so in some photography types (photojournalism) needing more detailed disclosure than others, where manipulation is potentially desired (portraiture).

My opinion is that the changes are neither good nor bad from a value standpoint, but a photographer can't claim one level of manipulation when a greater level occurred.


It's one thing to tone images in order to adjust white balance, contrast, etc., but any overt manipulation of documentary photos is a step too far in my mind. Many photojournalists tone their images in order to achieve a certain look - the stunning Cuba pictures you recently featured (which I'm pretty sure were taken by Daniel Berehulak) are a perfect example of this, but it's another thing entirely when you start shifting pixels, even if they don't affect one's reading of the image in question.

As someone who has spent the better part of a decade working in the news industry, I find it absolutely shocking when the World Press Photo organisation reveals that more than 20% of submissions in the 2015 contest were manipulated beyond widely accepted norms. That someone like McCurry should find himself in such a situation is disheartening.

Either way, I suggest you take a look at this website - food for thought: http://www.10bphotography.com/index.php?page=ethic&lang=eng

what is the purpose of the photo/image (P/I)? To me that is the critical issue in discussiing post-processing. Documentary P/Is are by definition intended ro represent the real world. Clearly, modification that changes the intent or meaning with which the P/I is presented are wrong, but are changes which enhance the viewability or focal point of the P/I necessarily wrong? Documentary P/Is are often taken in less than ideal conditions, so simply for clarity of viewing, or due to limitations of reproduction media, things like brightness, contrast B&W conversion, may be needed for simple legibility. Ditto cropping, where the P/I maker cannot get close enough to isolate the subject of interest. If the cropped area is irrelevant to the subject and does not add or subtract context or meaning, is cropping the P/I wrong? And what about presentation size? Often a 4x6 version in a newspaper will look very different from an 8x10 in a magazine. And sometimes its not the P/I maker who makes the changes, its the editors. But they don't get the blame. So, for me, the documentary P/I judgments need to be made on each P/I case by case basis. Since in most cases the P/I viewer doesn't have the data on image context or modification, it becomes a matter of what media do you trust? And where the image intent is interpretive, artistic or whatever, then take the image as presented and enjoy (or not).

One could argue that McCurry ceased to be a photojournalist a long time ago. I wonder how much of his income is now derived from producing coffee table books, fine art prints and workshops. I was looking at the workshops timetable of a couple of well known Magnum photographers recently and such was the number and frequency I was left thinking that they had very little time left to do any journalistic work.

Having said that it does seem that there is a bit of an industry springing up that involves poring over the work of successful photographers and highlighting any evidence of image manipulation as evidence of fraudulent practice. Do we really know whether the picture used to illustrate this piece was taken as part of a journalistic assignment or was it some personal work? What is the motivation of the person behind this? Does he have some axe to grind with McCurry? It is easy to use moral indignation and whip up the equivalent of an online lynch mob.

Personally I long ago stop believing in the veracity of photographs after seeing how W Eugene Smith manipulated his images. I like McCurry's work and this revelation does nothing to alter that. It's all a bit of a storm in a teacup.

At the risk of being pedantic, I'll point out that your X-T1 does take B&W photos, but then manipulates them into color during processing. Subsequently returning them to B&W during post-processing merely undoes this damage and restores them to their (mostly) original form. ;^)

Once you start deleting or moving things, it is not a photograph but a manufactured piece , call it Art if you wish but not a photograph.

Can we agree photography is the taking of an image which is then viewed in various different media. Anything else is manufacturing of images other than by exposure to light.

Development digitally is not deleting/moving objects.

McCurry sets up his tableaux on occasion, that was his first step to these false photos. He blames others but I regret to say I do not believe he had no knowledge of his changes to the images.

He can do whatever he wishes but he cannot call himself a photographer in relation to these images.

"Study that for a couple of minutes and you can see how deep the changes go. Not as bad, arguably, as the example of the soccer-playing boys on PetaPixel where a whole person was removed. "

No. In this case he removed three people. Four, possibly; it's hard to say exactly what he did on the far right.

If it's presented as art or as commercial photography then no problem. Add, delete and warp all you want. A crocodile in a top hat trampling Donald Trumps hair into a bowl of grape jelly and nail clippings? No problem.

But if you present it as documentary then problem. No different, really, than if you write an article about something that happened to you, that turned out didn't actually happen.

If you search 'Steve McCurry' on Wikipedia you will get this:

Steve McCurry (born 1950) is an American editorial photographer best known for his 1984 photograph "Afghan Girl" which originally appeared in National Geographic magazine.[1]

If Wikipedia (hence the world) sees McCurry as an editorial photographer, meaning a photojournalist who is trying to convey the truth of a scene or subject through the lens, he should not use the scene or subject as a means of artistic expression.

McCurrys 'art' defense, along with blaming some Photoshop artist, is weak at best.

He should have relayed his artistic slant to the editors at National Geographic a long time ago and saved himself the embarrassment. The truth of his decades of output, which can only be described as stellar, is now questioned.

If you can find one, ask a newspaper or wire service photographer about altering images. You will hear a common yet terse consensus:

"Someone of McCurrys stature should have known better. In editorial work its not about the photographer, its about the subject. Always."

"Something like the example above is way beyond the pale for photojournalism, but we now accept that photojournalism sets itself apart with higher standards than most less rigorous photographic pursuits care to hold themselves to."

Careful there! Photojournalism doesn't have "higher" standards. It has different standards that are more appropriate to its intent. For example, Jerry Uelsmann has incredibly high standards — at least as high as those of photojournalists — which are reflected in his intentional manipulations of film images.

Photojournalism does, as you write, "set itself apart" from other kinds of photography, but that is not because it is "more rigorous" or in possession of "higher standards."

For the record, I think that Curry made a pretty big mistake here. Not because it is necessarily wrong to make the changes he made to an image, but because he traffics in authenticity — the ability to find and see realities that the rest of us supposedly don't or cannot see. Here I think he betrays a core value of his own work, unfortunately.

Well, for photojournalistic purposes, proscribing the erasing or adding of an object is a good start. Likewise, moving images around, probably best to avoid.

Actually, McCurry’s color and contrast enhancements do not bother me, but the missing humans and some reconstructed background elements should easily violate photojournalistic standards; I would hope. But as folks have said above, is McCurry really a photojournalist at this stage?

In any case, when I jumped into photography a quick decade ago, I plunged into numerous books on the matter, several of which included heavily manipulated photographs. So for me, it’s all photography. I’m semantically comfortable with this.

Besides, I'm the type who contends that photographs, without explanatory text, do not tell stories, but they are quite apt at telling lies.

So no, it’s not just a “knee-jerk” reaction to reasonably counter that manipulation is basically as old as photography itself. Yes, the ease and sophistication in the digital domain marks a considerable shift, but we are also a bit more skeptical now; well, some of us are.

But they had them believing in fairies back then, so degrees of deceptive effect probably haven’t changed as dramatically as the technology.

If delineation needs to be established, then so be it. But part of my reservation is that in other forums, the “this is not a photograph, it’s digital art” reaction sometimes comes adorned with derogatory overtones. And I say this as someone who only shoots film.

Was he representing the photos as "photojournalism"? If this is just some selects from a personal project, I'm not sure it matters that much.

I think the moral standard is not "is there deception?", but "does the framework permit deception, and if so, what kind?" We expect one kind of deception, mainly omission, with straight journalism. We expect a different kind with, for instance, the opera "Nixon in China" (1987), which apparently was based on quite a bit of research. Since "photography" is not just one thing, one genre, it's not clear what framework to use to read a photo. There is a group film photographers doing street photography in Tokyo right now who are perfectly happy with the telltale imperfections of film, lenses, cameras, and the physicality of prints, because they make clear the kind of deception aimed at their audience. The amount of grain, lack of rule of thirds, camera shake, etc.,would give the average gearhead forum dweller the screaming fantods. (There's even someone doing handheld 8x10 color street photography!!!)

As for me, I thought the original rain/rickshaw photo was strong and complex, and didn't need much to make a fine print. (I'm sure that it didn't tell the story he wanted to, but life is like that.) Today, I would have leaned heavily on emphasizing the foreground people by painting in layer masks. More sharpening, more saturation, for them, other masks to make the background people softer, more desaturated. More dodging and burning to darken the background and send it back in space. In other words, doing the same thing the light and the lens is already doing, only more so. It's so easy to direct people's attention in a strong photo that you don't need to clone things out.

For what he wanted to do - if I wanted to do it, I would have made the manipulation patently obvious - I would have filtered that image hard, leaned in on the dodging and burning so much that the chiaroscuro would have made Titian blush, subtracted even more of the background, and gone on top of every pixel of the figures at 200% with a wacom tablet and painted in exactly the strokes I wanted to see. I would have made my hand so obvious and so strong that there would be no doubt that this was my vision, my painting, and by Heaven, no one would mistake it for another's.

Maybe, perhaps, the problem was that he didn't go far enough.

How do we all feel about 'staged' pictures in photojournalism? No cuts and pastes, no clone stamping, but still entirely dishonest IMO.

But having said all that, is this image trying to be reportage, or just a travel image of India? It doesn't change the meaning of the image one iota, so does it really matter?

It's not like cloning out all the construction cranes from an image of a nice hotel in a travel brochure. That's just evil...

Is it not the intention to deceive that is really the issue, rather than the act of editing?

I suppose that if we are providing *evidence* of a scene then any removal or addition of pixels is an issue. It wouldn't want this image used in a court of law.

However I do see a difference in what was there versus what the photographer saw. Is McCurry just trying to show us what he saw or felt, rather than just a basic factual representation of a screen? I've photographed a beautiful sunrise, only to get home and see a piece of plastic bag in the image that I don't remember seeing when I was there. I have no issue with removing that because I want my image to represent the scene as I saw it and how it made me feel, not necessarily just as it was. Nor would I have an issue removing a person from an image because a few moments later they wouldn't be there anyway.

So what we have is a matter of intent. Is the photo intended to be a factual representation or is it designed to convey a message or emotional response?

My personal opinion has always to imagine what another person would see if they stood on the same spot at a different time. The things we both see stay. Everything else is up for negotiation, unless I'm presenting an image as evidence.


I wasn't concerned so much with the removal of the remnant bit of the cyclothing at the rear, but I was really concerned with the removal of two passengers. The desperate cyclothing operator is on foot pushing the thing with great effort because it is overloaded -- and at least one of the overload doesn't care, he is smiling at the camera. I think those extr two passengers are important, because that is what the story of the picture is about. Without them, it actually doesn't make sense; the effort portrayed by the operator is excessive. With just two passengers, he would be on the pedals.

The other area is the background stuff and whatnot ahead of the cyclothing. Sure, minimize it a bit, but removing it to leave a nearly empty street also takes away from what is vital about the scene. In fact, shade it down (particularly the white cart -- the fact that it is white rather than some other color is irrelevant) but leave it in, and crop a bit from the left.

The high contrast/saturation? I like it! I live in a tropical environment where we get monsoon downpours and often it is bright too. I;m just envious of how he has got the rain showing up like that. I've tried and tried…

The kids playing soccer? Again, the cloning out of a figure takes way from the pic. Kids games are supposed to be chaotic and messy and noisy and exhausting -- particularly stuff like his in the tropical (warm!) rain. The original pic shows that; the missing figure makes everything a bit orderly and dead to my eye.

It's one thing to burn, crop or even somewhat pose a photograph that is purportedly found photojournalism but in that world removing people is a capital offense.

McCurry's explanation is smarmy, in that it leads with a gratuitous bit of virtue signaling about "mujahideen" and an appeal to his long experience in South Asia as a war and news photographer.

His leading with all that reveals that he still sells to his audience with that reputation. He knows what's been done is a bad, bad thing.

There is no way major compositional elements, i.e. humans, would have been deleted in his operation without his approval. I get the sense that McCurry is betting that this affair will remain in the nooks and crannies of the online world (not TOP, Mike!) and that his reputation and business are unaffected.

I hope not. This is just plain dishonest.

Oh -- and the halo in your pic. Heh, heh, naughty boy. The very first wedding I photographed, which was here in the tropics over half a century ago, I took some very nice shots. The best picture of the bride was really, really nice -- except that they had some pedestal fans spaced around the bridal party and the picture showed the bride with a perfect halo of one of the fans. I hadn't even seen the fan when I was taking the picture. I learned a hard lesson that day. :(

Am I the only one who thinks the photoshopped pictures are more visually bland and uninteresting when compared to the originals?

Squat down and shoot up at a person waving hello... and presto, you have a shot of them giving the Nazi salute. No Photoshop required, yet even more manipulative.

So I don't really care about photojournalistic purity because it has always been a myth.

I'd just like to see more professional photographers getting paid to make interesting pictures by whatever means they care to use.

I wonder what is going through McCurry's mind as he removed two whole humans from the rickshaw? I mean, how in the age of the internet does that internal dialogue go? "What they don't know won't hurt them"? It boggles the mind. I was a McCurry defender, mainly because I am curious about a lot of things on this old Earth and I really value all the data I can get . . . arguments about cultural appropriation aside. Now . . . sigh. I have to ask: Do we know what McCurry's side of the story is? Has he said anything? I expect a lot more attention to this in the coming weeks.

I believe that's what you call polishing a t***. If it was a good shot, there wouldn't have been a need for such drastic 'shopping. McCurry should have passed on this one, or picked up painting.

I don't know how to Photoshop. The only image editing software I use are LightRoom and compositing software for stitching panoramas (e.g., Hugin). I do remove dust spots because these are not part of the image captured. Likewise, ghosting flare for the same reason. But lately, I leave the ghosts in if they look interesting. Flare have become a regular feature of TV ads and movies and more are familiar with them. I crop my pictures to eliminate edge intrusions and to improve composition. Also, I convert color pictures to B&W and process for color since I've been shooting RAW. Otherwise, I don't manipulate my pictures and don't want to learn how to outside of LightRoom.

I consider Steve McCurry more of a fine art photographer—I love his color photography—than a photojournalist let alone a war correspondent. At most, he is a human interest pj, if there is such a thing. I begrudge him to the extent that he has been manipulating his pictures beyond the minimum processing strictures of National Geographic but only for his photos published in the magazine. Nat Geo is also complicit if they made an exception of McCurry's work.

[It's almost midnight and I'm still at work, so I haven't read all the comments and apologize if this point has already been made by someone else.]

I find the most telling -- and most appalling -- change made to McCurry's picture is the removal of the 3rd person in the bicycle/rickshaw. Not just because it denies that he was there (there are several other people that have been removed from the picture as well), but because it lies to us about the mental state of those in the vehicle, and it lies to us about McCurry's role in the scene. At first I didn't understand why he was removed from the picture (wouldn't a 3rd passenger in the small vehicle add to the visual interest?). Then I realized that the removed passenger was looking and smiling AT MCCURRY. His gaze and smile destroy the illusion that McCurry managed to snap this scene anonymously, without being noticed by his subjects.

In that way, I think McCurry's edits are actually considerably worse than your halo "prank". You were making a statement, but it was praising a 3rd party. McCurry's edits also make a statement, but they are self-serving. His edits say the following:

1. I am a master photographer. I have the skill and patience to find the clean, visually appealing shot without distractions.

2. I did not intrude upon the scene. My presence did not affect the picture before me because I managed to fit in / be stealthy.

3. My subjects didn't notice I was there.

[Although they are related and seem to be making the same point, I think 2. and 3. are separate statements. #2 is about McCurry, his role and how he carried himself. #3 is a comment about the subjects and their alleged lack of awareness of their environment.]


I wonder at what level you have to be shooting at to have to force mediocre images into good ones in post processing? I am curious because that is where I do not want to go as a visual story teller.

The magic of photojournalism is that amazing photographs happen all the time. They happen all the time and they require little to no manipulation. They just require work and patience to find.

We, as a culture, are visual people and there is a great demand for perfect images. Maybe we are making promises to those who look at pictures that we can't really keep. Maybe we are promising them flawless images when those don't really exist.

I missed the Cole story the first time around so I'm just catching up. But it seems to me that there's a stark difference between Teju Cole's critique of McCurry's India book and these revelations that McCurry's photos were doctored.

Cole took McCurry's honesty for granted and lamented what it revealed about the way the photographer and his many appreciators see the world. Whether the photographs were staged or doctored or not wasn't relevant. That they had the appearance of staging and were classically composed were indeed part of Cole's complaint, but Cole never impugned McCurry's skills as a photographer.

In other words, it wasn't McCurry's working methods that bothered Cole so much as what he was working from, and toward.

Nevertheless, his essay was misunderstood --here on TOP and elsewhere-- as a "takedown" of McCurry the photographer, instead of what it really was--a critique of a cultural point of view as manifested in McCurry's book-length treatment of India.

This latest is an entirely different thing. This really does go straight to the honesty and integrity of McCurry the photojournalist. It will diminish his reputation and the value of his work. Whether it will highlight or obscure the point Teju Cole tried to make-- among photographers, journalists, or the general public-- is something I'm curious to see.

What I find unforgivable here is that the frame and load of the removed blue bicycle was left in. That's just incompetent!

On the other hand, the very clever way they turned the man in a red shirt dead center in the background into some random red thing back in the shop is a technique I'll have to remember.

I am finding the color of a lot of work lately is going to date also. I know that each film and digital camera/brand has a color accent, but processing has its own and it will be time stamped. I felt the same with the earlier post with the cock fight image.
Also, I thought that your improvement to your image was converting it to black and white. Fair play I thought.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with presenting an image that has elements removed, yet the audience feels misled. No one likes to be misled, and so they are rightly angry.

It all comes down to how you are presenting your work. If present it as a photojournalist, the audience expects the closest approximation of reality possible. Travel photography is held to the same standards, since the photographer is supposed to faithfully record a place, as opposed to a photojournalist who is supposed to faithfully record an event.

In this case the work was not presented as either photojournalism or travel photography. It was presented as a "Steve McCurry". The problem here is that Steve McCurry as a brand (label) is very closely associated with photojournalism. It falls onto Steve McCurry himself to communicate with his audience that he is no longer a photojournalist or a travel photographer but just anther artist trying to make a good living.

The larger point is the demand by the public, real or perceived by magazine editors and McCurry himself, for idealized portrayals of exotic brown people. The falseness of those portrayals is betrayed by the type of manipulation McCurry is now revealed to have practiced.

That's the main point of Teju Cole's piece -- our collective appetite for images of the third world that conform to a pre-existing idealized notion of exoticism (noble, docile, and above all picturesque). The sum of the critique of McCurry's photography by Cole was a critique of the way the photos comfortably confirm these biases among westerners.

I thought the weakest part of Cole's argument was tying the perfection of composition to the underlying falseness of the images. While I still think that idea is highly arguable in general, in McCurry's case it seems spot on.

Talk about falling from grace! Once revered, Steve McCurry is now ridiculed. The irony is that it's all his fault.
I don't understand what is in McCurry's mind that makes him insist in his quaint themes. He started it all, with considerable success, decades ago, and now everyone is doing it; there's nothing left to do there. It's like trying to plant trees on a barren field.
On the other hand, it is clear that Steve McCurry has become Steve McCurry Inc., paying people to do his job. And it looks like he gives them free rein to do whatever they think they can in order to produce images that appeal to the untrained eye but are ultimately meaningless.
McCurry built a career of prestige and his list of awards is awe-inspiring; he needn't put himself to shame by doing imitations of himself (and ones of bad taste). He has obviously settled down and just wants to make money out of his trademarked style. He clearly doesn't feel any need to be innovative and open new paths for others to follow, as he did when he was young. That happens far too often, actually, but I think he really should protect his reputation.
On the other hand, I don't see an ethical issue in this debacle. In digital photography, image edition is as much part of the 'iter' as the darkroom work was when film was dominant. The only limit is when the photograph becomes a lie by pretending to be a document of something that does not exist, or never happened - which, to be fair, can't be pointed at Steve McCurry. Other than that it's all a matter of taste. The only ethical issue that could arise from this is that Mr McCurry pays people to do his work, but that's a moot point. Many people still resource to labs to develop their film and no one sees it as an ethical hurdle, even though that's a substantial part of the photographic process that's out of the photographer's hands. You can criticise McCurry for employing unskilled people to do his job, but it's up to him to gauge how much that affects his reputation (and his income).
As I said before, it's ultimately a question of taste. If you like Steve McCurry's latest photographs, this little controversy will do nothing to change your mind. If you're like me and think his style is outdated and tasteless by today's standards, you're free to keep away from it. There's really no need to criticise the man. Just think of him as a company that mass-produces goods of controversial taste - because that's what Steve McCurry stands for nowadays. And you're free not to like and buy his pictures.

The response to these revelations is what is most telling, not that the images are edited but that the editing was done by another person and that the photographer evidently took no part in this process, nor did he even bother to look at the final product that bears his name!

Following this is a shameful response whereby McCurry refuses to accept responsibility for his images and shifts blame to another person. The ethical thing to do would be to QC your images before publishing and if you make a mistake then accept responsibility personally.

Now if Steve was shooting with a Fuji X PRO 2 he could have selected a Velvia peg for a colour punch. The top image looks like an unprocessed raw file and I like it but who could remember what it looked like 6 months later with your finger on the Levels/Vibrance controls. I think it is over done in the finished file. I would think that a circle with an E in it should be added to file names to indicate a processed image, to inform the viewer it was edited and not a "Straight" shot, and the viewer can decide on its merits.

So, go back to a Nikon F and Tri-X and a darkroom print.

Anyhow, don't really matter. Just about all the news organizations today rely on bystanders with their cell phone cams posting on some social media platform instead of a professional photojournalist .

McCurry shot himself in the foot. And again in the other one by his implausible defense. The result could be that we now start looking for manipulations in all of his work. Do you really think that the eyes of this Afghan girl were green?


Once I showed my photography teacher at art school an example of incredible good airbrush retouching of a Playboy centrefold. “Next time get a better model!” he remarked.

Truth be told I'm no photo 'editor' but it took me about 10 mins to adjust the original and remove the lampost a couple of people and a pile of rubbish. No fancy settings - just pressing buttons. Imagine how tempting it is to fix photos? Imagine there was zero effort involved - just wishing the photo better. What would you do?

What I see is photography liberating itself from the expectation of being a testimony of the world, just like painting did when this new invention came around that permitted to recreate the world on a glass plate.

A photograph is what it is. An image on a piece of paper, or screen. The truthfulness and the honesty embedded in it is not intrinsec to itself, but to the photographer. In other words, photographs neither tell a truth nor a lie, its the photographer that does that. Leaving journalism aside, whose job is to describe and depict the world as precisely as possible, and in my opinion any artistic intent actually reduces the veracity in it, people do expect a photograph to do the same function of truth, even outside this framework. How many times have we heard the anxious question if a picture has been photoshopped?
Photography is just a tool to convey meaning, just like a pen and paper in a writer's hand. Then why do we get anxious and feel cheated with the possibility of it not being truthful (outside the world of journalism of course)?

And why can't a photographer do fact and fiction? There are fiction writers who are also journalists. Should we bash their fiction stories or dismiss their news coverage, like it is happening with McCurry? Honesty resides in the creator, not in the media itself.

For that matter, does the fact that I turned the photograph into black-and-white make it a photo illustration and not a photograph? It's not the way the X-T1 "sees."

Mike, can't you configure the camera to record B&W jpegs, and doesn't the evf then present to you a B&W image as well?

If it is your intention to make a B&W image, you can configure the camera to do so, and then what you see in the evf is what the camera will record, albeit as a jpeg. If you're recording RAW+jpeg, you can of course return to the RAW image, but the photographer's intention vis a vis the ultimate result remains, to my mind, integral throughout the process.

You can go pretty far down the rabbit hole on these sorts of questions.

"...we now accept that photojournalism sets itself apart with higher standards...."

I don't know who your "we" is intended to include. It does not include me.

In photojournalism, it is entirely accepted that the photographer can remove trash by hand before exposing an image, even if that trash has been there for weeks. It is entirely accepted that the photographer can move a potted plant to cover an electrical outlet, even if the only time that plant has ever been in that location is immediately after the photographer moved it. [In point of fact these things would not be considered acceptable by most news organizations, but go on.... --Ed.] It is entirely accepted to choose a frame that makes a subject look better or worse than he would normally be seen.

Yet if a photographer removes trash digitally, moves a plant (or removes the outlet) digitally, or uses digital means to make a subject look better or worse, that's a firing offense.

That's not "better", that's just different.

Photographs regularly capture things that no human eye could see: very long exposures of moving water, color in very low light, momentary actions, expressions, or gestures, a whole range of things. There is no essential truth to an "unmanipulated" image that is not shared by an image manipulated to show what a viewer actually remembers.

The real problems arise (to my mind, obviously) when the manipulation, either of the subject before the shot or of the photo after the shot, are intended to deceive in some important way. And that is as common in photojournalism that follows the arbitrary rules of that game as it is in advertising photography that follows its own rules.

Does McCurry's edited photo really misrepresent what he saw in some important way? Or does it represent a graphically simpler and easier to understand version of what he saw?

In my opinion, the strict but arbitrary photojournalistic rules bear as much relation to integrity as the strict but arbitrary NCAA rules do to amateurism: they probably don't do actual harm, but they also don't really do much actual good.

...am I the only guy that thinks the guy in the apron is Will Ferrell?

Photojournalism = No changing the elements of the Image

Like the copyright discussion before: because the new digital technology makes it easier to alter photos, doesn't make it right to do so for photojournalism. Cause you can copy at the touch of a button, doesn't make it right for you to steal intellectual property...

These are being sold as ornamental prints, not Ina photo journalistic context. No problem here. Move on.

Photojournalism should lay out some nugget of truth surrounded by all the messy, ambiguous clutter of real life. The imperfection gives the picture much of it's inner life.
And for what it's worth I like the original image here a lot more than the cleaned up version.

I am of the opinion that McCurry is greatly devalued, not only because he was passing these off as real life depictions, but also because, to me, so many of his manipulations, do not really add much to the photographs: making me question his aesthetic judgment. They make the images "cleaner", but not necessarily any better. Having defended McCurry earlier, I feel rather compelled to take it all back. I feel his "explanation" was not believable. We have to assume from now on that all, or most, of his shots are photoshopped greatly and judge them accordingly. His images were strong to start with, so all he has now achieved is embarrassment and loss of stature.

Are we still flogging this old horse? The photographer saw the rickshaw with two passengers being pushed by the boy along a rain sodden street - in a fraction of a second. He neither had time to see or wanted to include the other elements which were then removed; precisely because they did not form part of the instant. Reading any more into it is to perpetuate an age-old argument which leads nowhere.

Why are we so sure he removed elements? Maybe the original photo was so pictorial he "included" the noise elements to give a more authentic flavour? I remember once I saw a couple kissing and standing in the water in Washington Sq in NYC and the first shot was so clean and perfect it looked like an ad, so I picked one with more "noise". Both were genuine moments.

My general feelings on this matter are perhaps already largely covered by Paul Amyes' earlier comments. Photography has always walked a testimony versus expression tightrope, long before computers were invented. It always will. But of course so has the textual part of journalism.

Am I surprised to learn that Steve McCurry has permitted his work to be so heavily digitally edited? Frankly, yes. Color and tonality adjustments are certainly normal and, indeed, required to prepare for prints and press. I am more disappointed that he has apparently permitted wholesale post-capture content editing.

Does this diminish Steve McCurry's lifelong photographic reportage work in my mind? Hardly at all. The nature of much of the work he's done often requires various forms of manipulation. Would it have made any difference if we learned that MCurry had staged and re-staged that pedicab scene to get the composition he wanted? Do you believe that McCurry's fellow Magnum photographers don't both take and make their frames? C'mon.

I said earlier that the first photo looks like India in the monsoon, but the second does not. So there I was assuming that photography aims at some fidelity to what the photographer saw. That idea of fidelity stems, for me, from the world being a bit more surprising, a bit beyond what we expect, and sometimes a bit more delightful and a bit more complex than we could supply ourselves out of our limited imaginations and memories. In this light there is a second reason that I prefer the first photo, namely that it keeps in the other two characters, young men number three and four, whom the rickshaw driver is hauling. This just increases the sense of effort conveyed by the photo, and the general misery of at least the rickshaw driver's fate. And it does something else as well: it shows an interaction with the photographer, which removes the disembodied, god's eye view to which so much photography aspires. The photographer was standing there, and the grin on the face of the guy shows it.

Photography struggled to be considered a "real" art form. Now it is, so people are struggling that artists render interpretations of reality in their mind. Cameras do not record reality, only a two-dimensional rendering subject to the artist's concepts and vision and controlled by sensor, lens, color and black and white renderings of the machine and the engineer and the imagination of the artist. How come no one is complaining that other art forms do not render reality? Get over the cultural assumption that photography renders the "truth" of reality. It does not and never has and cannot. One can argue that art is more truthful than reality by removing the meaningless chaos of everyday life to concentrate on an essential truth that is not noticed by the casual observance.

Steve McCurry lives at the summit of photography mountain. His work is featured in prestigious galleries, he has a team of specialists that work up his prints, he has an unlimited travel budget and local fixers wherever he sets down, but look at how he chooses to use these resources. Year after year he keeps churning out the same photos. Where's the experimentation, the artistic growth? If life were fair, the photo gods would spread some of McCurry's resources to more interesting photographers.

I agree with Teju Cole, McCurry's work is pretty but boring. McCurry shows a certain mastery of color, but his photos look about as spontaneous as an advertisement for house paint. I think McCurry has a great eye and when he's forced to work fast, like his photos of the women in the dust storm, his photos can look magical, however, when I page through my giant Steve McCurry anthology book, I start to see a repeated formula: a carefully chosen unique character wearing a carefully chosen outfit placed in front of a carefully chosen background. McCurry's photos are as staged as Gregory Crewdson's b ut he presents them as journalism. It doesn't surprise me that in his search for perfection, McCurry couldn't resist cloning out some of the messy aspects from his more candid, shot on the fly photos

I am disheartened. At a time when misinformed, simplistic personal opinions, stated loud enough, have become equivalent to -- even preferred over -- complex truths, questions over what is and is not photojournalism is the last thing we need. I accept cropping as editorial license, even de minimus cloning to remove minor background detritus which nobody notices or cares about. However, in this McCurry image, one could argue that the "disappeared" person in the middle of the frame is the subject in the image. Of the four, he is the only one looking straight at and engaging the camera, smiling. It is not clear to me whether he was on the rickshaw or was a pedestrian. Either way, he was the only one who engaged the photographer's eye. And the photographer rubbed him out, because unattractive, intrusive. If that is not troubling, what is?

Count me as greatly saddened by this trend.

I only wanted Uncle Vernon standing by his own car (a Hudson) on a clear day, I got him and the car. Ialso got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on the fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and 78 trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It’s a generous medium, photography. -- Lee Friedlander

If you cut out all the clutter, then you get something no bigger than your imagination. You get a sci-fi universe with an omniscient author.

If you leave it in, then we can find more later. (Is that an election poster behind, even if Steve didn't know? If it's 2016, these guys have cell phones, maybe someone sees how they're keeping them dry? If not, can we date it by when Calcutta switched to concrete lamp-posts, I'm sure some trainspotter knows this?)

Sure, everyone does it now. Sure, it's "ornamental" not news. All morals are relative, who's to say what's right? Bullshit, there are honest ways to work with the grain of the medium, and this isn't one of them.

If you carefully examine the famous EDWARD WESTON 8x10 negative of Charis in the doorway, you will find the leg hairs minutely retouched out, one by one! Must have taken forever.
It's all just a matter of degree, you see.

Actually, truth is not impossible to pin down, in fact, quite the opposite. Truth is based on facts and facts are not open to dispute.

The smiling man was there, and McCurry or his minions, removed him. Just as they did with the kid in the pond photograph.

The problem I have with this is that the image is presented as reportage, but because the images have been edited to remove "extraneous" subjects, in fact it is not reportage, it's a fake passing itself off as such. The viewer is being intentionally "had", and that is what I personally find objectionable.

To often, IMHO, we get into bullshit discussions about "everything is subjective and there is no objective truth and photographs are an abstraction of reality to begin with" blah blah blah, all stuff that should have been hashed out by our sophomore years in college, and which is often presented in the form of, "Since we are allowed to do a little something, we should be able to do anything."

Well, no.

The fact that journalism isn't perfect doesn't mean a journalist shouldn't try hard to make it that way. Just because you can't be theoretically objective doesn't mean that a journalist shouldn't try to be. If you present a photo as journalism, you shouldn't alter it except in a few ways that don't change the image content -- you can increase the exposure level, you can try to take out some lens effects, and so on. You don't take out carts or cut people in half, or change things to improve aesthetic effects or to make a tendentious political point.

That's the realm of art, not journalism. As a guy who spends time painting, I certainly don't have any trouble with the making of art, but I also don't confuse it with journalism. Photography can be used in the same way as painting -- as art, or advertising, or for sales, or whatever.

But McCurry's problem is that he is at least implicitly presenting his photographs as a form of journalism, not as art, and that's the reason for the defensive reaction from his business. (If he weren't doing that, we wouldn't be having this discussion.)

That one person or another is sophisticated enough to look at McCurry's photographs and say, "This is really art, rather than journalism" doesn't excuse the manipulation, and doesn't mean that less sophisticated people (and probably the huge majority of all people) don't buy the photos as being unmanipulated.

Ken Tanaka asked, "Would it have made any difference if we learned that MCurry had staged and re-staged that pedicab scene to get the composition he wanted?"

Absolutely it would have -- if he'd done it working for the NY Times or the Washington Post or most other large American newspapers, he would have been fired, and for good reason: you can't do that. Journalism is supposed to be a report on the messiness of the world, not the neatness of art.

"Could it have made any difference if we learned that MCurry had staged and re-staged that pedicab scene to get the composition he wanted?"

No. Same problem. McCurry's whole schtick is to tell us this is the "real" India he sees when he goes there. But it is not. He makes it up. Why not hire models to dress up as Rajastani camel drivers and not bother to go to the place at all?

In the case of the McCurry, the sin is doing the manipulations ineptly, in a manner that doesn't really improve the end image to any degree. Photoshop makes some things easy; I think this leads to the novice forgetting that doing it well still takes skill.

The conventional, traditional view is that photography is assumed to mechanically report 'that which was there, in front of the camera.'
All staged photography, most prominently theatrical motion pictures, rely on that assumption. The assumption of 'reality observed' MAKES POSSIBLE the presentation of illusion.
What McCurry did started as 'photography', but ended as 'photomontage.' McCurry should have labeled it as 'photomontage.'
That he didn't means he can't be trusted as a reporter.
If he's now an 'artist', his work...based on these examples...is no more interesting than the postcard shooter hobbyists on internet forums.

I much prefer the second image.

something really shocked me about the second picture: Is that person running Windows XP still?

I always thought photography was the capture of a moment in time and it included all the elements within that fraction of a second. To sit at your computer and decide what gets omitted and added (perhaps from another image) is no longer photography. You are now creating something that did not exist and to label it as a photograph is just plain wrong no matter your opinion if creative manipulation improved the original photograph. Photo manipulation and photography should be two distinct artistic presentations and labeled as such.

Journalism is communication to tell a story, a non-fiction story, but a story none the less. Does a writer include every detail, every bit of truth to tell that story. No, they only include what is important to the story as they see it. Then an editor may very well remove more of the information to fit the space available. Why should photojournalists be held to a different standard. All photography is at some level an abstraction - it is not reality. If the omissions, the deletions, the enhancements, or the colorful adjectives for that matter are not intended to deceive or twist the truth for a nefarious purpose does it matter?

Turning the man in the red shirt standing at the counter into a headless torso is disturbing.

I would like to add, when you start to argue the camera captures what is there, you maybe missing that what the camera sees can be altered. Unless you only use a normal 50mm equivalent lens. A telephoto will compress the shot, can even make two people seem close together. And a fish or wide angle can do wonders to your face, or the scene.

Never mind Photoshopping - just change a caption and see what effect that can have


Just another manipulated (colour removed) rickshaw photo.

I was wandering about very early morning in Hue, I was at a roundabout. I saw this family coming on the other side of the roundabout. As they came to my side I got 3 shots. This is a negative I scanned and for some reason several years ago I decided to make the background black and white.

The family is eating breakfast on the run but they aren't going to school, least ways not their school. Their mum is a PHO seller who was heading to her pitch outside the Technical college where she sold breakfast to the students arriving for school that day. I passed them as I wandered down the road.

I know almost nothing about Steve McCurry, but what I've seen has always struck me as both untrustworthy and uninteresting because the truths he worked to communicate seemed to be platitudes.

This manipulation confirms that response. What makes the original image so beautiful, so wonderful is the laughing man looking out of the image at him, at us. His pleasure brings me joy and makes me smile, it's delightful! I find it shameful that he was removed. As to the other details, they make the image more interesting, less boring, more convincing.

I might hope that this episode would cause the photographer to reflect on his practice and go much deeper with his art. That would be of benefit both to him, his audience and ultimately his subject because I struggle to avoid seeing these images as a form of colonialism.

Somebody loved your circuar flouro idea!


[Ha! Now that's not subtle. Does any politician really deserve one of those? --Mike]

So, it's like Where's Waldo in reverse? More like Where Was Waldo.

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