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Code of Ethics states, ³Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.´ 1 While this code is the standard by which all photojournalists are judged, it also leaves a lot up to interpretation. At what point does an image manipulation become misleading? Is this something that varies from case to case or is there a defined line that photojournalists are never allowed to cross? The questions that arise from cases of photographic manipulation in journalism will probably never all be answered, but the discussions they provoke are important to the field of photojournalism and the ever evolving landscape of media ethics. Manipulation in photography didn¶t just arrive with Photoshop. As early as 1839, photographers were staging photographs and faking captions. By the time the Civil War rolled around, at least one prominent photographer was routinely faking photographs. Matthew Brady and his staff of photographers were discovered to have staged a variety of battlefield photographs, including some depicting battle and death. Brady also used crafty editing techniques to manipulate his photos. His famous portraits of President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant were both fabricated by placing the men¶s heads on different bodies.2 3 As time went on, manipulation in photos became more and more prominent. Mostly used for
http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/ethics.html http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/chapter6.html 3 http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/index1.html
political purposes, photographers exhibited more and more skill with their editing. During the WWII era, one of the most popular techniques used by photographers was cloning people out of photographs. From dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin removing figures that had fallen out of favor with them from photos to Benito Mussolini removing a horse handler from a photo to cut a more heroic portrait of himself on a horse, the widespread use of photo manipulation in this era no doubt helped lead to the current photo editing culture.4 As technology advanced, so too did photographers¶ ability to edit their photos. When personal computers and Photoshop came into the picture, photo manipulation became easier than ever. One of the first public cases of digital photo manipulation was a 1982 National Geographic magazine cover featuring the Great Pyramid of Giza. In order to get the pyramid and the camels in the foreground to fit the magazine¶s vertical format, the Great Pyramid of Giza was digitally moved. 5 A more recent example of high profile photo manipulation involved a 2003 photo by Los Angeles Times photographer Brian Walski. Walski, a 20-year veteran of the business, was on assignment in Iraq when he turned in an image of an armed British soldier urging Iraqi civilians to seek cover. The photo was so well received that it ran above the fold on the front page of the LA Times. It was also a fake. Walski had created the image from two separate photographs. When his ethical lapse was discovered he was fired.6 One of the most prolific photo manipulators in journalism was a photographer named Allan Detrich. Discovered in 2007, it was determined that he had submitted 79 digitally altered photos to the Toledo Blade since January of that year. Detrich had routinely erased extraneous elements like people, tree limbs, and wires from his photos and added things like basketballs and shrubbery to others. He
http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/index2.html http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/index2.html 6 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/030409.htm
had been working for the Blade since 1989 and was even a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in feature photography in 1998. Detrich initially denied the accusations.7 8 Some of the most controversial cases of photo manipulation involve celebrity photos. One of the first instances of celebrity photo manipulation was a 1989 TV Guide cover featuring Oprah Winfrey. The photo, which shows Winfrey lounging on a pile of money in a sparkling dress, was actually a composite of Ann-Margaret¶s body and Winfrey¶s head.9 Another photograph along those same lines involved a Newsweek cover of Martha Stewart. The cover ran in 2005, just before Stewart was released from Prison. For the photo, her head was superimposed on the body of a model who was photographed separately. Newsweek said they intended the photo to clearly be an illustration, but the NPPA still called it a ³major ethical breach´, adding that this type of practice ³erodes the credibility of all journalism, not just one publication.´ 10 The idea of a photo illustration wasn¶t anything new. In 1994, in the midst of the O.J. Simpson arrest, Time magazine ran a cover portrait of Simpson that had been substantially darkened. When the magazine came under fire for running the photo, they too claimed that it was intended as a clear photo illustration. This was a particularly controversial case, because Time had to deal with the ethical implications of the photo alteration as well as allegations of racism because of the darkened image.11 In 1990, photo critic Andy Grundberg predicted, ³In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage, since they will be aware that they can no longer distinguish between a genuine image and one that has
http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070415/NEWS08/704150316&SearchID=73278129833947 http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003571795 9 http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/index2.html 10 http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2005/03/newsweek.html 11 http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/25/us/time-responds-to-criticism-over-simpson-cover.html
been manipulated.´12 While I don¶t think the public¶s perception has reached this level, at least not yet, Grundberg¶s prediction isn¶t that far off. Photo editing software has reached the level that makes it nearly impossible to spot skilled manipulations with the naked eye. Some of these photoshopped images are being discovered. The sad truth about this is that the manipulations are typically discovered because of the laziness of the photographer. The only reason Brian Walski¶s fake photo was discovered was because he cloned certain individuals and used them multiple times in the background. If he hadn¶t done that, his photo could have realistically been under Pulitzer consideration. Even Allan Detrich, whose digital alterations likely numbered in the hundreds if not thousands, was only discovered because one of his images was almost identically captured by another photographer. The problem with Detrich¶s photo was that it was missing a set of legs that appeared in the other photograph.13 The frightening reality is that any photographer that is skilled and disciplined enough could conceivably get away with photo manipulation for a very long time. To prevent digital manipulation of this kind from becoming commonplace, organizations like the NPPA have developed codes of ethics and conduct for photographers. Unfortunately, these guidelines for ethical behavior still leave a lot of grey areas. Most of these codes are aimed at preventing photographers from misrepresenting the subjects of their photographs. But what constitutes misrepresentation? In obvious cases, photographers add or subtract elements from photos, creating a composite photo that they couldn¶t capture. In other cases, maybe they just crop a photo in a way that misrepresents the scene. For instance, if someone was photographing a theater event that was only attended by 13 people, but they all sit in the front row, is it not manipulation to crop the photo to show only the stage and that front row? The content of the
photo was not necessarily manipulated, but the meaning of the image could have been totally changed. Instead of looking like a mostly empty theater, the photo instead insinuates that there¶s a packed theater behind that front row. That¶s as misleading as cloning an object into a photo. Again, where¶s the line? In North Carolina, a photographer named Patrick Schneider had three awards revoked. His offense? Lightening one photo, darkening another, and adding contrast to a third.14 None of his alterations affected the content of the photos, they merely made them more aesthetically appealing. That¶s where the line should be drawn. Should photographers add some kind of disclaimer if their aesthetic alterations cause the photograph to misrepresent the way the scene truly looked? Of course. Should they be punished for adding some contrast to their images? Absolutely not. The unfortunate truth is that rules and guidelines for photojournalism ethics can only go so far. In the end, it¶s up to photojournalists as individuals to stay honest and true to their photographs and encourage their colleagues to do the same.
Works Cited http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4383 http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/chapter6.html http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/index1.html http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/index2.html http://www.danheller.com/images/FAQ/Story1.jpg http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2005/03/newsweek.html http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/ethics.html http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003571795 http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070415/NEWS08/704150316&SearchID=7 3278129833947
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