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Real photographs

A few years ago, I sat next to an AP photographer on a press bus as he deftly photoshopped an image he’d just taken. I asked him if he was allowed to do that, and he said the rule was that he could do anything with Photoshop that he could have done in a darkroom.

I thought of him when I saw the NY Times’ embarrassed retraction of a photo essay it had published. It turns out that the photographer had “digitally manipulated” the photos without telling his editor. Unfortunately, the NYT removed all of the photos, rather than keeping them up with the metadata that the digital manipulation had gone beyond editorial guidelines, and without telling us what those guidelines are. For all photos are manipulated. The photographer frames them, decides on what to focus on and how much of the photo should be in focus, etc., and then completes the manipulation in the darkroom, whether it’s analog or digital. To think otherwise is to fall prey to the fallacy of photographic realism that Susan Sontag warned us against.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what the NYT’s guidelines are and then hold a contest to see who can create the most deceptive photo while staying within those guidelines?

Scott Rosenberg, a founder of Salon and the author of a terrific new history of blogging (Say Everything), provides us with reflections on what could be one of the entries, based on stories he did for the San Francisco Examiner and Wired about the photographer Pedro Meyer. Really interesting. (Embarassingly, Scott cites me at the very end.)

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One Response to “Real photographs”

  1. on 11 Jun 2010 at 11:51 amMorning LInkage (Jul 10)

    […] The question of photographs and reality particularly in journalism. David W. provides a few words and a set of links to some thoughtful material. […]