Adventures of An Aspiring Librarian

An ethical dilemma, and consequences for a war photographer

on January 27, 2014

Anyone who knows me personally knows that one of my favorite hobbies is photography. I love exploring color and light, and really enjoy trying to find unique ways to photograph scenes, buildings, people, and the world around me.

So, when a story came out last week about a photography scandal at the Associated Press, I read it right away!

The scandal, which you can read more about here, essentially broke loose due to a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer admitting that he doctored and edited a photograph for the Associated Press. The photo, taken in war-torn Syria, shows a Syrian opposition fighter taking cover during a battle. However, the original photo had one problem: there was a camera visible in the bottom left hand corner. See below:

The top photo shows the original photograph, and the bottom photo is the result of editing

The top photo shows the original photograph, and the bottom photo is the result of editing

After some serious thought, the photographer chose to “clone” the area around the camera in order to cover up its “distracting” existence and produce a new photograph. While this move did not change the essence of the photograph, it does go against some hard and fast rules of photojournalism against editing of any kind. The AP states in its guidelines that:

Photographs must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way. … No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph.

As such, the once Pulitzer Prize winning photographer was stripped of his job, and the integrity of every photo he has ever shot is now being examined and is in question.

As someone who does occasionally add filters to my photographs and the like, I wonder if this really is “truth altering.” Bringing out more light in a photograph, removing red eye…does this altering change the “truth” of the moment as it was when the photographer shot it? The Associated Press and other news sources would say wholeheartedly YES.

Reputed journals aside, in today’s age of Instagram, will future historians have to question the integrity and truth behind today’s photographs of every day life?

I honestly don’t have any answers to this at the moment, but it’s something that has been on my mind lately.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

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One response to “An ethical dilemma, and consequences for a war photographer

  1. I think one has to balance strict media and NatGeo rules against the fine art genre artists like Ansel Adams who did a lot of post processing with filters, dodge and burn etc. True we can do a lot more today, but it all depends on the end use. This is not plagiarism.

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