Saturday, January 10, 2009

Photographs don't lie -- do they?

Can you believe photographs these days? Could you ever?

After all, Photoshop makes child’s play of doctoring a digital image. Don’t like Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore? Click. Drag. How about Ronald Reagan?

How about the photo of the great white shark about to gulp the scuba diver dangling from a helicopter ladder?

How about war photos?

Question: can photographs continue to be used as evidence? Answer: yes. So far.

Old news hound photogs often used props. One Minneapolis guy carried a kid’s tricycle, a teddy bear and a single tennis shoe in his trunk. Once on scene, he would toss them into the foreground. Empathy added.

Remember those Civil War photos of the dead guy and his rifle lying nearby. Poppycock. Scavengers would have made off with the weapon long before the photographer set up.

By the 1930s, allegations arose that a New Deal photographer had inserted the skull of a steer into photographs of parched agricultural land to accentuate the sense of suffering. So writes Craig Lambert in the current issue of Harvard Magazine. Click here.

He quotes Robin Kelsey, Loeb associate professor of the humanities, who approaches photography like an art historian.

“Today, of course, cell phones and the Internet have made nearly everyone a potential photojournalist. For Kelsey, the ability to disseminate images globally via the Web is a far more significant historical shift than the change from film to digital photography (though they are, of course, technologically related).”

Ponder that, grasshopper.


Ken Martin said...

I'll bet the photographer (whose name I can't recall) who took the picture of a soldier caught in mid-air after being shot in the Spanish Civil War didn't fake it.

But as I understand it the guys who started the whole flap about Photoshopping was with National Geographic. He moved a pyramid.

Anonymous said...

After researching a chapter on early manipulations of photos for my students, the practice goes back to almost the beginning of photography. There's one of Abraham Lincoln that isn't the body of Lincoln. It's the head, but the president wasn't able to come, so the photographer faked it. Hitler and Mussolini also routinely had people "erased" from photos. One of the Italian dictator had him on a stallion, looking strong. The real photo has a handler holding the horse. Still others include a GI in Iraq looking at a TV. In reality, he was watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" but the photographer had him watching war reports (ah the marvels of Photoshop). One of the most famous manipulated photos is of an American soldier with a gun, supposedly pointing it at a civilian with a child. It was two separate photographs morphed together with Photoshop. Reuters has a site, but you can find even more. Here's the Reuters link: Pop Photo also has links to faked Reuters photos as well. Even Robert Capa, a well-known and respected photojournalist, has been accused of faking a war photo. I'm pretty clumsy with Photoshop but even I know how to make smoke darker, expand it and take items out of a photo so you can't tell. Ethical photojournalists have a Code of Ethics they've created and adopted and it covers this blasphemy. But a new practice? Sorry to say, no. -- Denise

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