Tuesday 26 October 2010

Documentary Photography Lesson 2: Altering Images, How far can we go?

"In documentary photojournalism, it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way (electronically, or in the darkroom) that deceives the public."  The motto of the NPPA.

Brian Walski’s photographs in the Los Angeles Times, lead to his dismissal for compositing two images from Iraq by using the “burning” or “dodging tool” The Charlotte Observer rescinded three images in the Pictures of the Year awards given to Patrick Schneider because he removed background information from certain images, through excessive adjustments in Photoshop.  Although the conclusion was that Schneider did not “intend” to deceive the public, but “he went over the line in the use of some techniques which altered the backgrounds in ways that left us uncomfortable.” Quoted by the NCPPA.

Schneider used the “hand of God” burns, enhancing the colors of a sunrise photo…which resulted in basically a made-up image.

The debate is was that enough to dismiss the award?  The story did not change.  I agree with the NCPPA and the NPPA in their decision.  Yes, I agree with those who oppose their decision based on the fact that the story did not change.  But that is not what the NCPPA was basing their decision upon.  It was based on the extensive use of altering images, changing colors and removing backgrounds.  I am a member of the NPPA, and I would not dare, alter an image to such an extent.  So what if the sunrise was not as bright and yellow/orange and it should (?)/could have been.  So what if the fire was not as bright red/orange enough to make the image esthetic enough for the viewer to marvel at it.  The image was good, in the Raw context.  However, removing backgrounds?  For me that crosses the line much more than enhancing colors.

The talent with photojournalism or documentary photography is the RAW image.  The challenge is in the ability to generate a story, using framing and composing, So what if I take an image of a world leader and in the background are other camera people.  One cannot truly avoid this event in the world we live in today.  Viewing the other photographers in the background, IS part of the story.  The man is famous!  Everyone wants to snap a shot of him if they get the chance.  If one can succeed snapping the shot, without other faces surrounding the world leader, then….you have a classy image.  This is the challenge.  The story.  The real story.

In part 3 I will discuss the historical problems of using photojournalism and documentary photography as a propaganda machine…this is where the true problem lies.