Pictures Worth A Thousand Touch-Ups

By Casey Bukro

Let’s start with a hoary cliche: A picture is worth a thousand words.


Think of photos that stick in your mind:  The Hindenburg zeppelin wrapped in flames; dead soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg; Robert Capa’s D-Day Invasion images; the Iwo Jima flag-raising by Joe Rosenthal; the Beatles; Muhammad Ali; Marilyn Monroe; Elizabeth Taylor; that Afghan girl with haunting eyes in National Geographic; Einstein and Picasso, to name a few.

They are iconic images, in part because they are believed to be accurate portrayals of people and events. Some of those people are famous because they are so photogenic. You want to stare at them.

That makes the relationship between photographers and their audience important, especially now when pictures are vital to covering the news, and when technology makes it so easy to alter images.

It was not considered a big deal a decade or more ago. But now it is, because accuracy in photography is seen as important as accuracy in reporting.

That point was made by the Associated Press when it cut ties with Pulitzer prize-winning freelance photographer Narciso Contreras for altering a picture. He admitted that he edited out a video camera from the bottom left corner of a photo of a fighter holding a rifle.

The Guardian said the “sacking” seemed “very draconian.”

The Associated Press did not think so.  Brian Schwaner, AP bureau chief in New Orleans, said:

 ” AP is quite strict on its requirements for unaltered material, even photos of only marginal value. For example, a few weeks ago the flack for a political candidate sent us a rather standard mugshot for our files, for use during the election. Our bureau photographer took a look at it and was suspicious. After running some tests, he discovered it had been heavily PhotoShopped. The flack was informed and we rejected the photo.

            “So the scrutiny ranges from the basics – like this simple mugshot – all the way up to celeb shots and battlefield photos.”
That’s the way it’s done these days, although, ironically, it’s a time when news organizations cut their photo staffs as a cost-saving measure. That means more reliance on freelancers. Contreras was a freelancer, and maybe that’s part of the message.

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