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Previous | Next :: New York State Fair Cowboy : Syracuse NY | September 6, 2006, 3:13 pm

New York State Fair Cowboy : Syracuse NY
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On my way to the fair .......... I was listening to a WNYC podcast program about image manipulation in news. It was a discussion program that was scheduled after all the fuss about the Reuters photographer who put "fake photographs on the Reuters news service" from the war in Lebanon. It was a very interesting wide ranging discussion led by the iconic public radio host; Leonard Lopate.......I genuinely enjoyed the flow of the conversation.... image manipulation of the past...... the disappearance of Trotsky and others from photographs, people who had been disappeared, exiled or killed by Stalin. The setting up of earliest war photographs from the American Civil war ....... and other fascinating stuff......the only thing lacking in my view was....... why the image manipulation in the Reuters Lebanon incident actually occurred.

In the end I wrote this and supplied it to Tim Gopsill the editor of 'The Journalist' who wanted to quote me on this issue:

Sympathy for the Devil

I cant help feeling sorry for that Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj. I mean he was doin the business alright......... risking his life to shoot images showing the reality of the war in Lebanon. He had taken very real pictures before any question of manipulation came up. The pictures in question show Beirut burning after a bombing strike and an image of an Israeli F-16 fighter over Nabatiyeh in Southern Lebanon . To get these pictures means being in that area of high risk constantly and always being ready to head for a specific zone of extreme danger....... to where the most compelling images can be made and with the most likelihood of death or injury for yourself. Even these two pictures that are the subject of the 'fake' controversy were not generated in his basement by computer graphics........... he stood in an exposed place and photographed both the F-16 and the city burning. Im not condoning his later crass manipulation of these images. It was indeed crass and totally unacceptable. Reuters are certainly right to discipline him and distance themselves from that kind of manipulation of images or news. Still this manipulation did not much alter their content and emphasis certainly not their meaning. It was a violation of journalistic ethics but on a fairly minor scale. I hate manipulation of images and news it undermines our entire industry, any hint of it feeds the cynical 'you can't trust the press' and pushes ignorant conspiracy theories........ but still.......I should dislike Adnan Hajj......but..... like I say I cant help feeling sorry for him. His manipulation slightly increased the impact of the images the higher contrast darker smoke made it slightly more drastic looking.... I suppose........ but what was the point of this manipulation for him......... was it to manipulate the news that day....... is he a propagandist? ..... Out to paint Israel blacker...... as seems to be the charge. I somehow doubt it. I suspect he was more likely just trying to give his images a boost....... a better chance to run on the wire. I wonder how he is/was paid by Reuters? By the image? By the day? I doubt that he had a nice secure contract package......... or a full-time job with a pension............ ha ...... as if ! .......... I wonder if they were even insuring him or his family during this war? Or even as a bear minimum insuring his camera gear and car out in the war zone?...... er..... Maybe they allowed copyright to revert to him to make up for the lack of a pension arrangement?...........Hardly likely.........I would like to suggest Reuters should perhaps consider their own role in contributing to this minor breach of journalistic ethics. I am not moving the blame entirely to Reuters and I am not condoning image manipulation of any form in photojournalism. I condemn it absolutely, it is always totally unacceptable, it is a betrayal of our vocation. What's more I am certainly not saying all freelancers behave like this......... they most certainly do not......... most of the top and most strictly ethical photojournalists in the world are freelance. Still...... I find it hard to entirely blame and condemn this individual photographer........this one man risking his life to work with the big wire service. I feel sorry for him. I suspect that the financial arrangements at Reuters contributed to his course of action. To a belief on his part that it was in his long term interests to behave slightly improperly in an attempt to win a more secure income for himself and his family. Not very admirable in a journalist ........... but not so difficult too relate too in an ordinary guy.

See the pictures:


I am the last one to use manipulation techniques. I have a photojournalist's aesthetic. I have spent years not adjusting anything before or after an image is made. I shot mostly E6 transparency film in the past, it was all done in the camera. I did,nt even use darkroom techniques to burn in or hold back on a print. I don't automatically even today feel comfortable with ordinary image adjustments in photoshop....... even contrast saturation etc.......I still have a weird belief in the sanctity of the image generated in the camera...... but I am reluctantly recognizing what comes out of the digital camera cannot be quite just treated like a transparency and completely left as is. Partly because it cannot be made to look like a transparency would without some consideration of adjustments.

Cheers Jez

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