Certainly, magazine cover photographs bear the burden of “selling” the magazine, an old-school concept to boost newsstand sales. And it appears that news publication editors more frequently believe they can digitally manipulate images on their covers and absolve themselves by adding a disclaimer.© Time, Inc, 2009The disclaimer, “PHOTOGRAPH FROM SIPA PRESS. DIGITALLY ALTERED. INSETS, FROM LEFT: PHOTOGRAPH BY RAOUL BENAVIDES FOR TIME; PHOTO-ILLUSTRATION BY C.J. BURTON FOR TIME,” is on Time’s website, and I suspect it’s also in the magazine.
Even here at the venerable Wichita Eagle we’ll tag “Photo Illustration by ….” onto images when it may not be obvious the picture was set up, staged or somehow altered after the fact if we don’t have an actual “news” image to illustrate the story.
That’s okay, I suppose, but I fear there is a cumulative effect of our lowering the trustworthy factor of photography produced by and for news organizations.
Over time and repeated exposure to made-up and manipulated images, I am concerned that news consumers are quickly approaching the point where they just won’t trust news organizations to deliver the truth."You know, if we photoshop a few extra people jumping from the Hindenburg, it would be a much better picture."So here’s the deal on news photography, at least from my 28-year perspective: The image should not give the pretense that something was happening when it wasn’t.
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For example, a portrait is a portrait, and few people would assume a business owner just “happened” to be sitting on the corner of his desk when I walked by and snapped his picture, or a perky young lady just “happened” to be posturing in a Montgomery Ward-like fashion pose when I shot her sweater.
A news/feature photograph is a visual quote; we don’t make up quotes, we don’t make up photographs. If a quote is cumbersome, a writer will paraphrase. If an illustration is better suited to make the point, so be it, I suppose, or just go with a map or graph or drawing. But the image shouldn’t pretend to be something it is not.