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Tag Archives: Narciso Contreras

What Are The Ethics of Digital Manipulation in Photography?

No there is no answer and we keep returning to this debate because it is at the core or image making in the 21st century. We have reported and commented on it a number of times in this blog here was the last, and this from a couple of months ago

Lightstalking has an article on this and interestingly fronts it up with the image of the Cottingley Fairies


As Jason Little says:

From the moment we’re old enough to play games with other children, we’re told that cheating is bad. The same principle follows us throughout the rest of our lives, but as we grow it takes on far greater implications and applies to so many more situations than a simple schoolyard game of hide-and-seek, hopefully exhibiting itself in personal, academic, professional, economic, and all other aspects of life.

Because no one likes cheaters and liars, of course.

The Case of the Cottingley Fairies

In 1917, two young girls age 16 and 10, residents of Cottingley, England, made the first of an eventual five photographs that showed Frances, the younger of the two cousins, posing delicately amongst a quartet of fairies.

Yes, fairies. Like Tinkerbell.

The girls claimed to have seen the fairies down by the stream where they often played. And for anyone who scoffed at their assertion, they had photographic proof to offer. It didn’t take long for the cousins’ astonishing photos to reach the rest of the world; some looked upon the portraits with nothing but disbelief, while others believed the images to be real. Chief among the believers was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, and avid spiritualist who was convinced the girls’ photos were legitimate evidence of psychic phenomena.

Even if you have never previously heard of this affair, you can probably guess with reasonable certainty where it’s all headed. Frances’ and Elsie’s photographed were eventually revealed as fakes, with the fairies being nothing more than cardboard cutouts that had been pinned to the girls’ surroundings in a variety of creative ways……….

However, if your intent is to create fiction, then do whatever you want, just be sure that your motives are clear to your audience. Only when a photographer presents his or her work with the intent to deceive should we call into question their professional/artistic integrity — their ethics.

We all know fairies aren’t real. The idea that there is a universal set of rules or an objective reality to which artists must adhere at all times is just as much of a myth. Do what makes you happy, yes; but also make sure you can proudly stand by the merits of your work as well.

Big question what do you think, read the rest of the article here and have your say

Mirror’s weeping child picture is a lie and smacks of lazy journalism at best

There is an interesting debate that keeps cropping up and it is to do with how true or honest a photographic image is and whether any form of manipulation renders it unsuitable for journalism purposes. We have reported on instances in the past where photographers have  lost their right to earn a living as press photographers because they have made changes to an image, see here. Now we find that national newspapers are using stock images to illustrate articles and when it suits them to manipulate images themselves. This article comes from The Guardian

Paper’s use of stock shot of American child to illustrate splash about food banks in UK is betrayal of its photographic heritage

The Daily Mirror’s weeping child picture was basically a lie, and we don’t normally condone lying. The Mirror used a stock shot of an American child taken five years ago to illustrate their front-page splash about the growth of food banks. This is the prime position for a news image and the Mirror has a fine tradition of commissioning and publishing strong news pictures.

Its photographic style has its roots in gritty Picture Post-type reportage of UK social affairs. To use a stock shot on the front page is misleading its readers and a betrayal of its photographic heritage. The reader really doesn’t expect a picture used with a front-page hard news story to be a soft library image.

Only a few weeks ago the Mirror took the brave decision to publish the shocking image of the bodies of the children gassed in Syria. It was a troubling picture, but told the truth in a bold way that most of the other UK papers shied away from. Possibly exploitative to some people, but also true to its tabloid sledgehammer style, it presented the evidence available on the day.

Surely the point is that if the reader can’t believe in the picture presented with no hint that it might just be an illustration, can they believe the story? This is a manipulation of the truth. In the rush to publish the story, the visual veracity has been forgotten……..
Daily Mirror front page

Associated Press photographer Kirsty Wigglesworth had shot a great picture at Spurs the Sunday before last: Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor saluting embattled manager Tim Sherwood after he scores a goal against Sunderland at White Hart Lane. Sherwood is also saluting and alongside him is a member of Spurs’ coaching squad, Chris Ramsey.

A nice moment well captured by Wigglesworth. So well captured that, out of the hundreds taken that day, several papers including the Guardian used it on their back pages the next morning.

But a couple of UK papers, the Daily Mail and the Mirror, saw fit to erase Ramsey from the image. For what reason is not exactly clear, perhaps the Mail thought that their fact box would look bolder without a figure behind. In the Mirror’s case was it to let their headline stand out more?


For whatever reason, the irony is painfully clear: if Kirsty Wigglesworth had amended her photograph, AP would have sacked her, because that’s their policy and they have a good track record in enforcing it. Only a few months ago, AP news photographer Narciso Contreras had his contract terminated for altering a picture from Syria.

Makes you wonder, then again no it doesn’t

Award-winning photographer dumped for altering single Syria image

From The Guardian

The Associated Press has severed ties with a Pulitzer prize-winning freelance photographer who it says violated its ethical standards by altering a photo he took while covering the war in Syria in 2013.

The news service said on Wednesday that Narciso Contreras recently told its editors that he manipulated a digital picture of a Syrian rebel fighter taken last September, using software to remove a colleague’s video camera from the lower left corner of the frame. That led AP to review all of the nearly 500 photos Contreras has filed since he began working for the news service in 2012. No other instances of alteration were uncovered, said Santiago Lyon, the news service’s vice president and director of photography.…more

Altered PhotoI find this draconian measure to be completely out of step with the nature of photography. I understand that a journalist has some requirement to accurately represent a news item, however given the state of the press in the UK I am not sure that is ever the case. I cannot see how removing a camera from this image can in any way change the meaning or intent of the image. Photographers have always influenced the nature of their images to represent a viewpoint. What film, lens, camera, how the image was processed and printed all have an influence on the outcome and all of that comes after the photographer has decided where to point their camera. To reprimand Narciso Contreras and to reduce  his ability to earn a living is just out of all consideration for the context of the image and the impact upon any viewer of the changes made. I am sure there are some that would say journalism has a sacred obligation to tell the truth hmm….. like politicians, estate agents and lawyers I suppose. To argue that it is impossible to police manipulations and therefore to say all are forbidden just takes me back to my earlier point about the choices already made when the image is captured. This is just madness

Read the full article here