Darkrooms are Irrelevant and The Truth Matters

Darkrooms are Irrelevant and The Truth Matters

“If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

– Senator Jon Kyl, April 8, 2011 on the Senate Floor

This is not a post about abortion or Planned Parenthood. This is a discussion about veracity and why it matters in photojournalism. In fact, about 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion-related. When Sen. Kyl was confronted with the facts, his office responded with “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement.”

The next two photos are the World Press Photo of the Year 2012. The top image is the submitted image that won, and the lower image is how it was first published.

I previously wrote that the top image looks like an illustration to me, and I called for transparency in the photojournalism awards process by suggesting that RAWs be submitted so that we had a baseline from which to judge the degree of transformation.

The typical argument for allowing such manipulation is that this is no different than what was done in the darkroom. But to me this is an irrelevant argument. We don’t use darkrooms, nor film anymore. The techniques we developed in the darkroom were specific to that medium, and the output devices of the time. The “hand of god” dodging technique was developed alongside low resolution, black and white newspaper presses. We now view images on Retina displays. We use Wacom tablets and Photoshop, which allows us to manipulate images in a more sophisticated fashion while doing it faster than ever. Filters and push button applications have given rise to “recipes” that allow us to cook images into the hyperreal.

(Stop with the Ansel Adams comments. We’re talking about photojournalism.)

I think Paul Hansen’s winning image is fantastic. I personally like the “original” better than the award winning image. But the more salient question is whether or not the original would have won. If the answer is “yes,” then why did the photographer feel the need to manipulate it for the awards? If the answer is “no,” then the judges need to examine what they are actually responding to in the image. The fact is that he felt that retoning the image was necessary and/or justified for the specific purpose of entering the contest. The image is on PEDs, and we forgot to set up drug testing.

But why does it matter? He didn’t move elements around in the photo, nor burn elements out of existence.

It matters because we are essentially saying as a society that reality isn’t real enough to garner our attention. The photo wasn’t intended as a factual statement.

This isn’t a mere case of photography evolving from black and white to color, and me responding as a Luddite. I know what the world looks like when I step out the door, and it doesn’t look like some of the news images I’m seeing nowadays. And I am arguing that this is having an insidious effect on how we perceive reality. We can argue to we’re blue in the face about whether the manipulation has crossed some arbitrary line of taste and/or ethics, but by looking at both images, we cannot argue that it has been manipulated. We need to ask ourselves why.

When my friend’s teenage daughter tells me she needs botox and she’s fat, she’s responding to a world filled with photos of women not intended as factual statements. When Jon Kyl makes up numbers to advance his position and that non-fact becomes a rallying cry, we are accepting that facts shouldn’t get in the way of governance. When an award-winning photojournalism photo has been toned to look like a movie poster, you are signaling to next year’s entrants that the bar has moved. Find the best retoucher you can, and heighten the drama as much as possible. We don’t care about factual statements. We care about visceral reaction and entertainment value. Make us feel something! Truth be damned.

News has an ethical obligation to be truthful. Not truthy. Not in the spirit of the truth. Don’t give me the old tired line about photography just being an interpretation of reality and “what about flash photography?” This photo is manipulated to the point of being an illustration, and I’m asking us to find the fortitude to pull it back. Create the guidelines that can inform a next generation of news photography that isn’t swayed by HDR and Photoshop – where the content, exposure and composition speak more about the efficacy of the photographer as a newsperson, rather than his/her ability to tone an image until we feel an emotion.

If photojournalists, their organizations, and their industry care about veracity, what is there to argue about when calling for the RAW when the truth is in question?

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Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 86 comments for this article
  1. KMC at 6:26 am

    Darkrooms may be gone, but as photographers — and yes, as photojournalists — we make a number of decisions about how we capture and present the world. Nothing in that regard has changed. Photographs are MADE, plain and simple. They are composed, exposed, and presented.

    I don’t believe the “hand of god” was any more ethical in the film days than it is now. I think we are just more aware as a society, and more stringent.
    Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe hand of god, or partially de-saturating an image is honest journalism. But I do believe that images require a certain amount of attention before presentation. A RAW file is a raw file and I don’t see anything wrong with setting white and black points, fine-tuning white balance, and some *moderate* dodging and burning.

  2. Ivar at 7:30 am

    What about black and white, where you would digitaly remove all colour.
    the grass is green and the sky is blue. People see in color so every black and white picture would according to you be a false perception of the truth.
    every black and white RAW file is manipulated and can never be used for photographic journalism.

  3. Gordon Radford at 8:15 am

    If you didn’t want to make a column about abortion or PP, why even include the reference? You could have used countless other scenarios to illustrate your point.

    A few weeks ago a silly article was posted about the “racist” Superbowl Commercial.

    Shall we expect more of the same opinionated slant every week? I certainly hope not.
    Otherwise, Zenfolio will start looking better and better.

  4. James at 8:16 am

    Great article and thought-provoking indeed… I do believe that reporting has shifted from coverage to “story-telling” in many regards. Photojournalism is following suite with the images themselves. In the past, we were able to get the news–what has happened with little to no bias or opinion. The opinion was left up to the viewer. Now, unbiased news cannot be found on FOX, CNN, or the like. Our best bet is to view numerous news sources and somewhat determine the “average” truth.
    If there was a news source that truly reported with news with RAW photos, I’d be a subscriber. From an artistic standpoint, I love the edited image. However, I do agree that the RAW image more accurately conveys truth.

  5. Steve Dreiseszun at 9:05 am

    Allen – I get your philosophy, in general. I believe that a balance must be struck between “interpretation” and “manipulation.” In reality, all photography is both, depending on the viewer.

    Every choice in capturing an image makes up the language that a photographer uses to convey the subject, including lens, focal length, exposure, DOF, shutter speed, sharpness and more (as we all know). Part of that language is the medium.

    With film, we had choice of color palette, contrast, saturation, grain, tonality, exposure bias, b/w and more. We might have pushed or pulled processed the film depending on the needs. When prints were the final medium, paper choice, enlarging filters, contrast control, developer mix, agitation and more affected the final image.

    In digital we have all of the film choices with almost every frame (file). We know that digital can capture more visual information than we see in color and contrast boosting both unnaturally (ever watch golf on TV well after sunset?). Sensors and A-D converters are already changing what we ‘see’ when the light is fixed unto a disk.

    For me, the question is whether the image faithfully conveys what the photographer saw? This image doesn’t appear to have added or removed elements. It was toned and that creates a mood more in keeping with the tragic circumstances pictured. If Paul Hansen had been using film, he may have replicated that look with careful execution that would not have “crossed the line” in the day.

    The point is that the “line” has always been moving and it’s up to the photographer to understand the difference.

  6. libertarian at 9:07 am

    I agree that this is not journalism. On many levels. The color correction here isn’t even as bad as I thought it had been. What bothers me more is that this is yet another “AP” story that isn’t really the story. It’s not really clear here what happened. To this day you can’t find clear information what this is about. But the AP turns it into a story anyway that manipulates .

    And given that the AP has been caught red handed in the past with fabricated pictures to influence the public opinion regarding the the conflict in the Middle East I find it hard to take anything face-value that they run. I don’t know if this falls into this category or not but when you research the names of the people in the photograph then there are more questions than answers while the casual viewer is led to think along the lines of specific political interests.
    In any case: powerful stuff and it’s good that the digital revolution not only produces such images and the associated questions but also more access to additional information and open discussions than ever before. So in that sense it’s good that Hansen’s entry won – and is now being scrutinized on more than one level.

  7. Mike at 9:18 am

    I wish the answer your proposing we’re that simple. Many of the adjustments that a photo journalist might make can also be made in camera such as white balance, sharpness, etc. and even though raw is raw, everything that uses the raw data must use the metadata that goes with it in order to interpret the raw data.
    Also, the way that digital photography is changing at breakneck speed, photoshop could be as obsolete as the darkroom in a few years. There are cameras now that are doing HDR in camera. I for one don’t think there is a good solution to the enhancement issue. What ever is set as a standard will be obsolete before it can be adopted.

    Also I was thinking there is an interesting connection of this topic to what is happening to journalism itself. We’ve gone from a time when large,trusted organizations fact checked and balanced everything to journalism by blog where everything is effected by the point of view of the “journalist” or their editor. In this sense, through photoshop and technology photo journalist are doing the same thing.

  8. James T at 9:33 am

    Let me be blunt. You are wrong. It is not about the failings of todays digital cameras, because without post editing software your images are incomplete. Post editing software allows finishing touches to the image and allows the photojournalist to convey the image as it was intended. Posting images directly out of the camera in a “RAW” state is idiotic. Get out from behind your monitor and shoot more. You’ll understand what it means to be a photojournalist. Oh yeah, darkroom references are absolutely correct. Adobe and others software applications are now your digital darkroom. Period.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 5:12 pm

      @james, I didn’t state that I want images to be published without any adjustments. My point is the some news images have gone too far with the post production (the fact that photographers are outsourcing the post production to specialty houses could support this argument). “Convey the image as it was intended” is slippery to me. Are we trying to publish what our mind’s eye saw, or what our eyes saw. I’m arguing for the latter.

  9. Antonio Olmos at 9:54 am

    @Allen, it sounds like you want everyone to shoot on normal lenses, shoot on automatic mode, shoot only Raw and do no post processing. If you understand photography then you know you can alter a scene or the reality that the eye sees with exposure, flash, choice of film, lenses and framing.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 5:10 pm

      @antonio, I’m not sure how you got this impression from what I wrote. I made the observation that the winning photo looks like a photo illustration, and that the level of post production of news photos has gone too far, imo. Some people agree with this, and some do not. But this has nothing to do with lens choice or exposure mode.

  10. Morts at 10:31 am

    A very complex issue – however I am not sure i agree with you – All the way back to Thomas Wedgewood in 1790 creating images has been a process combining chemicals and techniques to correctly develop and generate an image in the end should amaze, review and not least inform what the photographer sees through his/her viewfinder (or lcd screen in this case). Photography is and has always been an art form and when it comes to competitions and awards it is about ‘creating’ a photo not about ‘shooting’ a photo (read the T&C’s)

    Get out of the office and into the field with your Olympus MJU please


  11. Ivar at 10:36 am

    I have every world press photo book since 1990
    look at the pictures and you will find that about 90% is
    manipulated in the dark room with either burning or vigneting.
    even revesal printing from slides and nobody cared. why does
    everybody care now. If you look at the documentary about james nachtwey
    He has somebody printing for him and it takes a lot of burning and
    vignetting before he is happy with the result. It’s all about getting the message a cross
    to the public.
    If you write a journalistic story you don’t state facts in alphabetical order
    you write it up so you keep the readers attention.
    I think you should care more about dead babies insted of wondering if the
    dead baby has the right hue or saturation because in black and white or in color
    those parent have to live with the fact that there sons and daughters are dead!

  12. Michael A Shapiro at 10:37 am

    Photographs are abstractions, not nearly so much as words, but still abstractions. As Winogrand always said, the picture is not the thing. Besides, you change the potential picture by choosing your film or sensor or saturation settings. What if there is no RAW? What if it is only jpg? Should the photographer use the normal or the neutral setting in the camera?
    Photographers have to exercise esthetic judgement in the processing of their photos. It is a necessary truth.

  13. Tim at 10:46 am

    “The typical argument for allowing such manipulation is that this is no different than what was done in the darkroom. But to me this is an irrelevant argument. We don’t use darkrooms, nor film anymore. The techniques we developed in the darkroom were specific to that medium, and the output devices of the time.”

    You use this as a basis for your opinion, without really saying anything. Yes, we no longer use darkrooms but digital, but the fundamental principle is the same; we alter images to appear more attractive. The tools have changed, but that’s all. We didn’t print flat images straight from the negative.We printed on graded paper to alter contrasts, as well as dodge and burn.

    The only difference is the editing and alteration medium, but it’s still the same, fundamental principle. Perhaps we just have to alter the ethics for the digital age.

  14. Dan Westergren at 11:08 am

    @James T
    I believe Allen was trying to start a conversation about the subtleties of post production and how the “look” may affect the way viewers interpret a news photo. He obviously knows the difference between a raw and processed file.

    “Post editing software allows finishing touches to the image and allows the photojournalist to convey the image as it was intended. ”

    I guess some of us are worried that an image as powerful as this will have it’s intent minimized because the photographer chose to add a very obvious style to his entry. News photos already get lost in the visual tsunami without copying the same processing techniques used by Hollywood to achieve a “cool” look.

    Personally I’m more disturbed that photographers still think this Euro Sub-Sat look is cutting edge and not a 5 year old cliché.

  15. Valentino Antonio at 11:27 am

    The major problem with photography is not changing hues and dimming highlights, it is the fact that digital photography has actually made many people think that it is worth posting over-saturated and halo/ghosting hellish images on the net and get excited when someone posts, “great photo!!!”

    I actually saw, in a professional magazine, a tutorial about using the high pass filter in order to get a more vibrant and sharp image . . . the image in the article showed a person with a ghost/halo and over-saturated color! Remember, this was in a PRO grade magazine. Apparently, that was acceptable and the norm ! If THAT doesn’t drive home the point. . . . . .

    As for the current image in question, for god’s sake people . . . what’s with all those bronze tans!? Has the whole world ‘gotten itself in a big hurry?’

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  17. oleg at 12:01 pm

    photojournalism is based on the myth that we translate to the viewer the reality and facts, not an opinions. But if we recognize that we show their own opinion and not a fact – that defeats the purpose of our profession. Processing the pictures, we don’t show the reality streams, we just reinforce our opinion about the reality. nobody is in doubt, if we take pictures by 17 mm lens, distorting reality or just select those pics that we like more. However, that’s kind problem is of the same order. the fact is the photography always had not identically reflects the reality. But if we do not “decorate pics” – it will not be more a reality as well as the art and will not be.

  18. Federico at 12:02 pm

    This should be a picture of a funeral; so why working on PS to make it more appealing…why shift the colors, airbrush the faces? It it fiction, cinema, show? In my opinion reporters should witnesst, inform, use their skills to photograph and not to make illustrations. And then, let’s think about those people portrayed there. They EXIST, it’s a scene that really happened..these people deserve respect and not to be airbrushed.

  19. kevin at 12:30 pm

    in this day and age, it should be a foregone conclusion that some amount of post production editing is done on every photograph we see, no matter how dramatic and affecting the RAW (or CR2, perhaps?) image is. (indeed, i believe the majority of photographers who read this post could tell that the image was manipulated with a cursory glance.) this expectation of editing must be embraced, because editing’s immanence continues to grow. even editorial content will follow the trends of the day (look at photographic history.) it’s happened over and over again as generations witness the ongoing evolution of photographic technology. the responsibility rests with each photographer… be forthcoming with your editing technique. don’t play trickster.

  20. Anonymous at 12:38 pm

    Federico 2-20-2013
    “This should be a picture of a funeral; so why working on PS to make it more appealing…why shift the colors, airbrush the faces? It it fiction, cinema, show? In my opinion reporters should witnesst, inform, use their skills to photograph and not to make illustrations. And then, let’s think about those people portrayed there. They EXIST, it’s a scene that really happened..these people deserve respect and not to be airbrushed.”

    by your logic, why even take a photograph of a funeral, to be exploited as artistic and editorial endeavor? did the photographer not benefit professionally and financially from these people’s suffering? yes, the photographer hansen did.

  21. Dave Breen at 12:46 pm

    You say ” I personally like the “original” better than the award winning image.” Are either of the images above the “original”? If not, where can we see the “original”? If you’re comparing the two presented here, I would call the top image the “original” because it’s the one he submitted into competition. The other, described as “how it was first published” quite likely was adjusted by the publication. Are you saying it’s “straight out of the camera”?

  22. jaco at 2:10 pm

    “photojournalism is based on the myth that we translate to the viewer the reality and facts, not an opinions”. It is not a myth. As a journalist my opinion is in the story I *choose* to tell, not in the contents. The more I manipulate contents, quotes, data, information, the more I am shifting from journalism to fiction and, more, propaganda. I suppose the same criteria may be applied to photojournalism – to keep it in the realm of journalism instead of moving into (still noble) realm of art. Let us teach photo-editors to stick to this criteria, for the benefit of journalism and those we are willing to “translate reality”.

  23. Michael Rasmussen (@MichaelRpdx) at 4:11 pm

    In your opening paragraphs you conflate the integrity of Senator Kyl’s statement and Mr. Hansen’s photos. For this comparison to be valid the photographer would have to present the group of men as celebrating. He, obviously, is not.

    What he has done is subdue color content associated with happy feelings in our culture. He has strengthened the communication. That is his job.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 5:01 pm

      The point of the Senator Kyl example was to show how he was trying to present something as a fact, when it was not, then he backpedaled by saying his speech on the Senate floor wasn’t meant as a factual statement. When a news photo is manipulated to look like a movie poster (my words), I’m arguing that this is congruent.

      You and I have a disagreement about our perception of the toning. I don’t see the subduing of color as signifying a dulling of happy feelings. I see it as the type of retouching that might appear on the cover of a magazine, where it would be listed as a photo illustration. You find the level of toning to be acceptable, and I do not.

      My voice is not definitive, but it’s certainly supported by some segment of photographers who think a line has been crossed. I believe news photography is sacred, and this level of toning creates a conundrum for us as a society.

  24. Ann Little at 4:47 pm

    If you don’t think the name Ansel Adams matters for journalism, how about Eugene Smith and every other photojournalist who manipulated every image ever printed?

    There are simple expectations in any visual medium, and the first image does not meet those expectations. It’s tonally flat. Period. You can use other descriptions as well: sluggish mid-tones, dull whites, loss of important detail in the shadows on the right. It doesn’t matter that it’s journalism; it matters that it’s a visual medium.

    This second issue is this: why is some young employee of PhotoShelter (which is supposed to SERVE photographers), “calling for the RAW”? It’s none of his damn business how we produce images. Has Photoshelter decided that it’s in charge of photography now? Really?

    It looks like this “avid photographer,” who has no education in photography has now decided that he’s in charge of the people paying the monthly fees. What a joke.

    AS ONE OF THOSE MONTHLY SUBSCRIBERS, I WOULD LIKE AN APOLOGY! And a promise that this kind of crap doesn’t come across my screen again.

    Photographers are in control of their own work; not some guy at Photoshelter.

    And since you have such disdain for Adams, I leave you with one of his quotes:

    No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.
    Ansel Adams

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 4:54 pm


      I’m not some young employee of PhotoShelter. I am the co-founder. I have also studied photography, serve on the board of the Eddie Adams Workshop, speak at seminars around the country, and talk to hundreds of photographers every year. I have a very personal interest in photojournalism, and when I see images that are being manipulated to the point of being photo-illustrations, I feel the need to express my opinion.

      Ansel Adams did some journalistic work for the UC system, but no photojournalist would consider his scenics to be photojournalism. I’m not sure how you interpreted my comments as being dismissive of Ansel Adams. I’m very fond of his work, and he was, in fact, one of the first photographers I encountered in my youth.


  25. D_B at 5:40 pm

    Nice, so we have some geek Yale grad telling us, successful photojournalists who also do editorial, ad work and fine art telling us that darkrooms are irrelevant. I’m sorry but that only applies if NO ONE is using them and people most certainly still are. I have been using digital full time since 94 with the lousy NC2000 and have been watching digital get better every year. But I also have magazines and art directors who love seeing film come across their tables and always will.

    I can deal with the need to see the truth in imagery, I use that PJ ethic in everything I do including fine art. But this film is dead, darkroom irrelevant crap is unreal at this point. Only photography has taken the beating I have seen in the last 10 years due to digital hype and I am really sick of it. Who in the hell are you to say if something is irrelevant or not? No one…you are sure as hell not a photographer let alone qualified to speak for all of us.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 5:48 pm

      @d_b: I think you’re misunderstanding the point of the darkroom statement. In regards to the manipulation of the award winning images, I mentioned specifically that something like the “hand of god” technique was a relic of a film and black and white newspaper presses, which typically had line screens of 105. A lot of darkroom techniques were developed to aid the printing of images for that medium.

      Since much of image consumption is done online (and certainly in the case of contest submissions), using a darkroom technique like the “hand of god” is unnecessary. If you look at the synchronized swimming photo from my prior post (https://blog.photoshelter.com/2013/02/why-do-photo-contest-winners-look-like-movie-posters/), I’m not sure what the argument would be for such a heavy handed technique.

      Where I went to school has nothing to do with forming and expressing an opinion on the matter.

  26. Kenneth Jarecke at 6:01 pm

    Allen makes some good and thoughtful points. This is a complicated subject. I don’t think we should expect photographers to not tone their images. We (photographers) always have and we always will. The question is whether or not the photographer has made wise choices when toning. To make an image look like a movie poster, which is an apt description, is probably not a wise choice. Not because the photographer is attempting to deceive the viewer, but because the “movie poster” treatment allows the viewer to disengage, or move the image from the fact to fiction category (at least on a subconscious level).

    We’ve only got a few seconds to catch the viewers eye and make an impact. If that impact registers as “oh, this reminds me of the latest Die Hard movie”, then we’ve failed (as a photographer).

    Now, I know this next observation is off topic (but maybe not). To make an abortion reference when talking about an image of dead babies is weird. It’s almost like the word version of the news photo as movie poster dilemma. My mind was going one way… umm, like I don’t want to read about abortion on a photo blog, but then at the same time my brain is trying to process the image of dead babies… not so much as dead babies, but as a photographic document… it’s a little to meta for me.

    Okay, maybe that last part was a little off topic, but I felt I needed to mention it.

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  28. Peter Duke at 7:17 pm

    Richard Avedon said “all photographs are accurate, none the truth.” The argument that un “augmented” photos are “truer” is specious. It all goes back to Deuteronomy… All images are graven and merely the point-of-view of the photo-maker. If you start with the assumption that EVERYONE has a point of view, and that no person or photograph is “the truth” then you don’t need to fall into this trap of righteous indignation… and don’t even get me started about how the father of these children was shooting rockets into Israel… That “truth” is none too self evident, but that was the whole propagandic point, wasn’t it???

  29. Kingsley at 8:14 pm

    The quote about abortion only constituting 3% of services by Planned Parenthood is in itself questionable as the devil is in the details with statistics. See the attached URL for the other side if the story. That in itself emphasises the point this article is trying to make.

  30. Adron Gardner at 9:52 pm

    I think it’s not really a question of ethics, seriously. I think what a photographer has to ask is what is their intent.

    Why argue about artifice? News is not an art form, ask yourself – what would you think if CNN used a sepia filter on all their war footage.

    Also, why use so much human suffering just to win a contest? Intent indeed.

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  32. John macPherson at 12:05 am

    With the greatest of respect, this ‘argument’ is nonsense. Its a ‘straw man’ argument. Your comparison is inappropriate, and not just that, its misguided and wrong.

    There are two dead children in this image. In whatever tone it is reproduced there are still two dead children. Period. That fundamental truth is not in question as you appear to state at the end of your article.

    In YOUR example of the lying congressman, in a statistical sample of 100 of the users of the PP the congressman is suggesting 90 children die. The reality is that (perhaps) only 3 die (as a result of abortion). The difference (the lie) being that 87 children DO NOT die as the congressman suggests. That’s an indefensible distortion of facts for political gain. It’s bare faced lying. Period.

    If the photographer of the WPP image (Paul Hansen) had photoshopped in or out, a corpse, your outrage would be acceptable but he has not done that.

    And for the record I find the discussion of this image in this context (the ‘tonality’) troubling, as its really about the (possibly unlawful) killing of children. Whether the image is in colour or b&w, these children’s blood is still red.

    So rather than getting in a tizzy over this issue of tonality and ‘truth’ let me ask you – do you know the names of the children? If not why not? You said:

    “I believe news photography is sacred, and this level of toning creates a conundrum for us as a society.”

    Did the image’s aesthetics really make you fail to see the dead children, and if you DID see them (of course you did) were you not interested in knowing their names? Did the toning really make you believe this was not real? (Genuine questions, with respect to you, I’m interested in what you’re missing here.)

    That many commentators don’t know these children’s names, and have not taken the time to find out, is an issue that’s of much more concern to me. And that lack of interest has nothing at all to do with whether this image is in colour or b&w or whatever. But thats another discussion.

    (TO save you googling: its Suhaib Hijazi and her three-year-old brother Muhammad.)

  33. Terry Clark at 1:36 am

    So the flat, dull, out of camera image generated by today’s digital sensor technology is “the truth” and setting black and white points twists said truth because it’s “editing” or “manipulation”? With this argument then all writers should never edit their copy, just leave every word they ever thought of using in there for the reader to sort out. Editing might manipulate the truth of the story. Hogwash.

  34. richard at 3:33 am

    Calling something a ‘tired old line’ doesn’t make it an invalid argument. You can’t patronise away the the validity of an argument. Photographers have always been totally selective in what they choose to shoot, from the moment they lift the camera to their eye. They decide what to include and exclude from the frame. A skilled photographer makes 100 subjective decisions and choices. And the technology makes a 100 more without his/her asking.
    Personally, I think giving this image an HDR look in post just shows naff taste, on behalf of the photographer and the judges. However, you’re saying you know what the outside world looks like outside your door…presumably it’s not black and white? Well, neither is the truth.

  35. John A. at 3:50 am

    I still think you’re missing the point, or not willing to accept a few truths yourself.

    First off, let me agree with one of your points in that I think true journalism should have some defined limits, however, if the general public wants to continue to look at photo journalism as ‘truth’ and no editing should be done ever, then all photographers should be forced to shoot .jpgs, with no in-camera corrections, no flashes used and only at noon. Sound crazy? Yeah it does, but where do you draw the line? If more edited photos are where people’s desires and opinions are leaning, but yours is not, then you’re just left with your opinion. More power to you to try to sway others, but again, opinions, opinions, opinions.

    Also, my other argument is, if the winning photographs didn’t violate the World Press’s rules of the contest, then why are you complaining about the photographers who took these shots and their shots? Shouldn’t you be complaining to the World Press Association and those that create the rules for contests such as this? If the winning photographers were within their boundaries to do the editing they did, then why is that a problem?

    Personally, I liked a few of those photos, not all, but a few and in my mind, those edits that were made, did not change the story or composition of the photos. If you really think its the editing that won them those awards, then try taking a crappy, uninteresting photo, edit it like the winning photo and see if it wins anything. I seriously don’t think it was the editing at all that won these contests.

    Also, to say that “the Ansel Adams argument” is not valid is kinda BS imho. To me, it totally is valid, because what people are saying is that, there were/are those that consider Adams to be a purist, much like photojournalism, yet he pioneered darkroom techniques for improving his own work as he saw fit. AND Photoshop or whatever other program you decide to use for editing is TOTALLY the new dark room of today. How can you seriously not say it isn’t???? I mean really, are you a photographer?

    “We don’t care about factual statements. We care about visceral reaction and entertainment value. Make us feel something!” —I really think this is totally being over dramatic. Look at any of those photos and tell me that you honestly don’t think there is any factual statements or feeling there, with or without the editing.

    Again, all this is my opinion so take it for what its worth. To me though, your argument, as sound as it may be, sounds more like you were a person who competed in this same competition, lost, and is now sore about it. Just my two cents though, but since you felt obligated to voice your opinion on a public forum (which I admire), I felt the same way about replying.

  36. Jim at 4:09 am

    Wow, this is a GREAT discussion! And I think it’s a really important discussion.
    For me (commercial photographer, former photojournalist, BA Journalism) what it boils down to is the fundamentally subjective nature of photography and the idea that journalism should be somehow objective.
    First that idea of journalistic objectivity: I consider it totally bogus and outdated and I think any journalist who sticks with it is shortchanging his/her audience. The journalist is (we hope) right there on the scene and they should impart to those of us who weren’t there not only what happened in factual terms but what it felt like to be there. That’s not entertainment; it informs us.
    And photographs are not and have never been objective. The most basic idea of where you point your camera makes that fundamentally obvious. What you put in the picture, what you leave out, what kind of lighting you choose, etc. Photographs in journalism have been used, maybe even more than writing, to give a sense of what it felt like to be there, where news was happening, and they’ve been given more leeway that writing to do so.
    This is really NOT a discussion of digital versus film. I always remember Eugene Smith’s Spanish Village funeral picture. He had to spend hours in the darkroom, bleaching out the eyes and painting them back in, so the mourners would not appear to be looking at the photographer, which they were.
    Ansel Adams used to say that he didn’t do color because there was so little latitude for manipulation after the exposure. That’s changed these days.
    This is not a matter of (excuse the pun) black and white. It’s a sliding scale that probably differs for each image and we should all (photographers and consumers) always be asking: how much manipulation is appropriate? How much drama should I add? How much do I need to add? At what point does my manipulation become a lie or detract from the real meaning of the event?
    The “hands of God burn” that we used to do was usually to eliminate distraction and help guide the viewer’s eye where it should go, to the substance of the picture. But the truth is that we ALL went overboard with it and made some horrible pictures that way.
    Manipulation has its own semiotics, as any Instagrammer can tell you. The filter you choose, the selective focus, saturation, etc., each carries its own emotional manipulation.
    But I think most experienced Instagrammers are also coming to the realization that if you always use a filter/manipulation, its impact is lessened or at least distorted.

  37. Brett at 4:26 am

    I find it baffling that the photographer of the winning image, or his handlers, for lack of confidence or whatever reason, felt compelled to take such an amazing capture and ruin it with gimmicky and overwrought post-processing. It could have held it’s own straight from the camera.

    I find it more troubling that some segment of photographers and the public seem to feel that reality vs manipulation is so vague and nebulous that we can never really know the difference, never be sure, who’s to say, it’s no different than what we always did in the darkroom, it’s all interpretation, you manipulate as soon as you selectively frame a shot, and other cliched excuses as I would call them. I find this disingenuous and troubling. Why do you think AP, Reuters, etc. have policies and have been creating millions of natural, honest photographs for decades, images that we can all instantly recognize as such because we are intelligent beings that observe the world around us every waking moment. If you’ve been alive for 30-40 years and you still don’t know how to tell the difference between natural and manipulated colors, tonal relationships, and the behavior of light – especially when your job in life is observing and recording thee things – then there’s a problem.

  38. Brett at 4:27 am

    I find it baffling that the photographer of the winning image, or his handlers, for lack of confidence or whatever reason, felt compelled to take such an amazing capture and ruin it with gimmicky and overwrought post-processing.

    I find it more troubling that some segment of photographers and the public seem to feel that reality vs manipulation is so vague and nebulous that we can never really know the difference, never be sure, who’s to say, it’s no different than what we always did in the darkroom, it’s all interpretation, you manipulate as soon as you selectively frame a shot, and other cliched excuses as I would call them. I find this disingenuous and troubling. Why do you think AP, Reuters, etc. have policies and have been creating millions of natural, honest photographs for decades, images that we can all instantly recognize as such because we are intelligent beings that observe the world around us every waking moment. If you’ve been alive for 30-40 years and you still don’t know how to tell the difference between natural and manipulated colors, tonal relationships, and the behavior of light – especially when your job in life is observing and recording thee things – then there’s a problem.

  39. Tim Farrell at 5:08 am

    I’ve read the discussions about this subject in several forums now and not a single person has pointed out that the argument is founded on a totally baseless assumption: the photograph that was published by a news organization is “original” and that anything seen after that, if different, was manipulated after the fact. Although I agree with the premise that photojournalism should not be manipulated in such a way as to alter the facts, given, of course, that all digital photos are manipulated in some fashion starting with whatever settings (white balance, sharpness, etc.) are selected on the camera, I believe the argument that this photo was somehow overly altered to win a contest is much ado about nothing. In the first place, it appears that the published photo was improperly colour managed. If you assign it an sRGB colour profile, the saturation and toning is much closer to the version submitted to the contest. Also, notice that some of the highlights in the published photo are blown out. In the submitted photo those highlights are much more subdued and there is fine detail there. If the published photo was the “original” then those blown out highlights would have been forever lost. I think the great discrepancy lies in the fact that the published version was altered due to incompetent file handling and that the photo submitted to the contest a better representation of the original.

    To further demonstrate the fallibility making judgements based on what one sees on the interweb, seek out several news sources which reported on the contest and place them in multiple tabs on your browser, then click through them and compare. You will probably find that no two are completely identical.

  40. Susan Seubert at 5:24 am

    I do think that putting the Planned Parenthood debate as the entry into a discussion about a photo that involves two dead children is in extremely poor taste. Photojournalism aside, if you truly consider yourself a critical thinker, and are going to pontificate about manipulation, then you really need to be paying more attention to your examples.

  41. Joan Gage at 5:39 am

    Good grief! You’re all so busy showing off your expertise at photoshopping. Do you think those are prop children or real dead children? Do you think the grieving adults are hired extras? Only if that were true would the photographer deserve criticism. All I can see is that he cropped the photo and the colors are lighter. Think about how hard it is to get this kind of photo. I say he deserves the prize and it’s an important photo which speaks the truth.

  42. john macpherson at 5:45 am

    Just to add another observation about how poorly thought out the logic of your argument is:

    You said, and I quote: “And I am arguing that this is having an insidious effect on how we perceive reality. ”

    How we perceive reality?

    Ok, consider the large section of the population who are colour blind to some degree or other. What do you say to them, whose vision of our world does not match your version of reality? That what they see is not valid, or not relevant, or in some way false?

    THATS how nonsensical your proposition is.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 6:23 am

      @john: the point of kyl quote wasn’t to show that he lied about 87% of PP activity. It was to reference his staff’s quote that “his remark wasn’t intended to be a factual statement.” I emphasized this later in the piece by italicizing those words. Which leads us to my reality statement.

      I provided 3 examples towards the bottom of the article in regards to how the perception of reality can be distorted. girls/women’s body issues is a prime example of mass media using photoshop to distort reality, and then women and girls (of an increasingly young age) get sucked into believing an unattainable body type. This doesn’t mean that when a girl looks in the mirror and sees “fat” that her point of view of reality is invalid, but it doesn’t make it accurate.

      Similarly, when we make a news photograph appear like a movie poster through what I consider to be excessive post production, we are saying as a society that life needs to be glamorized even more to capture our already short attention spans.

  43. D_B at 6:11 am

    Allen, thanks for responding. I think next time around you might want to consider how provacative or alienating this sounds to some of us, saying things like the darkroom is irrelevant. It’s all about balance and I happen to know that young people are kind of sick of the digital / Internet hype engine perhaps the most since they were born into it, don’t take it at face value. I have now twice been invited to teach a PJ class that is mandatory for a highly regarded new media program at a local university, I am still mulling it over as for the very reasons to state, I am concerned about what the public’s perception of a “photograph” now is let alone one that is supposed to bear witness to the triumphs and tragedies of our lives and give a well framed reference to the bitlliant narrative that is all life and light in this world.

    The power of the photograph, well seen and felt by a photojournalist is still important, the truth matters and despite what arguments are made that nothing is true and everything is manipulated, these photographs are “Fingerprints” made using indexical links that connect directly to what the photographer saw. So it does not matter if I use Tri-X in my M6 or RAW in my D800, I aim to tell the truth in my work as do many others.

    I support your views especially in an age where the lines are all too often smeared. But next time around, embrace a more well rounded and less “TMZ” method of engaging your audience please.

  44. Brett at 6:53 am

    I have heard the color blind/differing perception argument too, and would firmly reject that as another excuse. Color and light are – they don’t depend on the viewer.

  45. Shane Srogi at 7:02 am

    Essentially we are talking about an adjustment of -20 on the saturation in PS (darkened highlights and sky aside). The reds are over saturated in the original to begin with. But to the broader point……still photojournalists are held to a standard that no one else seems to adhere to anymore…….Lance Armstrong, Three Cups of Tea, Jayson Blair, not to mention that Cable News outlets season their broadcasts to the taste of their audience. Either you hold yourself to the journalistic ethic or you don’t. Just like a non fiction writer the photojournalist can’t add elements to the story that weren’t there. There are writers I trust and there are photographers I trust but that is because of their personal ethics not because of an imposed standard. This is an important question to wrestle with because “what is photojournalism in the 21st century” has yet to be defined.


  46. fran at 7:48 am

    I have been a photographer since the dark ages and spent years in darkrooms. I don’t understand where the idea that what appears on film, or on a digital screen actually lloks like reality. Really, it just looks like a photo of reality. I started experimenting with HDR a few years ago and discovered that, handled gently, my HDR photos actually looked more like the reality I saw. I think that as long as content isn’t altered, any photo telling a story is a good journalistic photo. Levels and contrast etc. have nothing to do with the reality of the photo. Is black and white a purer form of reality….of course not. I love the photo and I think the manipulated version is the better of the two. Of course that is the one the photographer chose to show the world…..better photo equals more impact.

  47. libertarian at 8:06 am

    Since some people raised the question let me be more blunt: where is the proof that these are actually dead children? And if they are where is the proof that they died in that house. And if they did where is the proof that this is a result of a missile strike (Human Rights Watch in their report insinuates that but also states that they found no evidence of any projectiles). Further: is there any evidence that this is another story really where children have been used as “human shields”? Were there any explosives handled in the house that exploded? And so forth and so forth.
    So what bugs me here is not that the picture was enhanced, beautified, whatever but the actual fuzziness of the subject matter here. It’s a photo without a story – and likely supposed to “speak for itself” which is impossible given the complex circumstances. It does not answer questions. It does not shed light on the truth. This is not journalism.

    And like I said before why should I take anything for granted coming from an agency that has a sad track record in both story manipulation and actual photo manipulations that go far beyond what we likely are seeing in this case (anyone remembering the fake mushroom clouds blamed on Israel?)

  48. John Denniston at 8:11 am

    I have only skimmed the comments on this story but one thing that seems to have been missed is that the pictures embedded in the blog are untagged RGB. This means that they will appear differently in every browser depending on what the computer has selected as a an RGB working space. I use AdobeRGB and when I opened them in Photoshop they were both extremely red whereas on my browser the first image is quite flat and dull. It’s very easy for images to change significantly just moving from one computer to another if care is not taken to preserve the original RGB working space. We actually have no idea what the image looked like when submitted by Hansen because we don’t know what RGB profile was embedded with the original image.

    Regards, John

  49. Miguel Simoes at 1:24 pm

    Im glad it isnt just me, thinking about the disgusting butchering of the digital files (that won the contest). And both pictures are manipulated, the bottom one is clearly dodged too.
    It is not about altering the facts, it is about altering the whole mood in the picture to suit the photographers own, failed expectations.

    @John Denniston: The differences on the RGB tags are not going to make the pictures look like a smudged HDR.

  50. Zoraida Diaz at 5:35 pm

    The arguments that have turned up to besmirch the photographer’s award are reductionist and ill-conceived (like children fighting over a toy).

    First of all, your definition of what’s real or factual is askew. Any photographer( who actually takes photographs) will tell you that a digital file doesn’t necessarily capture the ‘ultimate’ truth. I am sure even you, Mr Muyabarashi, have taken splendid sunsets with saturated reds and oranges that your eyes saw differently.

    I’m looking at this article on a ‘calibrated’ iMac. The calibration is specifically to match CMYK parameters for publishing. The ‘original’ published photograph has unreal reddish skin tones which you interpret as the ‘truth’. The image’s saturation levels were clearly spiked and the contrast levels heightened. This image is yet another interpretation of the truth. The image that won World Press has been desaturated to recreate more believable skin tones, but in doing so, the image has been flattened giving it a slightly painterly feel (i.e. the traces of red paint in the concrete wall on the right, have vanished).

    Every time you look at a journalistic photograph in a newspaper, magazine, or book, you’ll find that the photographer, editor, graphic department has handled the image differently to enhance the qualities of the original file. This is accepted within the industry, and involves the most basic of Photoshop tools, for EVERY digital file needs retouching.

    To demand a RAW file is nonsense: It’s asking for an image that has not reached its ultimate potential.

    Photographers who have seen digital photography develop over the last couple of decades can tell you that thou advancements in technology have won the war against the early noise and blown-out whites, digital files are still subject to the camera, lenses, light readings and exposures used.

    The judges who presided over the decision-making process at World Press are renowned photojournalists, editors, publishers, and museum curators. Take Santiago Lyon, for instance, AP Photo Chief, but first and foremost a wire photographer with extensive field experience. His business hinges on reliability of the information–be it photographic or written; each time there has been a breach where truth is misinterpreted (images that have been altered by removing content or creating it, or removing factual information), the agencies are the first to roar. Mr Lyon and the other judges saw over 100,000 submissions, and found exceptional grace in the winning photographs.

    Both photographs elicit the same revulsion towards the inhumanity of the act that lead to the horrific death of innocent children. This is a political image that aims to awaken perception to a war where Palestinians are often portrayed as terrorists, thereby justifying the killing of innocents.

    In the greater context, your observations are petty and uninformed, to say the least.

  51. chuck at 9:07 pm

    Allen, I respect you but have to say you are WAY off base criticizing this photo. It is a GREAT moment…yeah it might have been tweaked a little but nothing compared to some I’ve seen. I’m just confused why a photo that is almost too perfect nowadays is always hammered on for silly reasons. out of a great majority of contest winners in the past few years…POYi, World Press …you name it….many are OVER processed. this photo? not so much….looks like some extra saturation and contrast. no excessive burning, dodging or crazy over saturation. it’s a great moment. plain and simple. as opposed to some previous winners in this contest that have been suspect….this is not. you have really demeaned yourself by even writing this blog post. you owe the photographer an apology, plain and simple. this column comes off as sour grapes. if you’re going to attack someone’s work pick a better target. this is one of the most powerful photos I’ve seen in years…..whether it was saturated, black and white, or pink and blue. it’s the CONTENT!!!!!

  52. Mitch Wojnarowicz at 12:37 am

    I worked full time as a staff photojournalist for 25 years.

    I, early in my career, became wary of contests and for quite a bit of my career stopped entering them. I never saw abuse in the workaday coverage by many photojournalists. I often saw outright manipulation of subjects, jettisoned ethics and manufacturing of images in the darkroom (chemical or digital) when working with a contest hungry photographer or when a situation presented itself which seemed “contest worthy”.

    The solution is simple; eliminate all contests for photojournalists.

    With today’s technology an ongoing “best of” blog/website could easily be run by the major photojournalism organizations to recognize, celebrate and disseminate great photojournalism to a wider audience. With the prolific output of images today it’s inappropriate to declare one first place winner of anything image related.

    In today’s times demanding purity in journalistic images is impossible unless we publish muddy photos made from a linear raw conversion.

    Purity is impossible. The best we can strive for is veracity.

  53. Alex Villegas at 10:17 am

    Certainly there is no way to philosophically disqualify tonal or color adjustments on photography. But I think that it’s not the concept that is wrong, but its application, its use.

    Photojournalism is all about story. Photojournalism is based on pictures that “tell the truth”, so every visual lie embedded on it detaches it from this “truth”. It loses its core – credibility.

    If you’re caught cheating on your wife, better to have a good story to tell. Magic, kidnapping by clowns and OVNIs are way out of question. I think that it’s nothing wrong about adjusting the hell out of an image, but you cannot be “caught” doing that.

    If your work is detectable, so you’re crossed the line. And the work on these pictures are more than detectable, even for non-photographers. This kind of finesse on faking better light that was available, but still credible light is getting more and more rare these days.

  54. Ken Wightman at 11:39 am

    Both images look like they’ve made a trip to the electronic darkroom to me. The bottom image looks especially obvious with the highlights boldly set to the point of blowing detail out of the highlights. This, of course, creates an image that traditionally reproduces better in print. It comes as no surprise that this image is lifted from a publication.

  55. Etosha at 12:31 am

    Michael Rasmussen:
    “What he has done is subdue color content associated with happy feelings in our culture. He has strengthened the communication. That is his job.”

    The thing is, terrible things happen in broad daylight, with all the color still being around. That is what makes experiences so real. If he “strenghtened the communication”, then to suit our social preferences of how a highly dramatic scene is supposed to look like. “Not too happy”. And that is exactly what makes this alteration a loss of veracity in my opinion.

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  57. Tom F at 7:05 am

    I really don’t see how the image adjustments on show here in anyway indicate that some sort of line has been crossed. Your right that it is interesting that photojournalists feel the need to do this, but then again why wouldn’t they with all the options available in the ‘digital darkroom’? Of course they are going to use every option available to capture a moment in the best possible way and in the way that they see it or the way that conveys their story best. To say that manipulation of the colours and saturation lessens the images ability to deliver truth is absurd because neither image represents a truth in the first place. I find it more interesting that photojournalists are holding on to this absolutely archaic notion of photographic truth…

    You say that “News has an ethical obligation to be truthful” and I agree in principal but where does that leave interpretation? No two photojournalists will cover a story or event in exactly the same way, they give us their interpretation of what it was like to be there ‘in the moment’ but if their depictions of the events are different does that mean they are less truthful or credible? Why is a photographer deemed more ethical because they haven’t adjusted the saturation and contrast than one who has for dramatic effect? If you pick it apart every choice a photojournalist makes is for more impact or more drama, so to say that enhanced post-production somehow falls out of this category is crazy

  58. andrea at 11:56 pm

    Coming from nature photography, I’m absolutely used to having to send in the Raw as well. All the big contests I know do want the Raws (at least when a photograph is chosen for the final round of judging). Why is there a problem with that when the contest is about photo journalism? Otherwise the contest should not be about press photos but about artistic photographs.

  59. JHollow at 2:28 am

    The way I see it, a photography competition is just that; it isn’t an ‘editing competition’ and its all about Taking the winning photo, not taking a good photo then improving upon it in post.

    In photojournalism however, if by editing a photograph you don’t change it’s truth, I fail to see the problem.

    But someone’s skill in photoshop should not be a factor in a photographic competition.

  60. Pete Marovich at 4:16 am

    I admit I have not read every comment here, so this may have been mentioned already.

    Alan, you seem to be comparing the winning version with the originally published version… do we know that it was not the published version that was over manipulated? Seems like the saturation is more juiced that what would have come out of the camera originally.

    Maybe it is actually the winning image that is closer to the RAW. Do we know?

  61. Mark Wallheiser at 6:06 am

    Allan, after looking at the two images, you may be taking this one a bit overboard. Looks like the published one had to much contrast which increased the saturation. The contest one is not over manipulated in my book and I have been a photojournalist for 35 years. Also, on the published image, if the magazine/newspaper color is off, is it the photojournalist or the publication. What I guess I’m saying is that no pixels have been moved around and it’s a slight difference in contrast and saturation. There are much better images to fight the good fight with. This one is not the one. I would be speaking instead about the difficulty photojournalist have covering situations like this. Just sayin.

  62. Paul Guba at 6:47 am

    I think the search for truth in photography no matter if advertising, editorial, or journalism is a nonsense. The moment any one makes an image it is a judgement, an opinion, a personal choice. That cannot be escaped. I can frame a scene a different way and the emotional impact can vary drastically.

    Is it factual? Well we all know facts can be manipulated, over or under stated to perpetuate my point of view. I would have to be completely detached from the world to be able not to put my opinion in the process. In that case I would be little more than a security camera.

    Lets keep in mind that with all photography there is a financial incentive to create images that are dramatic, interesting, entertaining. This is no less a fact in journalism. An image with great impact makes more money, gets run in more papers, is on every website, gets more likes on FB. There is a reward in making them, and if any photographer wishes to continue working then its part of the job. I couldn’t imagine showing someone boring images and replying but it was boring that is a fact.

    So it is not as if the side of truth has suddenly been eroded it really never was part of the equation. Its what I want, the editor wants, the publisher wants, the consumer wants. Mostly the consumer.

  63. Catherine Philp at 8:30 am

    I, too, am commenting without reading the comments. I also prefer the published version.

    I’m not a photographer, I’m a writer. But I capture images and am very interested in them, and I’m very interested in this debate.

    The black and white argument is a good one. The world does not appear to us in black and white but photojournalism evolved from black and white origins. Does that affect a photographer’s feelings about color?

    When shooting with film, and developing and printing oneself – I speak here of the black and white era – a photographer was at liberty to adjust the light manually. No-one ever knew. I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong. But photojournalism is an art, not merely reportage – composition, anyone? – and who would deny that its titans are artists? I think of the two photogs I’ve known well who’ve most influenced my thoughts on this: Chris Anderson and Jan Grarup. Jan shoots almost exclusively in B and W and Chris used to. It was bc of Chris’ influence that I caved and bought the Fuji X100 I wanted even though it lacks a zoom. He explained to me how a zoom distorts an image. I got the camera and it shoots in several different modes, replicating different old types of Fuji film. I adore the colour saturation it produces in one particular mode; I love the black and white of another.

    What is captured on camera has never been exactly what happened in life. If it were, we would rewarding a photographer for nothing more than their good geographical fortune and their composition. Where does the digital manipulation of an image after its taking fit in next to the digital manipulation in the taking that the new generation of camera allow us? And short of full-blown Photoshopping, how does the post-production manipulation fit in? I don’t have an answer in this debate, merely the knowledge that it is a complex one.

    For me, over all, it’s just disappointing that this image was manipulated simply for the purpose of submission for an award. I don’t get to re-write an article before it’s submitted for an award. Surely the award must go to the product that was published at the time.

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  65. Sylvain Labeste at 7:15 pm

    The questioning is deep and right. But may be this picture – because of its power- is not the appropriate one to talk about the crucial problem of manipulation of what is given to be seen an digested by billions of people. Technically speaking, there’s no crime to ameliorate such a photo, even if to my opinion, the result could have been much better with a lighter intervention…

  66. Rob Smith at 8:47 pm

    To state that ‘darkrooms are an irrelevant argument’ is just wrong. Image manipulation has been around since the invention of…..images.
    Is the inclusion or exclusion of subjective material within the frame when the shutter was pressed manipulation? Or the use of a wide aperture and the resulting blurred background manipulation or simply good technique? Does lens vignetting or use of focal length alter meaning or keep our eye on the subject?

    History is littered with examples of imagery that have been ‘doctored’ to satisfy a whole bunch of political or personal agendas. From inaccurate portraits of potential wives for Henry VIII to 9/11 and beyond.

    The fact that the image was made digitally, with film or a brush is irrelevant – the real question revolves around the ethics of persuading an audience to swallow a particular version of truth, a process also known as journalism.

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  68. Karen Nichtwahr at 5:12 am

    Apparently some people have spent so much time looking at photographs that they have lost sight of how the world actually appears to the naked eye. The human eye does not see plugged up shadows and blown highlights; it sees something much closer to the winning version of this photo. The ‘published’ version is how a *camera* sees things, not how humans do.

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  70. Tony at 5:21 am

    Both versions of the photos in Alans post have been doctored. Neither depict the absolute true reality in terms of light and shade. Both tell us what is going on equally well.

    One reason why photojournalism tends to be less doctored in this way is because photos have to be published within hours of taking the photo, so there isn’t time to ‘touch up’ photos. That process (over many decades) has created a culture of not ‘touching up’ journalism photographs such as this.

    Ansel Adams had all the time in the world to touch up his photos. So he did. Photojournalists didn’t have that luxury. So they didn’t. And thus was born a culture, a set of rules to define an industry.

    And then digital came along and allowed photographers to present their photography in a huge variety of new, different and original ways. So they did.

    What we are witnessing is actually called the freedom of expression. Just like a journalist reporting on an event using words, no two journalists are the same.

    Allen is saying that he doesn’t like the doctored version and wouldn’t have awarded it a prize. That’s fine.

    Others say the same. Others say it enhances the storytelling aspect of the photo. Both views are correct and incorrect in equal quantities because it is an opinion.

    What we shouldn’t do is close the door on creativity and interpretation, whether in terms of composing the original image, or cropping the original image, or applying contrast/brightness/saturation effects to the original image.

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