It was a beautiful sunny day the Sunday before the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, over 200 supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders gathered to show support for Vermont Senator. Still “Feelin’ the Bern,” they began their march at Bellingham City Hall at the intersection of Commercial Avenue and Lottie Street.
Last week I bought a high-resolution film scanner by Jumbl. A simple 22MP scanner capable of 35mm film and slides. Super basic. I just need something to get the image into Photoshop so I can tone them properly. It’s not the greatest scanner in the world, but for what I need it for, it’ll work.
Welcome To Kentucky
One of the first projects I scanned was an essay I shot while studying photojournalism at Western Kentucky University. It was an assignment by my fave professor David LaBelle. He game a simple theme: Farm Family.
As this was the core course of the program, I took the class very seriously, yet still maintained a sense of humor and had fun. The assignments in this class ranged from simple singles, to complex essays.
The class load was heavy in that we usually had 2 or 3 single assignments as well as a weekly essay project. ON top of all that, we also had to shoot our semester long project on the theme of either “Religion” or “Death of a Loved One.”
It wasn’t a surprise to me when World Press announced a few days ago it was revoking first prize in Contemporary Issues it awarded to Giovanni Troilo. The reason is its findings the story “was not in compliance with the entry rules and therefore the award must be revoked.” Here’s a link to the World Press Photo article “World Press Photo Withdraws Award for Giovanni Troilo’s Charleroi Story.”
Image manipulation and staging is nothing new in photography. And today, with everyone having their own digital cameras and access to software, it’s more prevalent than ever. What’s worse, it’s almost expected.
How a photographer’s personal ethics translate to Public Trust
World Press Photo, in my opinion, was justified in revoking the award. Especially in the light of knowing certain photos of Troilo’s essay were manipulated or staged. I personally believe staging a photo is a form of manipulation.
But as I’ve learned, if it really happens, then photograph it as it happens. Or as my old photo editor August Miller taught me: “Real People Doing Real Things.”
With the case of Troilo, it’s the staging of photos which caused the revocation. But to be fair, I admire his honesty when talking with World Press.
“The World Press Photo Contest must be based on trust in the photographers who enter their work and in their professional ethics. We have checks and controls in place, of course, but the contest simply does not work without trust. We now have a clear case of misleading information and this changes the way the story is perceived. A rule has now been broken and a line has been crossed.” – World Press Photo managing director Lars Boering
You can’t call it photojournalism if the images presented are manipulated or staged in any fashion, unless it’s a portrait or illustration. You can give me the arguments such as “the presence of the photographer changes the situation,” “The lens choice changes the message,” or “when you press the shutter, you choose the message.” Rightfully so, these are ways in which you can “manipulate” the message. But also ways you can strengthen it.
This has not been the first time World Press revoked an image after awarding a prize. Another incident when a sports photo essay by photographer Stepan Rudik was awarded 3rd place by the World Press Photo competition. The award was revoked after it was discovered the photographer digitally removed an element from the photo. Here’s the link for that statement: ”
In their statement Michiel Munneke, managing director of World Press photos says “After careful consideration we found it imperative to disqualify the photographer from the contest. The principle of World Press Photo is to promote high standards in photojournalism. Therefore, we must maintain the integrity of our organization even when the outcome is regrettable.”
Although the removed shoe was small in the image, WPP felt it was necessary to disqualify the entry stating “In the opinion of the jury, the photographer ventured beyond the boundary of what is acceptable practice. Consequently, this judgment left World Press Photo no choice but to disqualify Rudik.”
Starry Yosemite Falls
I agree with situations such as this. In my years shooting news, I’ve come back with nice images only to be dismayed after discovering flaws. But that’s photojournalism. Not every photo will be perfect, not every photo will even tell a story.
And I would rather have a bad photo with flaws published on the inside pages, than a great one that’s been manipulated and used as the cover photo. Or even win an award. I wouldn’t feel good about it as I value my credibility and integrity.
The root issue here is the credibility of the photographer. Because it is here that public trust begins.
The individual ethics of the photographer directly translates into the trust the public gives that publication. The ethics of the photographer creates their integrity and credibility. From this, it builds to trust in the managers of the publications. They trust the photographer is submitting images that meet journalistic standards and ethics.
Upon publication, the viewers/readers trust in the integrity of the image. They see what they believe. When it is discovered that a photographer manipulated an image, even by a small amount, that trust may begin to erode. Questions rise in their minds: “If this one has been altered, have there been others? Will there be others?
When it has been discovered that a photographer has been submitting altered photographs, the only viable option is to be transparent and inform the readers of the transgression and apologize. Such as when the LA Times discovered that former photographer Brian Walski . He combined two photographs into one.
Upon finding out, the editors at the LA Times immediately called Walski in order to have him send the raw file. He admitted to manipulating the photograph. The LA Times ran a front page apology. Being transparent in situations such as this may help quash any public mistrust that could be building.
“Can’t Bear to Watch:”
In another situation, when photographer Allen Detrich worked on staff at The Toledo Blade, the newspaper launched an investigation and discovered numerous manipulations. Detrich added and removed elements in his photographs. It was discovered he routinely manipulated images. His excuse was he did it for his own personal use and accidentally submitted them to the newspaper for publication. Read more here.
The executive editor , Ron Royhab, stated: “When a Blade reporter or photographer covers a news event, the newspaper and its readers expect an accurate record of the event.”
When photojournalists manipulate photos (beyond basic tonal and color corrections, including minor burning and dodging), they begin to tell little white lies to the public. At what point is it considered going too far? I simply believe any deletion or addition of elements of the photograph goes too far.
In a New York Times blog titled Altered and Out about the manipulation of the winning image and the ensuing retraction of the award: reader Jeff said in his posting “Any change to a news photo – any violation of that moment – is a lie. Big or small, any lie damages your credibility. ”
With the recent controversy in the 2015 World Press competition, POYi judge and freelance photojournalist Melissa Lyttle states:
“The fact that some photojournalists think any degree of lying and manipulation is O.K., makes me question the message they’re sending to others — as well as the ego they’re stroking and the impossible level of perfection they’re striving for in their own work.”
Hoping for the Best:
I believe this to be true. With the credibility of the media as low as it is, why take chances and possibly weakening it further by awarding manipulated images?
And with taking this a step further, I believe the “photojournalists” who combine separate frames actually fabricate a story. It’s not a matter of simple manipulation. You’re combining two separate moments of time and lying to the public that it is one. The moment in the photograph has become a fabrication.
In my opinion, these photographers join the ranks of writers such as Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, and Jayson Blair. Writers who fabricated stories and plagiarized. Cooke even won a Pulitzer but it was pulled soon after it was discovered the story was a fake.
All these situations erode the public trust in the media. Why continue this trend with poor ethical standards.
But the question remains: How do contests organizers avoid these circumstances in the first place? How do contest judges award prizes without the fear of having to retract the award?
The answer seems reasonably simple: entrants must supply the raw files with their entry. When the images in particular category have been narrowed down, the judges can then use the raw files to verify no manipulations have occurred. Or after narrowing down the field, request the raw files. But the former would be the best option. This may even eliminate the inclusion of manipulated images from the contest altogether. After all, who’s going to enter their work if it will be scrutinized?
The simple truth is, manipulation of journalistic photographs undercuts the integrity of the image, and therefore weakens the public trust in the media. That is why the personal ethics of the photojournalist dictate the integrity of the image.
Here is an article by Hany Farid, Ph.D., research leader of the Image Science Group at the Dartmouth College Department of Computer Sciences titled Photo Tampering Throughout History. There are some very interesting examples.
Some argue that the following techniques are considered manipulation because the camera sees differently than the eye. Techniques photographers use before the shutter is tripped and the exposure is made
– The mere presence of the photographer alters the situation. Yes, I’ve seen the difference how people react when the cameras are present. But I’ve also seen many more not affected by the presence of the camera.
- Lens choice affects the meaning of the image. A telephoto compresses traffic to make it look worse than it may be.
- – Wide angle lenses distort perspective. They can accentuate the vastness of open space.
- – What moment is captured. Simple editing can misconstrue the meaning of an event.
- – Moving in order to remove or add elements to the photo.
- – Using various apertures to remove or add the background.
As these issues directly affect the image before exposure.
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Paul “pablo” Conrad
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Paul Conrad is an award-winning, nationally and internationally published freelance photographer living in Bellingham, Whatcom County, Wash., north of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. His work has been published in newspapers and magazine throughout the United States and in Europe.
His clients include Getty Images, Wire Image, The Bellingham Herald, and many local business in Whatcom County. Previous clients are Associated Press, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, and many others.
His specialty is photojournalism covering news, sports, and editorial portraits, he also is skilled in family portraiture, high school senior portraits, and weddings. He is available for assignments anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
This past weekend I covered a bench dedication for Squalicum High School senior Hannah Dashiell for The Bellingham Herald. It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Hannah was 17 when she was killed in a car accident on January 5, 2014. She was driving on an icy road when she lost control and slid into oncoming traffic.
Dozens of friends and family gathered to honor the life of Hannah Dashiell. She was an honor roll student, senior class vice president, and participated in a multitude of activities including sports.
Her father Dennis, mother Jeannette, sister Maddy, and friends Alex Powell and Lindsey Dunning began the dedication with small speeches. The ceremony lasted only a few minutes with the parents, sister, and grandmother screwing in the plate to t the back of the bench.
Friends & Family:
These types of general news assignments can be a bit emotionally taxing. My trick to keep from feeling like an intruder, or in the way, is to remind myself I’m there as a representative of the public.
It also doesn’t hurt to empathize with the family. This is part of their, and her friend’s, healing process.
Move quietly, move fast, and be mindful of where you are.
Personally, these assignments tend to give me more of a purpose than shooting pretty sunsets.
A Spot All Her Own:
A scholarship in her honor has been set up through the Whatcom Community Foundation. You can give to the Hannah Dashiell Memorial Fund by visiting the WCF website at whatcomcf.org. You can also donate funds through any People’s Bank locations.
For more photos, visit the gallery on The Bellingham Herald website at Hannah Dashiell Bench Dedication.
Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. Feel free to comment, critique, or just ask questions.
Also, feel free to share and reblog, link to, and add your site in the comment section.
Paul “pablo” Conrad
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Last weekend was a nightmare. Something you only hear about, something that only happens to other people.
I knew while working at newspapers that one day I would run to cover a spot news event that involved a friend or family member. I just did not expect it to happen this way.
On Saturday June 7th, just such an event happened. My best friends Gary and Amy lost their home to a fire.
My wife Heidi and I travelled to Healdsburg in Sonoma County, Calif., to visit with Gary and Amy, and to watch their son Benny graduate High School. We arrived on Thursday the 5th of June in the morning, went to a beach as Heidi has never been to a real ocean beach. Then we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge. That was fun. Scratch that off the bucket list I guess.
Shortly after that we went to the docks in Sausalito to check out the boats. Gary and Amy love to sail. Especially catamarans. Gary works for Mendocino Brewery in Ukiah, Calif., as the Head Brewmaster. Amy is a CPA in Healdsburg owning her own business.
Gary and I have known each other since high school. During the summer of 79, my mother and father split forcing me to take a stand. I did not want to move from Illinois to Arizona with my mom. I did not want to stay with my dad. So, I moved in with Gary and his family for my senior year.
And those were good times. Waking at 4 am to sneak out to go fishing before school, parties, good old teenager stuff, but we still maintained good grades. I joined the Navy shortly after graduation in 1980, but we soon lost contact. Thanks to Facebook, we’re back to our old shenanigans. Well, almost.
But I digress.
During the evening of Friday the 6th, Benny had his graduation ceremony at Healdsburg High School. It was nice. Beautiful weather and extraordinary light.
On Saturday morning, Gary and I went over our photos to make some prints so we could then put them on a poster board for the graduation party at another house.
We left the house at 2:30 to stop by CVS Pharmacy for prints. Yeah, not the best place to make prints, but it was the most convenient. I left almost all my gear except my D300s digital body, F5 camera body, 80-200 lens, and 17-35 lens. I also hooked up my Lacie Rugged 1TB portable drive to my laptop and began copying the photos I’ve shot so far incase my hard drive crashed.
Amy had already left to help set up the party. Benny left and was hanging with friends. Heidi, Gary, and I stopped by CVS to get the prints and paste them to the poster board.
At about 2:50, we arrived at the party. Everything was going well, when at 3:15 Amy came running in yelling that she had to leave because her house was on fire. We all left in separate cars. As we approached the house, you could see a thick column of smoke rising in the distance.
When we arrived, the back of the house, including the kitchen, dining room, living room, and master bedroom, was completely engulfed. The only thing any of us could worry about was the three dogs Atticus, Trouble, and Hercules.
As the firefighters battled the blaze which was now in the attic, people said they saw a dog that looked like Atticus a few blocks away. Gary, Benny and a few others ran off to find him. They couldn’t.
After a few hours, the flames were out but you could see a little smoke coming from here and there. The firefighters mopped those up.
The good news is, they saved most of Amy’s business records. And being the smart woman she is, she had backed up all her computers and digital records to the cloud.
The bad news is the dogs did not make it. The firefighters found them in one of the back bedrooms. They died from smoke inhalation.
The house was a complete loss. Thankfully, insurance will cover the home and replace their household items. Heidi and I lost our luggage, the camera gear, my laptop and portable drive.
But everyone was safe. Thankfully I backed up my laptop before leaving our house in Bellingham. The only thing really lost was the photos of Benny’s graduation. I am sad for that.
The fire inspector determined a rat chewed through wires under the back deck causing the fire. Thank god it didn’t happen at 3 a.m.
But what I fought the entire time was should I shoot photos or not to shoot. The emotions were not only raw and real, but those of close friends. That made them even stronger.
I’ve shot breaking news before and have captured this raw emotion. But those are people I’ve never met and most I never would. It was different. Or is it?
Watching the fire and my friends filled me with horror, helplessness, sadness, and empathy. Although it’s been a week, the raw emotion I felt is still there.
I did shoot some, mainly the house though. Not really much.
Here’s a link to the fire on the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat website: Healdsburg Family Loses Dogs in House Fire
What are your thoughts? Should I have shot the action/reaction? Or be what my friend’s needed: a friend.
Thank you for stopping by.