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Distorted Picture : Photoshop and Photojournalism Ethics(1  

2007-09-21 16:12:51|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Thanks to Photoshop, it抯awfully easy to manipulate photographs, as a number of recentscandals make painfully clear. Misuse of the technology poses aserious threat to photojournalism抯 credibility.
Related reading:    Back inAction

By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (sricchia@iupui.edu) is an AJR seniorcontributingwriter.    

If photo sleuths in Ohio hadn'tnoticed a pair of missing legs, Allan Detrich still would becruising to assignments in his sleek blue truck, building hisreputation as a photographer extraordinaire at the Toledo Blade. InApril, the veteran shooter was forced out of the newsroom indisgrace, igniting a scandal that swept the photojournalismcommunity. Coworkers were mystified about why a highly talented,hard worker who had garnered a slew of awards wouldcheat.

Detrich says that for a time,he felt like the most "reviled journalist in the country." Internetforums buzzed about his misdeeds, and photographers attacked himfor sullying the profession. Some even sent hateful e-mailmessages. "I wasn't the first to tamper with news photos and,unfortunately, I probably won't be the last," he says. "I screwedup. I got caught."

In his case, he says, he wasseduced by software that made altering images so easy that "anyonecan do it."

With new technology, faking ordoctoring photographs has never been simpler, faster or moredifficult to detect. Skilled operators truly are like magicians,except they use tools like Photoshop, the leading digital imagingsoftware, to create their illusions.

Detrich, who had worked for theBlade since 1989, manipulated most of the images while alone in histruck, using a cell phone or WiFi for quick and easy transmissionto the photo desk. There was little reason for him to return to thenewsroom to process images. Until April 5, no one challenged theveracity of his photographs.

The photographer's downfallunderscores a disturbing reality: With readily accessible,relatively inexpensive imaging tools (Photoshop sells for around$650) and a low learning curve, the axiom "seeing is believing"never has been more at risk. That has led to doomsday predictionsabout documentary photojournalism in this country.

"The public is losing faith inus. Without credibility, we have nothing; we cannot survive," saysJohn Long, chairman of the ethics and standards committee of theNational Press Photographers Association. Long pushes for stricternewsroom standards with missionary zeal and believes alljournalists are tarnished when someone like Detrich falls fromgrace.

On June 2, Long, who built adistinguished career in photography at the Hartford Courant beforeretiring earlier this year, preached to an audience at NPPA's photosummit in Portland, Oregon. If the self-described purist had hisway, news photographers would take a vow of abstinence in regard tophoto altering; editors would enforce zero-tolerance policies. "Theproblem is far greater than we fear," Long told the group thatafternoon.

There are no statistics on thenumber of rule-breakers, but indicators within the profession donot bode well for the cherished precept of visualaccuracy.

During an NPPA ethics sessionin Portland, a group of some 50 photographers and photo managerswere asked for a show of hands if they believed they had everworked with peers who routinely crossed ethical boundaries. Nearlyevery arm flew into the air. "That was a scary thing to see," saysLong, who was on the panel. Ethical breaches were the topic ofconversation at coffee breaks and during presentations at the photosummit.

Many of the offending photosand illustrations discussed in Portland appear in a rogues' galleryposted by computer scientist Hany Farid(www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering).

Among the dozens he highlightsare Time and Newsweek covers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo,images in the Charlotte Observer and Newsday, and a famous portraitof Abraham Lincoln that was discovered to be less thanaccurate.

The Dartmouth College professoruses the term "digital forensics" to describe pioneering methods todetect image altering. Although not a cure-all, these tools couldprovide help in the future, says Farid. He predicts that scandalsover photo forgeries are "absolutely going to get worse." Thatnotion is underlined by the attention being paid to the problem bymedia organizations and at conferences.

In August, visualcommunications expert David Perlmutter will serve on a panel titled"Seeing is Not Believing: Representations and Misrepresentations"at the Association for Education in Journalism and MassCommunication gathering in Washington, D.C.

Perlmutter poses the question:"Is the craft I love being murdered, committing suicide orboth?"

The Toledo Blade's descent intophoto hell began with a telephone call.

On April 4, Ron Royhab, thepaper's executive editor, returned home to find a messagerequesting he phone back, no matter how late. He punched in thenumber and listened in stunned silence to the voice on the otherend. There were suspicions that a photographer had altered a newsphoto that had run prominently on the Blade's front page four daysearlier. The caller was Donald R. Winslow, editor of NewsPhotographer magazine, an NPPA publication.

"I was speechless; I couldn'tcollect my thoughts. I felt like someone had punched me in thestomach," recalls Royhab. "I got off the phone and thought, 'Not atmy newspaper. It can't be!'"

By noon the next day, Detrich,44, was being questioned in the newsroom. He admitted altering thephotograph but said it was for his personal use, a copy he intendedto hang on an office wall. He claimed he had mistakenly transmittedthe wrong version on deadline. He told Photo District News, "that'snot something I would do."

The paper's editors decided toreview all of the photos that Detrich, twice named OhioPhotographer of the Year and a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998, hadsubmitted for publication this year. They didn't like what theyfound. By April 7, he had resigned. If he had not, he would havebeen fired, says Royhab.

The episode began on March 30,when Bluffton University's baseball team played for the first timesince five of its athletes had been killed in a bus accidentearlier that month. Photographers jostled for position as playersknelt in front of banners bearing the names and uniform numbers ofthe dead.

When similar photos appeared inCleveland's Plain Dealer, the Dayton Daily News and Ohio's LimaNews the following day, a pair of legs clad in blue jeans wasvisible from behind one of the banners hanging from a fence. InDetrich's version, there was only grass under the banner, althoughhe shot from roughly the same angle. Ohio photographers brought themysterious disappearance to Winslow's attention.

A review of Detrich's originaldigital files revealed that he had habitually erased unwantedelements in photos, including people, tree limbs, utility poles,electrical wires, light switches and cabinet knobs. In someinstances, he added tree branches or shrubbery. In one sports shothe added a hockey puck; in another he inserted abasketball.

Detrich submitted 947photographs for publication from January through March of 2007.Editors found that 79 clearly had been doctored. The paperapologized to readers and Detrich posted a mea culpa on his Website (www.detrichpix.typepad.com/allandetrich_picturethis). Theinvestigation found that Detrich had altered photos as far back as2002. The Blade noted that no evidence of tampering was discoveredon Detrich's award-winning photos, and there were no alterations inearlier years, when he was shooting on film and editing andprocessing in the newsroom.

In the May issue of NewsPhotographer, Winslow ran a report on the situation at the Bladeand labeled Detrich a "serial digital manipulator," the mostprolific to surface in newspaper history.

As for the legs, it turned outthey belonged to freelancer Madalyn Ruggiero, who was shooting inBluffton for the Chicago Tribune and had positioned herself behindthe fence in search of a different angle.

Brian Walski had covered war inthe Balkans, famine in Africa and conflict in Kashmir before hemade a fateful decision while on assignment in Iraq for the LosAngeles Times. The Chicago native was fired via satellite phone onApril 1, 2003, after it was discovered he used his computer tocombine two images, taken seconds apart, into a composite that ranon page one of the Times on March 31. The subject was a Britishsoldier helping Iraqi civilians find cover outsideBasra.

After the photos appeared, anemployee at the Hartford Courant noticed that several Iraqis in thebackground appeared twice (see Drop Cap, May 2003). The Courant,which like the Times is owned by the Tribune Co., had alsopublished the picture.

In an e-mail to the newspaper'sphoto staff, Walski, who had been with the Times since 1998 and hadwon Photographer of the Year honors in California, wrote: "This wasafter an extremely long, hot and stressful day but I offer noexcuses here... I have always maintained the highest ethicalstandards throughout my career and cannot truly explain my completebreakdown in judgment at this time. That will only come in the manysleepless nights that are ahead."

Colin Crawford, the L.A. Times'assistant managing editor for photography, calls Walski "incrediblyexperienced and talented" and says there was no hint of wrongdoingbefore the lapse. A review of his work found no other evidence oftampering.

"It's hard for me to get intothe head of someone who is risking his life every day," saysCrawford, who acknowledges the pressures Walski was under on thebattlefield. Still, "I can't imagine in my wildest dreams why hewould ever do it." After leaving the Times, Walski started ColoradoVisions, a commercial photo business.

 

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