Our first OPEN-i Webinar on the Ethics of Image Manipulation was a great success, with about 54 people joining us from all over to hear Santiago Lyon, Fred Ritchin and Stephen Mayes share some insightful ideas about how we could be looking at these issues.
Below is a brief summary of some of the points that were raised. For the full webinar, you can watch it by following the link above.
Santiago Lyon, Director of Photography at Associated Press
For Associated Press, credibility is everything. AP has a Statement about news value and principles
: and it investigates all suspicions of manipulation. Even images that are overly toned or darkened might be asked to be resubmitted.
When Reuters withdrew all 920 photographs from its archive of a Lebanese photographer who photoshopped a smoke column over Lebanon, AP looked at their own archive of the photographer's 200 photographs; even though they found nothing wrong with them, and concluded he was actually a very good photographer, they had to delete his archive because his name was tainted and they felt they couldn't put their reputation at stake.
AP has been looking at digital technology forensic testing as a tool to detect digitally manipulated images but it may not be the answer. Although a number of relatively obvious images failed, there was one image--in which a photographer raised the water level of a flood--which was so subtle it was not picked up by the technology.
Santiago summed up by saying that media organizations need to be able to stand behind their pictures and admit when they are done badly; credibility, voracity and transparency are key.
Fred Ritchin, Professor of Photography & Imaging, New York University, author of "After Photography"
Fred's key point was that all photographs are interpretive and subjective, and called for an international standardized system where we can easily identify fiction and non-fiction, and focus on the content and issues.
He identified that the problem is that if you mark something as not digitally manipulated, it doesn't mean it is true. These discussions should include digital manipulation issues as well as broader issues of context, interpretation, etc.
He has tried to create a labelling system for photographs - i.e. photographic opportunity, photographic illustration, retouched photograph, etc - but the magazines rejected as they felt that the label would overshadow the actual photograph. Another recent idea he presented at World Press was to use the four corners of a photograph where viewers could mouse over and view additional information (e.g. before/after, copyright, etc.), which would stay with photograph no matter who publishes it.
Fred's final point was that not only should we be concerned about readers, but subjects of images are the most important issue, and as photographers we need to be responsible for that. If people are starving to death, don't want to sit around a room and argue about whether image is fiction or non-fiction. We are responsible for coming up with systems in which we can quickly identify what kind of image we are looking at and not be arguing over the gravity of somebody's situation.
Stephen Mayes, Director of VII Photo Agency
Stephen clearly made the point that the audience is far more aware of truth and skeptical of manipulation than we give them credit for. He notes that "we are moving away from photography being just about witness and representation... We are living in a culture that is increasingly sensitized to images being a form of encoding messages rather than a form of representation." The audience is looking for meaning rather than representation. Photography as evidence is becoming outdated.
Culture creates standards. B&W is not real but we are so used to it that we understand its conventions and don't really question it. It was a learned perception. He said he is not advocating for loose standards but for developing an awareness of where things are going and for these cultural standards to be developed as a bottom-up process and not the photographers creating the rules; we need to have some trust in the audience.
The key problem he noted is we are in this dangerous in-between phase where the protocols for interpreting the digital medium are not yet established. Its a matter of us collectively as a culture learning the rules.
A few listener comments made during the talk:
"why not for publicity pictures though? its entertainment, smoke and mirrors"
"I think the AP position is very understandable and noble"
"Fred's idea of standardising images is amibitious but worth a look at"
Image manipulation through history: http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/
To listen to the complete discussion, follow the link to the archive (above). To continue the discussion or make some comments, please post a discussion in the forum.