When Reality Isn’t Dramatic Enough: Misrepresentation in a World Press and Picture of

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by MDR, Feb 22, 2013.

  1. MDR

    MDR Member

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    PKR who is I believe also a member on this site, posted a link on rangefinderforum to this interesting blog http://www.bagnewsnotes.com/2013/02...-press-and-picture-of-the-year-winning-photo/.

    It seems that Magnum Photographers Paolo Pellegrin faked a story, misrepresenting the place, circumstances people etc.. he portrayed in his story.
    What might make this whole thing worse is that this story received numerous awards including the world press award and picture of the year award.

    Dominik
     
  2. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    A photo agency with the reputation of Magnum should not tolerate this and he should be immediately dispelled. Also any photo awards for this this image should be retracted. Unethical behaviour in the field of photo journalism is unforgivable.
     
  3. batwister

    batwister Member

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    The only problem is part of the caption; 'former sniper'. I'm not sure what emphasis this minor fabrication gives the photo, in contrast to perhaps 'former Marine'. Would that still have been an issue in context?

    There's also the 'false location' which sets up the series, but that's a set up, not a specific reference made either subjectively in the photo or to it through a caption.

    The filmmaker Werner Herzog does a similar kind of thing all the time, with fabrications. He calls it 'ecstatic truth' and gets away with it in the name of art. Magnum's internal conflict, of course, is that it is now made up of art photographers. The photographer, like most (hence Magnum's problems), doesn't have faith in straight photojournalism and obviously felt the need to create a narrative to give his images more weight in presentation. The real question should be; is there a greater good being aimed at? All photographs lie or skirt around the truth as we think we know it.

    I should add, I'm trying to understand this from the perspective of the photographer - since this is a photography forum. I put it down to pressure.
    The subject's beef is that it hurts his 'integrity' - he hasn't lost his job - I'd argue he'll probably make some new friends because of it. And possibly money...
     
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  4. AgX

    AgX Member

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    There are two aspects to it. The misleading of the reader (or not misleading as you indicate) in the context of the story. And the effect it may have on the depicted person, who by informed persons might be regarded as a lier, based on the idea that he gave that information.
     
  5. Diapositivo

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    I think you should read Pellegrin's answer and the site rebuttal.
    I am firmly with Pellegrin on this, and I think that it was the site's behaviour to be quite unethical.

    In accusing a photographer of a grave violation of certain integrity duties they do not exercise "critics" in the way a let's say motion picture critic does. There was some kind of "investigation" work which was not honestly conducted and which resulted in a lot of bullshit launched over a photographer through a fan.

    Their rebuttal is so ridiculous I don't even discuss it if not to say that it shows their low moral standard. They could have just said "sorry" and it would have been excusable. Climbing on mirrors never helps re-establishing a reputation of a site.

    In a reportage there always are portraits, reconstructions etc. which is perfectly fine when the images are honestly described. The publishing industry being a "cottage system industry" it may happen that the wrong caption goes with the picture. Pellegrin describes how the caption written by the photographer is separate from the "background information" that agencies distribute with the picture. The site goes on with their ridiculous accusations of having "lifted" text from other sources. Bleah.
     
  6. Pioneer

    Pioneer Member

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    The bald fact of the matter is that he lied at least twice, once by commission and once by omission.

    First he specifically stated the the person in the photo was a marine sniper with his rifle. Not true

    Second he implied that this person was part of the Crescent area story he was covering, and that was not true. Though he did not say so, he certainly implied it.

    Now, based on how fast people are leaping to the defense of Mr. Pelligrin, this lying in the name of documentary photography is obviously acceptable, and by implication happens all the time and is done by everyone in the trade. So, why get all excited over it? Obviously the only thing wrong here was that he was caught at it by this terrible news column.

    This is what I think. The concern over Mr. Pelligrin's lack of ethics and integrity is more important than the sad state of affairs in the Crescent area of Rochester. The uproar is not about them, it is about him.

    Ahh well, poor people. Obviously Mr. Pelligrin's problem is far more important than their situation.

    Where there is smoke there is almost always fire. I have to believe at this point that this lying has probably gone on far longer than anyone is willing to admit...or investigate. Mr. Pelligrin failed in his duty to report the situation honestly. He needs to step up to the plate, apologize to the people of Rochester, and do what he can to make their problem more visible than him.
     
  7. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    Unfortunately, journalism has of late been more fraught with untruths and political posturing rather than just keeping to the facts. Why should we not expect photojournalism to descend into the same lack of integrity?
     
  8. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    In reading over the original story and the photographer's rebuttal, frankly I don't see how his photo is relevant to the question of gun violence - it depicts a man holding a shotgun. He's not pointing it at the photographer, or firing it in any direction... to me, that's like taking a photo of me holding my circular saw and saying it is about injuries in the workplace. I'd buy the argument if it showed the subject in a room full of guns.

    Perhaps part of the argument between the subject and the photographer over calling him a 'sniper' is something that gets lost in a cultural divide between an Italian civilian and a US Marine. Having worked for the Marines, I know that they are EXTREMELY particular about anything and everything relating to service in the Corps, from uniforms to job specialties. So while it may not have meant much to the photographer, it means a lot more to the Marine.

    I just have a general problem with the whole concept of this "story" in the first place, as I don't really see it as documentary. It seems no more journalistic than Richard Avedon's American West series.
     
  9. Diapositivo

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    It's really much ado about nothing.

    He said:
    <<
    Here is the caption for that picture: 'Rochester, NY, USA. A former US Marine corps sniper with his weapon.' Shane agrees that he is a former Marine and that he is standing with his weapon in Rochester. My firm recollection is that Shane described himself that day as a sniper. He may have misspoken; I may have misunderstood; or he may have used the word 'sniper' in a manner that was not meant to imply formal status as a Marine Corps Sniper (he spoke for a long time about sniping). In any event, if Shane was not actually a Sniper in the Marine Corps the caption should be changed to read 'Rochester, NY, USA. A former US Marine Corps member with his weapon.'
    >>

    The fact that a former soldier is described as being "a former Marine sniper" or "a former Marine" is totally irrelevant to the picture and to the story. This is what the photographer recollected. Memory works like that. Maybe they talked about some sniping and he later formed the concept he was a sniper. Who cares that he wasn't? What's the difference?

    If he had been a former schoolbus driver and the photographer had described as a former bus driver would had made any difference? Maybe for bus drivers being a bus driver or a schoolbus driver makes a difference. For the world it is factually irrelevant. The person is obviously not any more in service since many years :wink:.

    He never said the picture was taken in Crescent but again, frankly, that doesn't matter. The picture is evidently posed. It's a portrait. In a photographic service you dont' have people shooting each other or breaking into houses. You have to somehow "depict" things. It's normal. It's normal documentary photography. The photographer creates a situation that describes a situation. You cannot be there while somebody is raped to make a reportage about raping.

    <<
    I had been spending the majority of my time riding along with the Rochester police in the Crescent and otherwise interacting with the community there. I approached the work through a combination of reportage, portraiture, and even landscapes. I also realized that to tell more fully the story of gun violence in Rochester, as exemplified by what I was seeing in the Crescent, I wanted to make some portraits of gun aficionados. Like any journalist, I worked with my assistant to locate such people, and Shane was one of the people we located. I think his portrait, and even his reaction to it, add an interesting dimension to the story.
    >>

    I was the subject of such a picture in my life once, there were an Italian TV crew and a two British photographers. The British photographer (Steve Day, a friend of mine, now sadly passed away, and a very good photographer, I suggest you visit his site) captioned my image (from behind) as a poacher arrested by the police (I was there as an anti-pouching volunteer instead). That's legitimate as we were reconstructing an arrest by the police of a poacher. The photographer is never there when the real poacher is really arrested. That doesn't mean that all this posed pictures aren't legitimate as reportage.

    http://www.steveday.co.uk/travel/travel14.html

    A reportage is a photographic service around a story, a theme, a situation. A portrait is a portrait is a portrait.
     
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  10. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    I don't think that photo is legitimate as it never happened. Re-creating a photo without mentioning it's a re-creation is not right. Legitimate newspapers fire photographers and reporters for doing this. They have strict rules against this.
     
  11. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    I agree Scott.
    No meat, a cursory examination.
     
  12. Diapositivo

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    In which sense a portrait is re-created? A portrait is a portrait.

    Take the case of the militiaman supposedly portrayed by Robert Capa when he's hit by enemy fire. If the situation is portrayed (re-created) then I understand the claim of dishonesty.

    But in a posed portrait - as this is the case - I don't understand where is the re-creation. Re-creation of what, I mean?

    The picture belongs to a reportage distributed by Magnum, a "portfolio" of images about a certain subject, with some background information. You see this kind of set situations (portraying real situations, but set at the moment of portraying) in any documentary.

    Do you think the eagle really captures the rabbit naturally and the camera happens to be there? The rabbit is probably tied to a rope, it is freed when the eagle is hunting for prey, the scene is taken with favourable light, if the rabbit runs in the wrong direction the action is repeated. But this is not even that case.

    This is the case where you go to a certain place in Albania and in order to illustrate that there is a lot of criminality and people have weapons you ask an Albanian to make a portrait with his Kalashnikov for you.
    I'm sure you have seen many portraits of this kind. It's all very normal in the industry.
     
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  13. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I find Pellegrin's response more or less convincing in terms of actual *misconduct*; he messed up just what his subject's military background was and he cops to that, and I don't see that the image and its context would have been changed in a meaningful way without the word "sniper". I don't really have enough insight into normal photojournalistic practice to judge his claim that the background text wasn't intended for publication but got away into an unintended context; it does seem like the two BagNews articles take as a given that Pellegrin was responsible for its inclusion in the POY article and don't really consider the possibility that someone else screwed up in this respect (and whether Pellegrin passed up opportunities to correct the mistakes, and so on).

    But I think there's room for a reasonable debate about the quality of the reportage: If a photojournalist poses a portrait, accurately represented as to its content (which we know the "sniper" picture isn't quite; but leaving that aside), without an explicit "this image was staged" disclaimer but with a clearly posed composition, and positions it in a way that exaggerates its connection to the theme of the greater story, is that legitimate artistic license or is it a kind of implicit falsehood? The history of arguments about photojournalism make it clear that that question is hard to answer in specific cases, and probably impossible to answer in general without recourse to extreme prohibitions like "no posed portraiture".

    Finally, I don't actually think the picture is all that great, though obviously that's significantly a matter of taste. The one of the police officers searching the house (shown in the second BagNews article) strikes me as a much stronger image.

    -NT
     
  14. Darkroom317

    Darkroom317 Member

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    If it is staged to that extent then it is called a photo-illustration instead of a photograph. A photograph implies that it was actual event when it comes to news. Here is the NPPA code of ethics. This is what I have agreed to as a member and as a photojournalist.


    CODE OF ETHICS

    Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

    Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.

    Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.

    Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.

    Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.

    While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.

    Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.

    Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.

    Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.

    Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

    Ideally, visual journalists should:

    Strive to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.

    Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.

    Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.

    Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one's own journalistic independence.

    Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
    Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.

    Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Visual journalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.
     
  15. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    What do you see as having been violated in that code here? I think everyone agrees that "sniper" was a mistake and in that sense a violation of "be accurate", but if we accept Pellegrin's mea culpa on that point, are there other crossed lines?

    You say "staged to that extent", but to me this photo doesn't seem more staged than any other posed portrait. Its placement in the photo essay creates a context that may be misleading as a whole, to be sure, but I don't immediately see that the staging is the problem, or that the photo itself claims to be anything it's not. What's unusual about having a subject pose with a possession that's salient to the story?

    -NT
     
  16. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    No, I think it's pretty significant given US military culture. If the caption results in people thinking that he misrepresented his military service, to a lot of people that's a *huge* black mark---in my experience many veterans (perhaps Marines especially) are enormously personally vested in their service, and take such misrepresentations as not just serious but something of an affront to them and the armed forces generally. I wouldn't want to be this guy the first time another Marine says "aren't you that dude who lied about being a sniper?"

    I tend to buy Pellegrin's claim that it was a mistake rather than an intentional fiction, but it's a significant mistake anyway.

    -NT
     
  17. Darkroom317

    Darkroom317 Member

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    He was not in the claimed location nor was he a sniper. These things don't greatly effect the interpretation of the image but they do matter and are in fact inaccurate. But of course who really cares about accuracy today. Everyone is too busy watching reality tv.
     
  18. Darkroom317

    Darkroom317 Member

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    I have had issues with our news desk creating a headline that has nothing to do with the image because they didn't read my cutline and just made an assumption. I have also on occasion misspelled names. So, sorts of things happen. I don't really know how Magnum operates so I am not sure if something like this could have happened.
     
  19. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Ditto. I've worked with Marines before, and to them, ANY alteration of your rank or job description is an affront. To a civilian, the difference between lance corporal and corporal might well seem insignificant, and not a big deal to shorten Lance Corporal down to just Corporal for convenience sake, but if you do that you just gave someone an unearned promotion, and a significant one as a Marine, as it entitles you to wear the blood stripe on your dress blues. Mis-stating your MOS, especially to a Marine, is up there with claiming you received the Medal of Honor when in fact you got a General Discharge. Oddly enough, though, it's not that big a deal to shorten Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel.

    I think the big problem with the image, semantic/semiotic differences aside, is that IMHO it fails in its original mission - it says nothing to me about gun violence, or Rochester. It would be meaningful as an illustration if it were of someone who had used a gun to successfully defend their home from a burglar on crack, or someone who trained suburban housewives to handle Smith & Wessons, or if it somehow depicted the collection of weapons the subject owned. But a guy holding a gun in his garage is otherwise a very ordinary image and doesn't make any kind of statement beyond "this individual happens to own a shotgun". It's just a general fail in its mission. That photo could be taken ANYWHERE in America - it doesn't say anything about Rochester. It says a lot about "journalism" that someone feels they can swoop in to a place they know nothing about and have no connection to, apply an agenda (in this case a statement about gun violence in Rochester), and come up with meaningful images that can inform me (or anyone else completely unfamiliar with the story) about the reality of the time, place and event being documented. Far better would have been to stalk the ER at the hospital and get photos of someone being brought in to the ER with a gunshot wound.
     
  20. Diapositivo

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    Being a "sniper" if I get it right is not a rank. It can be a job description but what was the real job description of the person in a past job is irrelevant for most people in the world. The caption would have been incorrect if the person portrayed actually was a Marine. A sniper would have a different weapon than a "non sniper", perhaps a different uniform, some marks indicating his speciality etc. and the caption would have been wrong. The qualification of "sniper" refers to the former activity of the person. I think the image would have worked, in a sense, much better if the caption had said the person was a former milkman. A former soldier would have a higher inclination to keep a rifle at home than a milkman.

    The portrait is - I suppose - somehow necessary in a reportage to make the product more complete. A reportage "tells a story" and has to have a variety of images. Some of them "dramatic" (the action caught in the moment) and some "background filler". In the case of Rochester, abandoned Kodak structures or derelict houses might tell a story about a town in crisis which in turn gives a background information about the rise in criminality. The derelict house or the abandoned warehouse can be anywhere in the world, but constitute a normal "background" image for a reportage.

    What surprises me, in general, is why a portrait gets so much attention - I mean before all the fuss.

    The "Afghan girl" by Steve McCurry is a portrait in an interior. Isn't that "posed" as well? It's a portrait being part of a reportage.
     
  21. TheFlyingCamera

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    Fabrizio- the Steve McCurry "Afghan Girl" was far more relevant to the story being told than this photo. With her, you could see the grit on her face and the stress and worry. That photo "said" something about Afghanistan. This photo doesn't say anything about the story it purports to represent. The individual happens to own a gun, and lives in Rochester. But he is not representative of living in "The Crescent", nor does he have anything to do with gun violence or drug traffic. The accuracy of his former MOS aside, I think part of the problem with calling him a "sniper" while in civilian attire implies that somehow he has not made the transition from military to civilian life, and is perhaps a survivalist or otherwise a "paranoid gun nut", things that are unsubstantiated by the image (note I said unsubstantiated, not proven or disproven). It comes across as someone who is NOT an American taking photos (and captioning them) with an agenda to portray the country as populated by armed fanatics living in a post-apocalyptic bunker mentality world. And while I will not deny there are people here who do think that way, they are far from the norm.
     
  22. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Really? What you see as stress and worry, I see as unhinged - almost like she's playing up to the camera - "do your scary eyes!". But I'd say Afghan Girl, like the Mona Lisa, is notable for its ambiguity. An image that can be easily read won't be remembered.
     
  23. Diapositivo

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    A portrait must convey some nuances. Be it the "stress" of her face (one should wonder if really the "stress" is due to what the westerner would think it is due or to a casual occurrence of the moment, such as a headache or somebody shouting out of the door etc.), a rifle on the foot, a hat with a panache, some cigarette smoke etc. There's something true and something "created" in all portraits. A portrait is the art of conveying something which is not explicitly stated.

    Yes the hidden message probably was: this town has become dangerous, people have rifles in their houses, criminality is high, life was better once.

    How do you "convey" this set of ideas to an European audience? With an image which somehow tries to convey this message. An image that's potentially worth one thousand words, without those words be explicited in the image.
    Pellegrin chose a "grim" high-contrast portrait of a man in a garage with his rifle. Subconsciously that might raise thoughts of "urban warfare", anarchic chaos. Rationally, it's a man with a rifle in a garage. Night atmosphera and lateral light might add to the "message". They are not false or right in their own principle. It's an image created to portray an idea.

    When Karsh portrayed Churchill in lateral light and high contrast, with his serious expression, he certainly meant something like that, giving an idea of the damnation of power, so to speak. I'm sure Churchill might have been portrayed in the shade of a tree, sitting on the grass, with a white dress while sipping a glass of wine and smiling but that wouldn't have worked the same.

    Some people is making polemics about which was Churchill's exact job description before being Prime Minister of an empire engaged in a bloody war. That's not the point. The point is that the portrait tries to convey an atmosphere, something that words don't express but the soul hopefully catches. The photographer tries to create those images that work more than words in expressing a situation. That sometimes involves "creating" the image not "capturing" it.

    And I don't think at all that this portrait equals in power Karsh's portrait of Churchill.

    Also I think that to an American audience somebody in a garage with a rifle is much more natural than to an European audience. An American would probably not get the "exceptionality" of the civilian in civilian dress with an assault rifle (or whatever it is) at his foot.

    Now, you'd say: well that's America so it's not Rochester. Such a portrait might have been done anywhere in the US, even the most tranquil spot.
    I agree, rationally.
    But the image to the intended audience "speaks" about a degraded economy, a compromised security in the city. It's created and it's a way to tell one story in one image, that's all.
     
  24. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    This is probably an important point. I'd also point out that to an American audience that's only sort of "civilian" dress; the t-shirt fairly obviously marks him as either a Marine or (less likely) a militia-type paramilitary-wannabe. The ammo belt over his shoulder also reads strongly as military. My first thought was that he had the Special Forces look, and I don't think that registers with a European audience---which happens to be where the story was first published, though I don't know if Pellegrin knew he was shooting for European publication at the time and this particular photo didn't run there.

    I can't really tell what Pellegrin's original plans for the photo were from the coverage, so it's hard to stake out a position on how much he was obliged to be doing "hard" journalism and how much artistic license was appropriate.

    -NT