No meat, a cursory examination.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I tend to buy Pellegrin's claim that it was a mistake rather than an intentional fiction, but it's a significant mistake anyway.
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.
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.
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.
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.