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  Clicking a phony tale

Clicking a phony tale

AGE CORRESPONDENT
Published : Jun 2, 2016, 10:05 pm IST
Updated : Jun 2, 2016, 10:05 pm IST

Celebrated photographer Steve McCurry has admitted to altering images, saying he is a ‘storyteller’ and not a photojournalist. But is manipulating photographs in the name of art justified

A street shot by Steve McCurry that seems to be a case of sloppy Photoshopping
 A street shot by Steve McCurry that seems to be a case of sloppy Photoshopping

Celebrated photographer Steve McCurry has admitted to altering images, saying he is a ‘storyteller’ and not a photojournalist. But is manipulating photographs in the name of art justified

We usually believe in the photos that we see. But in this age of Photoshopping, everything has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Magnum Photos recently removed several of celebrated photographer Steve McCurry’s images from its website after online sleuths found they didn’t jibe with the same pictures posted on McCurry’s own site. In one instance, a Facebook user discovered a McCurry image from South Asia in which two people, two carts, and a light pole seem to have been removed from the original street scene, according to PetaPixel, an online photographic blog. Another photo by McCurry, badly Photoshopped, was spotted at a show in Italy recently.

 

And while the photographer said he had no idea about the alterations, other Photoshopped images since then have come to light, landing the award-winning photographer in controversy.

Steve has gone on to admit that one of the photos used in a National Geographic issue in 1984, clicked during monsoon in India, had been Photoshopped to add more water. In an interview to TIME, he said that the magazine had extended the water to fit the horizontal photo in its vertical format and “it was appropriate because the truth and integrity of the picture were maintained”.

He later went on to call himself a ‘storyteller and not a photojournalist’, clarifying his stand on the issue.

 

But is manipulating photos in the name of art justified With technological advancement, can we now believe everything that we see in a photo

An enraged Aditya Arya says, “This is the ultimate fraud in photography in this day and age. Everyone who worshipped McCurry or thought highly of him is very disappointed with what he’s done. This is something I have been talking about for the last two decades and have always felt that someone should take his images and analyse them.”

Addressing the ethics of manipulating a photograph within the larger, unwritten code of photography as an art, he opines. “As a photographer, you are allowed to manipulate to the extent that the content of the picture does not change. You can dodge, print, control certain shades... basic enhancements like that is fine. But here comes this gentleman who, for so many years as a photographer, has given interviews talking about representing the ‘true image’ and nothing but the ‘truth’.”

 

“Today, his Wikipedia is suddenly altered to say that he is not, in fact, a photojournalist or documentary photographer but a storyteller. And storytellers weave stories — they don’t represent the truth. There are many more of his images that have leaked now, and what he has done in them is totally unethical. The image of the Taj Mahal and the train, for instance — he paid the railways to shunt that engine on that track so that he could create that image,” Aditya says.

Arya adds, “Now, as a photographer, I do have tremendous respect for his skills to create images but the point is that this was not his genre. People looked up to him as someone who would portray the ‘true’ India. The question is not on his capabilities as a photographer, but on his lack of scruples.”

 

Ace photographer Sudhir Kasliwal who has worked with Steve McCurry for almost 30 years, meanwhile feels that there is no image manipulation in Steve’s images. “I have known Steve for almost 30 years and I know how disciplined he is. We have gone out for assignments and I have seen him loving his craft...he is not one of those who would manipulate images to earn fame. This is unnecessary furore created by the anti-Steve community.”

Expressing his views on image manipulation, Kasliwal elaborates, “I saw all the images shot by Steve that claim to have been manipulated, very carefully, but there is hardly any alteration that I could spot except in one where an entire figure has been removed. I personally think that this could be a series of shots too — when you shoot, you don’t shoot one image, so the so-called manipulated images are just multiple shots of the same image and there is a possibility of people coming in and going out of the frame. In his other images, I see a minor enhancement of colour, so there is very little manipulation (if at all, there is any), and that is totally acceptable.”

 

He adds, “Entirely changing the subject and the story behind a picture or joining or superimposing two different pictures to make one is what I would call manipulation. These minor alterations like dodging and burning or fading away and darkening something to make the subject stand out, have been prevalent ever since the pre-digital era and there is nothing ethically wrong about them.”

Award-winning photographer Sandesh Kadur adds, “There are so many levels of things that are going on and none of us being so far away will ever know exactly what, where and how the mistake happened. But if you are talking about Photoshopping elements out of the picture, that is not a part of photojournalism. Manipulating photos by adding or subtracting elements to an existing image is wrong. But enhancing it by adding more contrast, making it more real and saturated...bringing it closer to what your eyes could see through Photoshop is not a problem. Cropping and removal of dust spots is allowed too.”

 

“Staging is also not part of photojournalism. I guess in one case, you can even say that the photo of the famous Afghan girl could have been staged — he might have probably got her to sit down in a place that had lights bouncing etc., but it’s still in the context of the said refugee camp. But I can’t say how far down the road you can take staging to.”

Photoshopping elements out of the picture, that is not a part of photojournalism. Manipulating photos by adding or subtracting elements to an existing image is wrong. Sandesh Kadur

Minor alterations like dodging and burning or fading away and darkening something to make the subject stand out, have been prevalent ever since the pre-digital era and there is nothing ethically wrong about them. Sudhir Kasliwal

 

What he has done is totally unethical. The image of the Taj Mahal and the train, for instance... he paid the railways to shunt that engine on that track so that he could create that image. Aditya Arya