Fudgeing photojournalism

I recently got in a debate with my friends over photojournalism. We were discussing how much “fudgeing is allowed”. I have learned that a lot of photos that we consider important (such as Dorathea Lange’s Migrant Mother) were fudged in one way or the other.
For example, in one photo meant to depict the living condition of people in the Great Depression, the photographer moved a bed away from the wall of a bedroom to make a more pleasing visual composition. In another photograph the photographer blurred out a section of the photo where she accidently photgraphed the edge of her thumb (it even happens to the pros!). A hypothetical example would be a perfect photograph that was marred because a large black piece of fuzz blew in and stuck to the main object of the photo. Would it be okay to get rid of the fuzz?
I am very interested in other’s opinions.

I don’t have a problem with the type of editing you mentioned. It’s not changing the facts about the situation, only correcting errors that have to do with the technical aspects of photography rather than the content of the photo.
I would, however, strongly object to a photojournalist changing the situation in order to make a point. For example, if in a story about poor children, she told one of the subjects to go change into rattier, dirtier clothing in order to make the situation appear more desperate than it really was.
I have no idea if this sort of thing happens in the photojournalism field, but as there are a certain percentage of decietful bastards everywhere else, iot wouldn’t suprise me.

I believe you are discussing intergrity in photojournalism here. And if we were going to speak in analogy, what you describe above is no different than editing a story. And editor is not supposed to change the heart of the story, only clean it up and streamline it. They are certainly not supposed to change facts (though a fact checker would, but just to make it MORE correct, not less).

Faking a picture would be no better than making up a new story, IMHO, but none of the examples above really do this.

However, one example of gray area that I remember clearly was when Time (I think) printed the mug shot of OJ Simpson on its cover in a much darkened form than the original.

Times was called everything from lacking journalistic integrity all the way to pandering to racism and fears of white america (darker = more evil). Apologists said it was simply an artistic decision which offered more drama with the contrast, and that what they did was essentially no different than the examples in the OP. After all, it was the exact same picture, just darkened.

I’m still not sure where I stand on that one to be honest…

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Time got into a bit of trouble with this before. The quintuplets that were born a couple of years back were born to a Mom who had rather poor teeth. On the cover they airbrushed a nice set of pearly whites in, and they got flack from a bunch of folks, including the lady herself IIRC, who was embarassed that they had done that to her.

The darkening effect done on OJ may also have been perpetrated on Mariah Carey in one publication aimed at the black demographic (not Ebony, or Jet though.) She is of mixed racial heritage, and they may have decided to darken the photos of her to emphasize this. The picture made even the whites of her eyes seem a dull beige. It may simply have been a printer’s error for all I know, but it was very early in her career, when there was discussion of whether she was really white or really black. She handled the whole issue with style, basically saying, “I’m both. Deal with it.”

Yeah Lucky, that sort of thing does happen. There is one famous depression era photo that show some people running to a dilapidated farm house in a dust storm. The photographer just found some people (not the owner of the house) and told them to look like they were walking into the wind. He added the dust storm effect later. I agree that that sort of thing is completly out of line.
I also believe that “fudgeing” is okay as long as it does not misrepresent what is going on. It is okay to move the bed, for example, when you are doing a piece on the general living conditions of people. It would be entirely unacceptable, however, to move the bed when doing a piece on furniture arrangment.
Some may think that the line is too fuzzy, but this is a general guideline, not a law, so things can afford to be fuzzy.

There was also the famous issue of National Geographic in the 80s IIRC, in which a pyramid in Egypt was moved over on the cover to fit the design better and to make a better composition. They got so much shit for it, and deservedly so. The retouching of the OJ Simpson and the mother also brought a firestorm of criticism among photojournalists. Such work should not be done. The latter was credited to an overly-enthusiastic photo technician, and I’m not sure who got the blame for the OJ thing.

These are the ethical standards, but remember I am speaking in an editorial sense. These rules do not apply to, say, Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire, unless the story is a strict journalistic piece.

  1. You are not allowed to alter reality. This is your simple test. You do not move things. You do not fill in teeth. You do not remove wrinkles. You do not spice two images together to make one. You do not flip a photo horizontally, just so it faces the page in the correct manner (Don’t even get me started on this point!)

  2. You are not allowed to use an image out-of-context and thus alter its meaning by displacing the reality. And, thus, you are not allowed to crop elements out that would change the meaning of the picture. One example that Ken Irby of the Poynter Institute once showed a class of his is a London cop chansing a black person down the street. At least this is what appeared to be happening. But if you looked closely, you would notice that their eyes were ever-so-subtly fixed on something beyond the frame. The full-framed version of the photo showed them both pursuing a third person, white, who had stolen a purse or something.

  3. The only retouching you are allowed is this: cropping, dodging and burning, color correction, editing away dust and scratches, sharpening the photo to compensate for a scanner’s imperfections, and that’s all that come to mind for the moment. I may have forgotten a couple.

  4. You are not technically supposed to pose photographs in a journalistic context. You are not supposed to remove clutter, you are not supposed to tell people to stand a little to the left or right, but the truth is, this rule occassionally gets bent. As long as you are not destroying the reality of the situation, it’s a judgement call to you. I’ve seen photographers move kid’s dolls so that it looks better in the earthquake rubble. This crosses the line for me. I’ve seen a photographer once take a kid at an environmental rally and place her hugging a tree, so she could get the shot of the cute kid hugging the tree in the foreground, and the protest in the background. This is clearly over the bounds of responsible journalism for me.

  5. Do not make the news.

Now, the sad truth is that there are very many professional photojournalists out there who strive their best to preserve the ethical stantards of our profession, and then there are the selfish few who blemish our reputation by violating the rules above in very visible manners. It is not our job to interpret reality, our job is to record it as it is, naked.

Now when you get to fashion magazines and the such, you can do all the photoshopping you want and get away with it, because you are not advertising yourself as the “truth.”

All these issues I’ve raised can, and I’m sure will be, attacked, so I’ll leave it to the following posters, and I’ll do my best to defend/amend my statements.

Has anyone ever seen the book The commissar vanishes
Take a look at the link. It contains some trully frightening images of falsified photojournalism. Scary stuff.

> Has anyone ever seen the book The commissar vanishes

That’s interesting stuff, considering they didn’t have tools like Photoshop back then. Now it’s easy to fake photos.

There is a great picture of some 'tommies" from the 8th army charging a german tank (with smoke coming out of its open hatches), with bayonets and all. Completely ‘set piece", did not really happen. Same thing with Hitlers “victory dance” at the Arc de triophe, it was edited, much like the purina cat chow "dance’.

I haven’t seen this site before, but I’ve seen several examples of Stalin’s careful image campaign and Hitler’s as well.

But, please, don’t call that photojournalism, because it’s propoganda. You can be cynical and say that journalism is a type of propoganda, but I would disagree. Despite some of my insider cynicism of the journalism world, I am confident that in well-respected newpaper journals and magazines this kind of blatant change of facts is not occurring.

But it is really easy to do. Really easy.