Cameras Don’t Make Photographs.

In Rants and Sermons, The Craft by David69 Comments

The recent outrage over Steve McCurry’s penchant for tweaking his photographs with Photoshop is just one in a long series of opportunities for photographers to get their panties in a twist over how photography should or should not be done. This morning, I’ve about as much desire to enter the fray as I have to pour this mug of coffee into my lap. But I think we can do better, so here goes.

Its not about manipulating photographs. It never has been. It’s about manipulating others. No, I take it back. It’s not even about that. It’s about waking up and realizing we’ve been manipulated all along. And we feel betrayed.

Kids respond in all kinds of ways when they are told Santa isn’t real, and photography, as an art form, is in that awkward phase of growing up when suddenly we seem to be realizing what we should have known all along: Santa is just Dad in a bad costume. And this casts serious doubt on the integrity of the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny too.

Cameras don’t make photographs. They never did.  But we were told they did. Worse, we were told – or willingly bought into the idea that – the camera never lied. And now we are finally coming to accept that it’s not the job of the camera to tell the truth. It’s our job. And it’s been that way since the beginning.

We put on one lens instead of another to include one thing and exclude others. We choose one moment over another. We choose what we focus on, and what we blur. The ways in which we can tell a story are endless, and each time the camera does what we ask of it. There is no internal moral compass that forces anyone to shoot a story from both sides, to include all the context we’ll ever need to interpret the story. There is no filter in Photoshop that prevents us from adding what was not there or removing what we wish had been absent. It does our bidding.

It has always been the role of the photographer to tell the truth. Yes, the truth as we see it, because that’s the best view of the truth on offer as human beings. Humans aren’t capable of seeing completely objective truth, so I’m not sure why we expect the camera to do that for us.

There is no one thing called photography, no one overarching reason we all do this, and no single way in which we do it. Like writers, some are journalists, some academics, some poets, and some humourists. We would never dream to accuse writers of changing words around to better tell the story they want. It’s a given. We don’t trust their pens or their keyboards to tell us the truth as best they can. We either trust, or do not trust, them. Humans tell stories, true or otherwise. Cameras do not. So that’s one thought. We feel let down when we find someone “used Photoshop.”

There is no process so pure that we will ever be free from manipulation. We enjoyed the illusion for a while. But now it’s time to grow up.

We all make photographs for different reasons. Specialty fields like journalism and forensics aside, there are no rules. There is no governing body. You are free to use or not use any technique you like. But you are not free to dictate how I or anyone else does what they do. Opine all you like. You won’t like my multiple exposures and I won’t like your Orton effect. Fine. Make all the rules you want, and apply them to yourself with as much severity as you choose, but accord to others the freedom to choose differently. Art made in submission to the rules of others is not art. It’s bondage.

We do not resonate with art because it is obedient. We resonate with art because it rings true and honest. And like the writer, I think it’s possible, even necessary, to remove elements of a story in order to make it better. It’s possible to add elements, use more colourful words, move things around to make the plot twist less noticeable. If I read your story and it doesn’t ring true, I’ll go back to reading Harry Potter. No one gets angry with J.K.Rowling when they find out there is no actual Hogwarts. Unless, perhaps, they’re seven years old.

It’s time we grew up and stopped buying the myth of a medium and a process that have intrinsic integrity. They are fundamentally flawed and limited (wondrous and full of possibility, too) – they are only tools in the hands of storytellers and artists. Some of those storytellers will tell us those stories honestly and some will not. It’s time we  started  taking responsibility for the stories we tell, and the way we tell them. And its time we took responsibility for choosing the stories and the storytellers we listen to.

I’ve seen the changes McCurry made to his photographs. They don’t bother me. We’re all arguing so vigorously over small tweaks that don’t change the message of the story that we’re forgetting to have a discussion about the story itself.

Because it’s way easier to argue about how a story is told than it is to be the one telling the story or to have something meaningful to say about the actual message.

This is not an article about McCurry or journalism. Please don’t fill the comments with your thoughts on journalistic ethics.* This is not about that. It’s about the way we bicker and opine over small things while missing the larger picture. It’s about the way we prescribe how others should do their art or tell their stories. It’s about our fondness for saying what “real” photography is or is not. It’s starting to sound a lot like kids arguing about what colour red Santa’s suit should be, or what his reindeer are called.

Make your photographs any damn way you please. Shock us. Surprise us. Use film, or shoot digitally. Embrace or eschew Photoshop, or whatever creative opportunities or constraints  you wish to use in order to create your work.

You can clone things out and still create honest work in most contexts. And you can leave the clone tool alone and still tell vicious lies.

Photographs are made with various tools, but they are made by you and I. Whether they are honest or not is only secondary to a bigger question: are we?

Photography is, by it’s nature, a manipulation. It always has been. When we accept this we can move on to more interesting discussions and bigger stories; we can begin to think more critically about the stories we accept. When we stop asking “if it really looked like that” our craft will finally be able to move unhindered into art and we’ll be able to more freely perform our roles as artists and storytellers, constrained not by the rules and expectations of others but, for better or worse, by our humanity.

*Let me repeat again, because someone’s going to miss it: this is not about ethics in journalism. If (notice my choice of words here) Steve McCurry was bound to a set of ethics, and if he violated them, that is a different conversation. This is about accepting the fundamental nature of photography as a subjective medium, and about our opportunity to accept that subjectivity. If anything it is an argument to become more responsible with the stories we tell. But I believe that must include a discussion of the actual story, not just the way in which it is told.

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  1. Even Ansel Adams manipulated his original photographs to make them “appear better”. Nothing new here except in the print.

  2. Pingback: Cameras Don't Make Photographs - David DuChemin - Leah Kennedy Photography

  3. This article made me open my eyes . I want to thank not only those who wrote it , but also the comments that have accompanied it .
    It was a source turned on me , pleasant and constructive discossione between colleagues .

  4. Back in the ’60s when I was assisting various top advertising photographers, there was no Photoshop so we had to invent other ways to get the perfect shot. Many a lie was told in the food shots we did and the bigger the client, the bigger the lie. ‘Fried egg yolks a little too pale are they?’ ‘Why don’t we scoop them out and try using tinned peach halves?’ ‘There, told you so. Perfect colour and no one will be able to tell the difference!’

    ‘Frozen peas a little crinkly?’ ‘Well buy 2 dozen packets and find all the perfectly round ones.’ ‘It may take all morning but that’s what we are paid for!’

    ‘Can’t find the perfect strawberry for this shot?’ ‘Get a crate flown in and we will go through them one by one.’ ‘Oh well, we will just have to use that perfect stalk, pinned to that perfect strawberry!’

    And so it went on. In advertising particularly, one was always trying to get the edge on reality. After all, the clients message was that we lived in a perfect world. It was our job to make it so, which is why top photographers at the time, earned huge sums of money. Most of the perfect colour transparencies were shot on 10 x 8 sheet film and the results were stunning.

    So does the camera ever lie? Well it often did for the sake of big advertising clients as I found out long ago!

  5. I agree mostly but also am troubled by what seems to me to be telling little white lies to tell a greater (or our own) truth. Yes, in some ways we all do it when we choose what to point the camera at one thing and not another. But at the other end of the spectrum is blatant lying with images.
    I for one am troubled by the fact that seemingly most images we see of President Obama come from his hired propaganda photographer. Maybe not really most but the best, due to access.
    There is value, I think, in some of us old curmudgeons kicking and screaming at excessive Photoshopping, just as there’s value in people correcting spelling and grammar on Facebook. Finger in the dyke.
    But people sometimes ask me, “Did you bump the saturation on that picture?”
    My response is: “Would you ask VanGogh if the stars really looked like that?”

  6. My thoughts are pure in nature, if the photograph need to be “tweeked” in photoshop to be interesting, than the photograph it’s self failed to hit the mark, “you can paint lips on a chicken but it’s still a chicken”….

  7. Excellently stated article. I agree wholeheartedly with your narrative and with the passion you exhibited in expressing your perspective.

    There is one area (besides journalistic presentation), however, where I believe ‘truth and honesty’ in the creative process needs to be explicitly outlined and adhered to. In photo contests or competitions, whether it be the local community camera club or submissions to Outdoor Photographer, it is disconcerting that some entries, which emphasize composition, presentation and tenacity in being at the right place at the right time and have only minimal digital manipulation (tonality, contrast, etc) are competing with images that have been totally ‘redone’ with extensive digital manipulation including merging of photos and substantial cutting and pasting. While some competitions explicitly prohibit such manipulation (one local publication emphasizes that ‘this is a photo contest, not a contest in artistic digital manipulation), most do not, and many submissions are the result of extensive digital finagling rather than good technique. Your thoughts?

  8. I happened to buy Ansel Adams’ book, The Negative, which arrived in the mail this afternoon. When reading the Introduction a couple of hours ago, I came across this:

    “Many consider my photographs to be in the ‘realistic’ category. Actually, what reality they have is in their optical-image accuracy; their values are definitely ‘departures from reality.’ The viewer may accept them as realistic because the visual effect may be plausible, but if it were possible to make direct visual comparison with the subjects, the differences would be startling.”

    If it’s good enough for the master, it’s good enough for me.

  9. Sorry, i have to disagree, my camera makes photographs, even good ones if i let her. And of course no need for image editing, they are excellent right out of the box. Maybe you all bought the wrong cameras ?


  10. Beautiful passionately opinionated people of the world,

    Rules are there to make you think before you break them…
    Credit to the rule breakers as nothing new comes of any expression without them.
    Any story lives only in our minds, not the medium it is printed on. Thus the greatest part of any story is the dialogue that follows and by criticizing Steve in any way we are only adding to his art, isn’t life beautiful…
    And David, who says Santa isn’t real!? :p

    Love, peace and photoshooooooooooooooooooop!!

  11. Every photography is an interpretation of what the photographer see. First he choose a subject, frame it with a specific lens from a specific angle. All these choices are manipulation of the reality in front of the photographer. Never forget that a photography is an abstraction of the reality. We take a 3D world and bring it to 2D. We show only a fragment of the world at a specific moment. And all this is interpret by a human with a background, a sensibility and an intellect. And that’s all it take to create great photography.

  12. So Jerry Uelsmann’s amazing images are not true photographs because he combined a few or many images via hectic masking dodging burning etc etc with a series of analog enlargers? look at Ansel Adams’ print instructions for the vast majority of his images-dodge burn bleach selective tone etc etc.Or Parkinson.What’s the difference between that and Photoshop?It’s just film vs digital all over again-the photog’s eye and sense of timing is what counts

  13. As David observes, forensic photography needs to be truthful in the sense of what is literally there in front of the camera. As someone who has done that sort of work I can say it isn’t as easy as pointing the camera and letting the camera do its thing. In legal instances there is often an investigator who points out what needs to be shown and it usually requires multiple views (“Fortyseven 8x10s with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back explaining what each one was and how it was to used in evidence against us.”) The same is true of other evidentiary photography (medical, accident, etc.).

    Journalism is in a kind of grey area in that it is expected to be truthful and at the same time tell a story which may or may not be best represented by a ‘straight’ photo of whatever is in front of the camera. Truthfulness in that situation is up to the photographer, not the camera. You may choose to focus attention on the essence of the story you are trying to tell by your choice of camera angle, exposure, DOF, etc. Or when you cannot control some elements at the moment of exposure, do it in the darkroom/computer. Dodging and burning were/are so common in B&W that it never gets the kind of scrutiny that Steve McCurry’s photo did (check out…/marked-photographs-show-iconic…/) but from a purist POV is it any more or less “honest” than blurring or cloing out something that is unimportant or even distracting? I am not a purist. I have been photographing for 50+ years and I have almost always ‘manipulated’ the photos I made to one degree or another. They are my view of the world, not my camera’s and I don’t pretend to be totally objective.

    1. Author

      James – You score bonus points for casually referencing Alice’s Restaurant. Well done!

  14. I believe that we are all image makers. We use whatever tool that is available to us to express what our mind’s eyes sees. Unless you have to testify in court about the validity of your image, it is your creation. I wonder how many masterpiece arts were criticized because it was not the true depiction?

  15. Arguing over using Photoshop or not can be fun. Regardless, Photoshop is part of the landscape of photography now and isn’t going away. What is important is honesty, truth in advertising, if you will.

    If photos are represented as not being photoshopped, but have been, then there’s a matter of personal and professional integrity involved. I don’t care if you use Photoshop. I do care if you lie to me.

  16. David..Just so much Noise on the Internet about how photography should be done and what’s makes great Photography and what doesn’t…Does Steve McCurry make beautiful images?..He sure does..Is he one of the world’s most talented Photographers?..He sure is…..Bottom Line..

  17. As much as “photojournalists” would like to maintain their integrity, it is like you said in your piece, David. As someone who had a late-in-life career change and was able to make a living with a small weekly in Florida, I consider myself somewhat of a “photojournalist”. And, as such, used to hold myself to a higher set of ethics and requirements. But, as with all photographers, we ALL present what we view as the truth based on choice of lens, aperture and shutter speed. I used zoom lenses to essentially crop in-camera to what I wanted to show. While cropping, contrast, saturation and a few minor alterations are permissible, the cloning out or re-arranging of elements is not. What I feel from what little I have read about the images (there are three on the PetaPixels site) is that the changes made were not in what I perceive as the Steve McCurry tradition. When your “claim to fame” is about your journalistic integrity then you should definitely hold yourself to those principles.
    Today I do not look at all my images the way I once did. I had to leave professional photojournalism during the downturn in the newspaper industry and, as I told my wife, “find a real job.” I still miss those days and I feel the images I presented to the public and my editor were as close to the truth as possible. But the technical aspects as I noted above always played into the “TRUTH”.

  18. Thanks for your thoughtful discourse. It is interesting and whimsical to see the variety of comments in the wake; and yet, like my own, they serve no real purpose except perhaps to reemphasize that some people see the elements of life as having impressionable curves and boundaries, where absolutes either never existed or long ago fell by the wayside; and others see the world defined by strong lines and crisp corners, with distinct boundaries and immalleable precepts.

  19. Exactly. I create what I create. If you do not like it or think it is not done in a way YOU would have done it. Go out and create your own creation. Do not tell me my work is not photography. I really don’t care what your opinion is as I shoot for ME…..not YOU. I find that people who enjoy art…like my work. I find the people crying out loudest to me that I am not this…or that…are other photographers…and usually ones who are not able to create art or tell a story.

  20. The problem is not Photoshop. The problem is the gap between rhetoric and action. Steve McCurry has long declared that these photos were pure, without editing, without staging. He lied. It is this lie that has destabilized his fans and the National Press Photographers Association.

  21. National Geographic Magazine was and is about telling stories. Their words: “National Geographic stories take you on a journey that’s always enlightening, often surprising, and unfailingly fascinating.” Steve McCurry was doing his job, delivering beautiful images that told stories from India, Afghanistan and the world. “Code of journalism” ? – NG has a product and image to sell. Why do you think they were so attractive to Rupert Murdoch and 21st Century Fox.

    Can we feel betrayed? sure But I believe we were naively deluded in our view of what we were consuming. Somehow it had a credibility and truth we believed to be more noble. Not that it isn’t. That belief persists in the endless rants and arguments about photography capturing “truth”. National Geographic = “Real World” ? Members of my family are color blind. Wouldn’t we be surprised if their view of the world was TRUE and ours was not. How would that bend the perception of straight our of camera? Even light reflected in a mirror can bend people’s perceptions of how beautiful or ugly they are. Truth and beauty lie in the eyes and beliefs of the beholder. Photography is light captured and frozen in time that lends itself to art. Steve McCurry and the other photographers delivered beautiful art and told amazing stories with it.

  22. How can people seriously think the “code of journalism” actually means anything. Journalism is not about an objective truth, it’s about bring a story to the people. A truth from a perspective. This in itself means their is an agenda, a direction. Steve McCurry does this, and I think it is no different to the many that have come before him. I support McCurry and those that use a camera and/or Photoshop to create a story worth telling.

  23. Great article, as always, David…

    Steve McCurry is undoubtedly a great photographer and instantaneously recognisably. Had he been covering a war zone realtime, and altered the images, he would of course be violating the ethics of photojournalism. (No doubt of that !).

    However, cloning out some distraction of the work he does today is not a crime… !

  24. Thank you for this article. I’m so tired of hearing people dis photo manipulation as thought it’s cheating. As an aside, though, about McCurry… I was not bothered by the fact that he manipulated photos but that some were manipulated so badly. Had a hard time believing it was his work.

    1. Cloning out distractions…CHECK, eliminating the slightess flaw…CHECK, adjusting exposure/contrast/white balance…CHECK, cropping for effect…CHECK, arranging props and models…CHECK, using an iPhone capture on the back of the latest New Yorker Magazine for an Apple ad…CHECK, running a Louis Vuitton print advertisement with Bono and wife landing in the wild…CHECK. Just ask any Ad Man and they’ll tell you these are all part and parcel in the commercial advertising world where “perfect” canned images are meant to be seen everywhere around the clock… But picking up a National Geographic Magazine to see the real world according the Steve McCurry…NO THANKS.

  25. this outrage is so silly or a matter of poor memory. in today´s digital world we still have laboratories but they are in a changed role compared to the analogue world we are coming from. in those days all corrections/manipulations/retouching/cutting. nobody of knowledge of photography would claim that anselm adams took his photos as they appear in his prints, or would he? today everyone of us has his lab in his lap (pun intended) and suddenly some wisecracks who probably never have retouched any of their photos, if they ever took any, are clamouring about manipulation? who the f**k are they to challenge the digital world and photography of today?
    and the matter goes even further, some of them seem to be professors. they are the first to teach their students about manipulation as the art of photography today! they are the laughing stock of the trade really. let them f**k themselves!

  26. Words (to follow your example) can be used for journalism, for poetry, for propaganda, for narrative fiction, etc. Images can be used the same way. The issue here is not what someone does with the basic parts of their chosen toolkit, or even the limits of those tools, but rather what they themselves label the results of their use of those tools – and then how they expect us to react to their work after that.

    Though we owe a debt to Herodotus for the very idea of written history, we do not use his quotes as source material. Our expectations of what constitutes historiography has changed in 2500 years. That said, he’s a great and important historical resource. Along the same line, one does not read Hunter S. Thompson with the same approach as Robert Caro. One is a “journalist” and one is a Journalist, but both illuminated important 20th century ideas about power and society. However – and here’s the point – neither Caro or Thompson would have used the same description of their work. That is, they gave the reader accurate information about how to view their words, about how they employed their tools.

    Likewise, to view a Mark Adamus photo with the same set of expectations as a James Nachtway photo is pure folly, and both photographers would agree. One freely uses tools to enhance, to add, to heighten an emotional connection to a thought or ideal. The other removes all distractions, even color, to clarify a story with the journalistic intent of reaching a “truth”. Both use cameras, both know that their tools distort, both know that their own choices distort. But both are up front about their goals. As artists neither has to reveal all their choices and tools used. But both have to be honest about their limitations and their goals – with themselves and their audience. To the extent that they are honest in all ways, we are rewarded with an honest, if still biased and distorted image.

    Honesty and integrity, in a world with unavoidable bias. That’s the issue.

    1. Author

      Well written, Todd. Thanks for taking the time to add so insightfully to the conversation. 10 points for using Heroditus.

  27. This isn’t about McCurry “Photoshopping” and removing a trash can or telephone pole from his images…but about hiring models to stand on train platforms in India, with the porter holding empty and lightweight designer suitcases on his head and all meant to capture a National Geographic travel photographer’s candid moment…Every artist is judged by their integrity and honesty and Steve McCurry has often failed this criteria.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the comment, San. See my reply to Samar above as I believe you’re both addressing the same issue. The photograph to which you refer specifically is a beautiful photograph. But it’s not documentary in nature, nor should it ever have been presented that way, which is was. That tarnishes my experience, and my respect. You say the artist is judged by their integrity and honesty. I agree. But I wonder, can the art – the actual image or story – be judged separately? I think it must.

      Anyways, I do think there remains a larger discussion, tangental to this one, that must be had in photography about what it means to tell a true story. Thanks again.

  28. Brilliant write up but Since you keep repeating Steve it’s critical that you take our response. The debate is not about Photoshopping or any other tools. If one has built and served us an entire carrier on platform of “conflict/photojournalist /Documrntry/street photography” and when caught, turns around by blaming some assistant in the studio,.This is about intergrety and ethics. Cause there are generations of Photographers ( and students) who got inspired by this individual for risking his life . Let’s not forget countless real ones who actually take that Bullet or a bomb-blast and don’t come back to do the studio stuff/ image manipulation .

    1. Author

      Actually, Samar, as this is my blog I get to frame the particular aspect of the discussion that I am most interested in. And you’re right. It is NOT, as you point out, about Photoshop. I think I said as much. It’s about being honest with our photography. There are plenty of ways to do that, and so very many ways to avoid doing it. It sounds like you think we disagree – but I don’t think we do. My article is exactly about integrity. But the integrity is not found in the photograph or the means, but first in the photographer himself. I have much more issue, since we’re talking about McCurry – and I was one of those inspired by him – with his posing of subjects, and even more with the implications of the wider stories he tells, regardless of the means of creating them. Thanks for chiming in.

      1. David, one should add when discussing ethics that he who is without sin can cast the first stone. You manipulate a scene when you put that lens up to your eye. You are “composing” your photo at that moment and creating art just as a musician is “composing” notes into a melody. We manipulate, most often intentionally and with forethought to evoke a response, especially photo journalists. A bloody doll in an open field after a plane crash, the lone tire in the middle of the road after a flood, all of it… we manipulate ALL the time. We (or at least I was) were taught in our first photography class how to evoke a feeling. And that is the purpose of art. Do you know the three qualities of judging art as described by Goethe? 1) What was the artist trying to say? 2) How well did the artist say it? and 3) Was it worth saying? This is how art (and photography is a FINE art) should be judged not on how the image was obtained or produced. If it is a news or journalistic piece and you stage a photo, such as the one at the train station, then you, as an artist, should be truthful and state it was staged. Does it detract from the image or the statement? Not at all… but you have been informed and can thus, as a viewer, make your own decision. But please, don’t sit in righteous indignation as a judge of Steve McCurry when we are all guilty of manipulation. It happens every time you open that shutter… with malice aforethought. Ethics is not decided by us but should reside with each of us.

        1. And please, David, don’t misinterpret that last statement about sitting in judgment as directed specifically or even generally to you… that was not my intention. I am in total agreement with you on every aspect. My thought about righteous indignation applies to all those who huff and puff and try to dictate “what art is”!

        2. Author

          Thanks for the comment, Patrick. It’s interesting you mention Goethe as I’ve been writing something else along these lines lately and I wonder why his guidelines, which I think can be very helpful, aren’t used more often.

  29. I’ve said from the beginning of the so-called “controversy” that I have no problem with McCurry’s use of Photoshop to enhance his photos in whatever way he desires (because, like, duh). What concerns me is the SLOPPY use of Photoshop where ghost artifacts left a trail behind. How does McCurry, of all people, not have access to only the most highly skilled technicians, or at the very least, visual “proofreaders” that should never have let obvious errors make it to print?

  30. It’s amazing to me that anyone finds this to be news….or betrayal. Art has always been about pushing the last nits of vision and showing the world another perception. Always.

  31. Well written! I agree completely. Coming from a Medical Imaging career Standardization was required, uniformity was necessary because we had to present the image to the Radiologist using standards. But photography can be and often is ART. And, while there may be standards or suggestions on the how to’s of acquiring the image–its interpretation is suggestive–and is a personal expression.

    As for manipulation, from the moment the image strikes the sensor to the final product, there is a ton of manipulation–from internal algorithms to complete composites in post processing. Matter of fact, I cannot reproduce what I saw with my own eyes. The camera and its output methods is the best expression that I have; and like you said, to convey that message I may have to remove or add elements to the image. Even if what I saw was with my Mind’s Eye and not necessarily with my physical eyes. I still have to convey my expression. Accept it for the art that it is rather than complain that my presentation of my interpretation is not a true representation of what was actually present.

    Hmmm, this is why witnesses as a science in courts are not always most reliable…no two people see the scene the exact same way, even when nothing in the scene is changed. Two people will interpret or represent the scene from their own perspectives and will add things that are there or remove things that are there.

  32. F*CK Yeah! Photography is art plain and simple. So stop finger pointing at those who use PHOTOSHOP. Big bad Photoshop. Have you seen Ansel Adams’ Moonrise Hernandez New Mexico. Look at the original photo capture and what Ansel CREATED. Yes, he created this shot. Be it Photoshop or in a dark room full of chemicals. People stop your whining and make some art or not.

    1. The biggest whiners seem to be those who don’t have the tech skills to either create something awesome in camera, or in the darkroom – digital or otherwise – and thus resent the creations of those who do! “Moonrise over Hernandez” is the perfect example in this case.

  33. Photographers always present the image in a manner that showcase what they want to get across in the image. What is left in the image or taken out by either Photoshop or image composition it is still the storyline / message that the individual photographer wants to tell or where they want to lead us.

    So if they zoom in tight to portray only a specific piece of content they can lead us to the conclusion they want to steer us to whereas if they showed the entire scene by using a wide angle lens we may come to a different conclusion.

    Is one more ethical than the other?

  34. Well said. Thank you. I find myself checking my cell phone for a new game when arguments such as this happens in my photo club. Most of the evening is spent arguing over minutia that no real conversing ever seems to happen. You’ve eloquently outlined my thoughts on this topic.

  35. I have to agree with Stephen completely. I’m constantly inspired with what this medium now allows for in the digital age and have set a personal style for my photographs and drawn my own line for what’s acceptable in terms of “post” alteration – purely based on what I MYSELF feel conveys MY story, and what I feel is the truth.

    That said, Steve McCurry and the anger that has been unleashed upon him is precisely over the sort of ethics you have asterisked, so I don’t know that this is a response the what I see as a legitimate demand for answers from him and the journalistic magazines he’s worked for over the years.

  36. There are so many things I’m loving about seeing this in print. If I started listing them, I’d likely just cut ‘n’ copy the entire thing. Oh, how tired I am of all the pedants who think they own the medium, or the purists who think they own the medium, or the newly minted who think they own the medium. Photoshop is a noun, not a verb, and I wish people would understand that. ALL the processes down through the ages, from darkroom to Lightroom, involve manipulation in some format, and that starts right from the composition itself, the eye of the beholder. My own favourite example is photos of politicians. When you have one who is flavour of the day, the subject is groomed, well lit, and gentle. When you have one who has gone off the rails, suddenly their hair is in disarray, the lighting is only usually suitable for Halloween, and usually they have their mouths open (okay…let’s not go there…). The removal of a poorly placed telephone pole, a slight increase in the vibrancy of colour, NONE of that is of much importance to the telling of the story. It merely enhances the telling, in the same way that the good use of an adjective can enhance a writer’s narrative. Sigh. I know. Preaching to the converted. Anyway, thanks for putting this out there.

  37. Sorry to do exactly what you asked us not to do … BUT the fact that McCurry was bound by journalistic ethics is precisely the point in this case!

    The majority of the anti-McCurry comments I’ve read don’t dispute your claim that photography is a subjective medium. However they do criticise him for violating a set of ethics he was bound to.

    This isn’t to say that your point isn’t valid or worth making (it is on both counts!), it’s just to assert that, in my opinion, this is the straw-man argument against the anti-McCurry voices in this debate, and doesn’t tackle the real issue in this case.

    1. *Let me repeat again, because someone’s going to miss it: this is not about ethics in journalism. If (notice my choice of words here) Steve McCurry was bound to a set of ethics, and if he violated them, that is a different conversation. This is about accepting the fundamental nature of photography as a subjective medium, and about our opportunity to accept that subjectivity. If anything it is an argument to become more responsible with the stories we tell. But I believe that must include a discussion of the actual story, not just the way in which it is told.

      In case you missed it mentioned TWICE in the article.

      1. In case you missed it at the start of my reply:

        Sorry to do exactly what you asked us not to do … BUT the fact that McCurry was bound by journalistic ethics is precisely the point in this case!

        I know David mentioned this. I’m merely saying that this point cannot be overlooked in this debate. Whatever extra point this argument might prove (i.e. that creativity can come in many forms and mediums, including digital post-processing)

    2. Steve McCurry was NOT bound by journalistic ethics, because he was creating artistic expressions. He was NOT publishing documentary or journalistic photos in NatGeo or other venues. He was publishing his view of his travels on his Web site.

      The constant pigeon-holing of Steve McCurry into one narrow expression of photography really pisses me off. When he submits photographs to news or documentary organizations, he submits the raw images. When he publishes photographs on his personal properties, he can do whatever the hell he wants to the photograph, and NO he does not need to tell you that he modified the art to match *his* expression.

      To say that, once a person has been a photojournalist s/he can never ever modify photographs again without a clarion announcement to the world is patently absurd. David Hobby doesn’t carry such announcements on *his* work, yet nobody seems to have a problem with *that*.

      1. Hmm.

        When he submits photographs to news or documentary organizations, he submits the raw images.

        There have been a couple of posts on PetaPixel that seemed to indicate the opposite of this.

        In fact one article I read discussed how an image taken on a train station in India – with a porter holding suitcases on his head – was entirely staged. Which is fine, except it was carried in Time magazine with a caption that suggested otherwise.

        Is that not a problem?

        1. Steve probably did not write the caption. As an ex-newspaper & magazine photo-journalist turned full-time wildlife photographer today, I can recall countless times when sub-editors wrote or re-wrote captions or headlines totally contrary to what the story or images tried to portray.

  38. For years photographers have been trying to convince the world that photography is a true art form, deserving as much attention in the art world as paintings and sculptures, and for years it is photographers who refuse to come to grips with the fact that it is. Just like any art form it is the final product that matters, not how it was made. Only in the photojournalist world should a photographer ever be concerned about using Photoshop, in all other photography endeavors only the end product matters. Is it or is it not a cool photo?

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