We are all Story Tellers.
Nobody wants to see someone they admire fall from grace. In the recent weeks we have seen photographer Steve McCurry’s reputation come under worldwide scrutiny as evidence of photo manipulation and event staging has come to light. This in itself is not new in photography. Photographers have been enhancing images since photography was invented. Most alterations are done through subtle dodging and burning and contrast adjustments, but with the digital revolution the tools available to the photographer are boundless.
Having worked as a Photojournalist I can speak from my own experiences with regard to the differences between the ‘Fictional’ and ‘Non’Fictional’ fields of photography when it comes to ‘Story Telling’. There are many stories that can be told from an event. Each photographer has a choice as to how they will portray the story as they see it or imagine it to be. The Photojournalist (non-fictional) will tell the story from decisive moments, where and when they choose to stand and what they capture and choose not to capture. All the moments happened unscripted that were photographed. But all the moments the photographer chose not to shoot or missed also happened. Those other moments may be captured by another photographer with a different perspective or what defines a decisive moment to them. Theses moments also happened unscripted but will tell a different non-fictional story of an event or place. The publications that Photojournalists shoot for may have their own agenda as to how they would like to see the story. They may edit out specific moments captured by a Photojournalist to make the story favour the stance taken by a writer or the views of the publication. There are many factors at work that can have one event appear as several different stories yet all be captured adhering to the code that a Photojournalist is supposed to follow of not manipulating an image using post editing techniques that will alter the true essence of the image as it happened. If the moment is altered enough that the viewer is no longer presented with an image from which they can formulate their own opinion then he/she has been unknowingly coerced into looking at what the Photojournalist or publication wants then to see and have damaged the ethical integrity of the profession willingly.
There will always be stories published that will lean towards or favour the views of a certain group but as long as the moments remain pure, people will be able to look at an event from the perspective of more than one Photojournalist to formulate an opinion.
The line gets crossed between non-fictional and fictional story telling to often these days with the intent being to fool the viewer into thinking the image was a ‘decisive moment’ captured by a master photographer. It is to easy to manipulate an image to strengthen the contents for either aesthetics, political agendas or status. Competition and pressure for a photographer to get noticed or publications vying for bigger market shares to appease share holders. I think it is easy to say that fame, money and political motivations trump ethics these days.
When a photographer crosses the line between the non-fictional and fictional realms he/she is completely aware of what they are doing and the reasons why they are doing it. Maintaining a clear conscience is as simple as being up front regarding the manipulation and scripting/staging of events. It is completely accepted and admired by many, including myself, to have a great imagination and the ability to bring all the necessary elements together into an image that you created in your mind. When the photographer intentionally uses unethical practices and ego and status replace honesty then it is only a mater of time before they are in a situation where their perceived reputation is on the line.
A friend of mine recently compared this situation to the scandal involving Lance Armstrong and using drugs to gain an unfair advantage over his peers. That is exactly what is going on here but in a different field of professionalism. The fact that he denied the allegations to the end as the evidence became clear made his fall from grace that much farther. You can’t stand with your peers in a chosen field when you are consciously and willingly engaging in practices that give you an unfair advantage and claim you are innocent.
The public has the perception now that Mr. McCurry has been lip syncing portions of his career as a Photojournalist and claiming it is a live show. As difficult as it is for some people to swallow their pride and put away the egos it is the only way at this point. Stop blaming others and claiming that your peers and the public mistook you for a Photojournalist when you were not trying to associate yourself as one. You clearly have aligned yourself with publications which adhere to strict, not always perfect, codes of ethics regarding the truth behind content they publish. It is unprofessional and deceiving to claim to be a Nachtwey when you are secretly more like a Leibovitz (both of whom I admire greatly for what they do). It is a disservice to some very talented creative photographers who use their imaginations and skills to capture some of the most amazing images for clients and publications and to those Photojournalists who use every instinct they possess to be in the right place at the right time to capture a single moment. It is not some secret trick that has been discovered that his peers are just unaware of. They have chosen not to cross that line when no one is looking and maintain the level of integrity associated with the field of photography they work in.
Ego and fame unfortunately send good people down the wrong path. Was it better to be known as a Photojournalist or as Commercial photographer. By secretly tweaking and altering images and staging them to make them more pleasing, yet standing with peers and publications known for integrity you failed as a true Photojournalist (non-fictional story teller). As a Commercial photographer (fictional story teller) I have seen much better imagination from those known as icons in their field.
The thirst for recognition these days and ‘Likes’ is far more prevalent that in the non-digital era. Photography has both purists and those who are willing to step outside the boundaries and explore with their imagination to create. You only have further to fall if you put yourself on a high pedestal you do not deserve to be on. There are Photojournalists, Commercial photographers and Composite photographers, just to name a few fields. Each has icons in their respective fields who are admired by peers and the public for their skills at telling their story.
Fine Art Photo by Ken McCurdy