Behind the Scenes: Digital Manipulation

Posted on July 10, 2009 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS

Edgar Martins, the photographer at the heart of the current controversy, has told Lens and at least one other blog, Jain, that he will be telling his side of the story soon. The text of his e-mail response to requests for interviews, identical to both blogs, is shown below in italics.
Original post There’s probably no more troubling issue facing photojournalism than the digital manipulation of images that are supposed to faithfully represent what’s in front of the camera.

Digital technology permits so many interventions — some acutely obvious, others so subtle that only computers can detect them — that the line has blurred between manipulation and the kind of enhancement and editing that viewers customarily expect; like cropping, color correction, burning and dodging.

Blurry as it may get, there’s no question that the digital rearrangement or insertion of physical objects constitutes manipulation that The Times will not accept. (In the 1930s, it was another matter.)

The longstanding policy is unambiguous:


Images in our pages, in the paper or on the Web, that purport to depict reality must be genuine in every way. No people or objects may be added, rearranged, reversed, distorted or removed from a scene (except for the recognized practice of cropping to omit extraneous outer portions).


That’s not to say it doesn’t happen.


A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an accompanying slide show on NYTimes.com, “Ruins of the Second Gilded Age,” have been found to include digital alterations. The photos showed unfinished or unoccupied construction projects around the United States that came to a halt — at least in part — because of the financial crisis. They were taken by Edgar Martins, a 32-year-old freelance photographer.


By Tuesday, sharp-eyed readers were calling the pictures into question. One comment on the MetaFilter blog included an animated dissection. The PDN Pulse blog also pointed out five instances in which objects had apparently been duplicated.


In response, The Times published an editors’ note, noting that the introduction to the essay “said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, ‘creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation.’”



A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from NYTimes.com.


Kenneth Irby, the visual journalism group leader at the Poynter Institute, had no comment Wednesday on the Magazine essay, which he hadn’t yet seen. Speaking generally, however, he noted the “tremendous competition in the marketplace for imagery,” while at the same time, “with a click of a mouse, a perceived imperfection can be adjusted and modified.”


He continued, “To distinguish oneself with a great photo or powerful reportage — that’s a temptation.”






Following is Mr. Martin’s e-mail response on Thursday to a request for an interview:



Absolutely!


However, I will not be able to do share my views with you for a few more days.


I have been informed of the discussion that is currently taking place concerning the feature, which I had anticipated to some degree, but which I have not yet been able to acquaitance myself with it, as I am travelling and so unable to access the internet. (Yes, believe it or not there are still places in this world with limited or no internet connection..)


I will no doubt be discussing this issue you with yourself, your readers and readers from other blogs fairly soon.


In the meantime let the debate rage on… no doubt this will open up a healthy dialogue about Photography, its inexorable links to the real & its inadequacies. Or so I hope…