Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Photoshopping the news

Altering photos for political purposes is nothing new: the communists were notorious, among other things, for removing people who had been purged from official photos, as if they never existed.

Today tens of thousands of people alter the truthfulness of photos by doctoring them with Photoshop, every day.

Reuters was accused of bias against Israel in 2006 when a doctored photo of the capital city of Lebanon was released by the wire service (bottom photo). The photo, submitted by Lebanese freelance photographer Adnan Hajj, shows (badly) cloned smoke and buildings and a darkened skyline onto the original (top photo). Reuters ultimately broke all ties with Hajj, who was accused of retouching other photos as well.

This issue arises, however, with book illustrations, too. Often people want to alter a photo for asthetic reasons, removing something they don't like, adding something they do, changing colours, and so on. Our original reluctance to engage in any form of tampering was, after some discussion, relaxed slightly and our policy nowadays is that it is acceptable provided:
1. It does not alter historical facts;
2. Any removal or addition is only something that would have occured anyway if the photographer had adopted a slightly different camera angle;
3. Any changes in tone or colour are only to restore accuracy.

Different rules apply to 'art' photography, of course. In a nutshell, we won't engage in anything that can be considered unethical; we can only speak for ourselves in this.

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