I once walked in on a news photographer printing a picture, back in the pre-digital olden days. The photo was of Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan’s U.N. ambassador. The photog printed the picture several times while I was there, burning and dodging with his fingers, messing with the contrast, goofing with this and that. Finally I asked him what was the big hoop-de-do over what was, after all, a glorified headshot.
“I’m trying to make her look more wrinkly,” he said. “I hate her.”
Huh. Ohhhh-kay. We all have our own ways of wasting time at work — you’re reading one of my favorites — and this seemed to fall somewhere in the midrange of the what’s-the-point scale. If you click the link above, which includes a photo of Kirkpatrick from roughly the same era, you’ll notice several things about her, among them a) she’s no spring chicken, and b) she wasn’t exactly Heidi Klum to start with. She was then nearly 60, and looked like what she is — a public intellectual with a low-maintenance hairdo and no patience for elaborate makeup rituals, unafraid to look her age because she didn’t live in the mirror, but in her mind. I don’t share many of Kirkpatrick’s views, but hey, we can always use more women who don’t give a fat rat’s ass what In Style says about them.
I’m trying to figure what the chances are that some impressionable soul read the story about Kirkpatrick’s speech, looked at the photo printed to enhance her wrinkles and said, “You know, if neoconservatism has no room in it for decent skin-care products, it has no room in it for me.” I’m thinking it’s pretty low. In this, it has approximately the same impact as the infamous Reuters photo that’s the subject of this Slate piece.
The link will take you to both photos, side-by-side — the original picture of a smoldering Beirut skyline, and the one Reuters transmitted to its clients, with the smoke darkened and made a little more bulbous through the clumsy use of Photoshop’s clone tool. This was discovered by bloggers earlier in the week, and made much of.
I dunno. I looked at both pictures and thought: Um, why? That Beirut was bombed is not in question. That smoke was rising was not in question. The smoke was a fact, like Jeane Kirkpatrick’s wrinkles. How many people would look at the smoke-enhanced version and say, “Well, this changes everything.” Again, I’m thinking it’s something like zero.
The rest of that Slate article points out the obvious: That every photo is a lie. This is a duh revelation if there ever was one. Haven’t you ever arrived at a vacation spot and thought, “It looks nothing like the pictures”? Haven’t you ever taken a photo and said, later, “It didn’t look like this”? Hell, haven’t you seen a photo of yourself lately? I look in the mirror and I see the same me I saw 25 years ago. Photos would suggest things are different now. Damn photos.
After years of this, I’ve come up with a pretty simple explanation: A photo is a fact, but a fact is not the truth.
It applies to most of the rest of journalism, too: A story is a collection of facts (or better be). It’s not necessarily the truth.
If you had nothing better to do, you could spend the rest of the year researching the ethics of photojournalism to know why, exactly, it was wrong to enhance Jeane Kirkpatrick’s wrinkles for personal reasons. And you could spend the rest of the next five years writing a book about the truth and lies of photography, but you might as well give up now, because Susan Sontag pretty much covered that waterfront already.
I pity photo editors these days; Photoshop has rocked their world in a million ways, many of them unwelcome. Good Photoshoppers can use the software to make so-so pictures better, good pictures great and every picture a potential firing offense. So many decisions seem so innocuous — a photographer took a Diet Coke can off a coffeetable in a news picture a few years ago, and whole forests had to die to accommodate all the fulmination. Meanwhile, the standards are different everywhere. I work mainly in magazines now, and if you tell a magazine photographer he can’t add or remove things from a picture he’ll quit on the spot; digital manipulation is as necessary as pretty models.
I guess what most interests me about this case is the essential irony of it, which is the same that lies at the heart of the Jayson Blair/Stephen Glass scandals, too — that some people want to be successful journalists so badly that they’re willing to commit the single unforgivable sin in journalism, the one that closes doors forever. That is, to step outside the facts/truth model into the bullshit/lies realm. Even before it was discovered to be a fake, that picture of the roiling smoke was small change. And yet.
brian stouder said on August 11, 2006 at 2:49 pm
I used to be immensely taken with Jeane Kirkpatrick – probably for much the same reasons NN highlights – her “here I stand, and here’s what I think” public profile – which prompted leftist cranks to jeer her when she spoke at universities!!!….
Hah! Today’s leftist cranks are stuck with Anne Coulter….a bit of cosmic justice, I suppose
Jonathan Arnold said on August 11, 2006 at 3:31 pm
Funny, I thought exactly the same thing seeing the two pictures. I had to look extra hard to even notice the difference. It would be one thing if it was a picture of a calm suburb doctored to look like a warzone, but somehow it seems such a tiny infraction to just add darker smoke.
Dwight the Troubled Teen said on August 11, 2006 at 4:50 pm
Given that you are a real journalist who came up through the ranks of the old school newsroom, I’m stunned that you are okay with blurring the line (pun intended) between news journalism and editorial journalism. Stunned.
“Wishful Thinking” exploding White House is one thing, but I really believe(d) that you have a special place for the integrity of an honorable profession.
Let’s set the wayback machine to an alternate universe:
“Hey, what are you doing to that picture?”
“I’m adding a shadow to make it look like Clinton has a buldge in his pants. I hate him.”
“Hmmm. All journalism is editorial journalism, I guess.”
I assume that you know the story about Don Hewitt sitting in the 60 minutes editing bay and asking about the video taped shot of an empty spinning revolving door.
Don Hewitt cared about the line between news journalism and editorial journalism, and I suspect that you do as well.
nancy said on August 11, 2006 at 6:03 pm
Who says I’m OK with it? What should I have done? Wrestled him to the floor, or ratted him out to a superior? As I think is fairly evident by existing photos of Jeane Kirkpatrick, he wasn’t adding something to the picture that wasn’t already there. He was enhancing an existing feature. I thought it was silly and childish, but it doesn’t cross a line.
This does, however.
Bob said on August 12, 2006 at 7:58 am
The most glaring thing to me about the trivial manipulation of the Reuters photo isn’t that it was done, but that it was done so badly. I’d think anyone familiar with Photoshop’s extremely useful clone tool would spot the inept use before they noticed anything else in the photo.
I’m an advocate of showing things as they are, but I’m not a fanatic about it. Photographing outside the studio’s controlled environment, recording events as they take place, often results in distracting compositional no-nos that add nothing to the record of the moment, like the utility pole sticking out of the top of someone’s head in a scene where no alternative angle or composition presents itself.
On the other hand, people whose win-by-any-means, facts-be-damned approach to “journalism” results in stuff lke the Kerry-Fonda manipulation should be blinded in one eye and have one hand cut off, with a warning that a repeat offense will bring the completion of the job.
mary said on August 12, 2006 at 8:51 pm
I’m reinforcing my children’s opinion of me as an insane woman, and adopting another dog. Or at least I hope so. She’s a very pretty ten month old golden retriever, on the slender side, and she needs a name. She’s very calm and sweet. Any suggestions? I prefer the two syllable, at least one long vowel theory of dog names.
basset said on August 13, 2006 at 9:23 am
our current golden is Maggie, our former golden was Spicy… short for her registered name, “Wyngate’s Lady Spice,” which didn’t come from us
our basset hound was “Eudora,” which seemed appropriate because we were living in Mississippi at the time.
and may I recommend… rescueagolden.org
Bill said on August 13, 2006 at 7:11 pm
How about Goldie or Blondie?
Dorothy said on August 14, 2006 at 7:53 am
Just don’t call her Bailey. I’m sick to death of hearing Goldens named Bailey. It’s overdone! (with apologies to any Bailey owners out there)
My previous Golden was Atticus, but he became Schmaddy. Long story. Current one is Augustus, but he’s just plain old Augie. (for some reason all my dogs end up with nicknames ending in the “ee” sound. Dublin was Dubbie, Domino was Dommie, you get the drift.) Both of my Goldens were mixes. Best dogs we ever had.
mary said on August 14, 2006 at 10:39 am
The current favorites in the household are: Poppy, Sally, Phoebe, Marley (no on in the house has read that book, they just like reggae) and Sherry. This golden looks like a mix. She looks like a 3/4 scale golden. Very sweet and shy for now. I pick her up either tonight or tomorrow after she’s fixed.
brian stouder said on August 14, 2006 at 10:51 am
She looks like a 3/4 scale golden
(I love good ol’ Minnie Mouse – something just….compelling!)
mary said on August 14, 2006 at 11:12 am
Minnie is good. If she turns out to be a moocher, even better.
Dorothy said on August 14, 2006 at 11:19 am
Mary will you put a picture of her on flickr? I’m anxious to see her!
mary said on August 14, 2006 at 11:52 am
As soon as I get her and she stands still long enough to be photographed, I will. She’s very pretty.
Dorothy said on August 14, 2006 at 12:07 pm
BTW Bassett, our Augie was a rescue but not through any specific organization. He had been shot in the leg and was recovered. The vet hospital near our home was looking for a home for him. If we hadn’t adopted him, they were going to turn him over to the local Golden Rescue group.
mary said on August 14, 2006 at 12:57 pm
I’m a little down on rescue groups here in LA. For non-profit organizations, they seem pretty profitable. When I was trying to adopt a great dane, I kept getting beaten to the shelter by a rescue group that only does giant breeds. Great, except they grab every dane/bouvier/mastiff/irish wolfhound as soon as they get to shelters, and to adopt one from them costs a minimum of 350 dollars. And you sign a contract allowing unannounced check up visits, and requiring you to buy your dogfood from them. That minimum is unrealistic by the way. I hear that 750 is more common, and that buying that required first year of dog food from them runs over a grand.
I’m sure rescue groups do good work, but they also prevent good dog owners from getting dogs sometimes.
Dorothy said on August 14, 2006 at 1:16 pm
Mary you pointed out several things that set off alarms in me, as well, about rescue groups. See, before we moved to SC we had Atticus, our golden mix who was nearly 10. The weekend before we moved he had to be put to sleep. He had been sick for months and losing weight. Heartbroken, I turned to websites for around us in SC thinking we’d get one through them. I was astonished to see the high fees for adoption, etc. I don’t recall any mention of buying dog food, etc., but it seemed to discourage, instead of encourage, my inkling to go thru a rescue group. I think the fee was at least $200 to adopt. I’m sure the fees help them with the maintenance of problem cases, etc. But honestly, for a little more someone could get a brand new pure bred instead of rescuing, right?
It cost us just $50 to adopt Augie directly from the vet here. He was already neutered. His surgery was partially paid for by an anonymous donor (which happened before we owned him…still they didn’t ask us for anything towards it). This place is so wonderful to us. When my dad died last August and we had to board Augie in a hurry, they took him immediately. When we got home they would not take any payment from us for the 5 days he spent there while we were home for the funeral. I can’t say enough nice things about them.
mary said on August 14, 2006 at 3:03 pm
I just looked at the website for the giant dog rescue group I mentioned. I also found a website for disgruntled adoptors of the giant dog rescue group. Appararently, the current fee is 900 to 1000 dollars for adoption. The founder of this group, claims he places 600 dogs per year, but claims the organization makes a gross income of 22k. Bad math.
They are very litigious as well, since they get mentioned in a negative way very often. I know my small amount of contact with them has been bad.
basset said on August 15, 2006 at 12:04 am
Mary… if you’re concerned about getting “beaten to the shelter,” well, we’ll just let the next few shelter dogs we hear about get killed so we’ll know we didn’t get in your way or anything. More important, obviously, to leave a dog in there just in case someone might want him than to work proactively toward finding him a home.
I can’t speak for LA rescue groups, but here in Tennessee we get $175 per dog to cover expenses, we rely heavily on donations, we’re a legit-and-can-prove-it 501(c)3 and we run at a loss. Without volunteers, we couldn’t operate – and we don’t sell dog food.
You may “hear that $750 is more common,” but I never have. Then again, I don’t operate on hearsay.
And addressing Dorothy’s comment about “for a little more someone could get a brand new pure bred…” well, that’s just beyond response, you don’t get it and there’s nothing I can do. Just go on down to the pet store, buy a puppy-mill dog and congratulate yourself on your superior shopping skills.
Dorothy said on August 15, 2006 at 7:57 am
Bassett I have never bought a puppy mill dog in my life. I never was a dog owner until I was 22 and newly married. We have always bought mixed breeds or from a friend who needed to find a home for new puppies. The most I ever paid for a dog was $75. I was referring to the buyer who is able and willing to pay $300-$600 for a pure bred dog. I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh to Mary and I, to be honest. You’re making judgements that aren’t possible in the limited information you have in the comment sections here.
I am sure rescue organizations have good ones and bad ones. Mary was referencing one she is familiar with. How can one person be familiar with every single rescue group? Be fair, okay?
mary said on August 15, 2006 at 10:59 am
Please have a look at Gentle Giants website. They are now getting 900-1000 per dog, and they say they are non profit. I have adopted three dogs in the past year from the shelter, and a total of seven in the past twenty years, so please don’t lecture me. I”ve adopted nine cats from the shelters in the same time period. I donate supplies to shelters, time to the shelters, and have referred lots of people to shelters who might have bought that puppy mill dog. I worked on a year long project with my son making a video about LA animal shelters (both county and city) and it’s been shown at several schools in the LA school district. I speak to kids about volunteering at shelters.
The local rescue groups here get about 350 minimum, and I know this as a fact. If you have any doubts, knock yourself out looking at websites for rescue groups in the Los Angeles area. Here’s a website started by people who had bad experiences with Gentle Giants :
Please have a look. Then look at the Gentle Giants website. Take a look at the application for adoption, with its provision that you buy your dog food from them.
I know more about my local rescue groups than you do, and I stand by what I said.
mary said on August 15, 2006 at 11:11 am
Oh, the dog I adopted yesterday is named Poppy, and she’s lovely.