By NPPA Ethics Committee members John Long, Steve Raymer, Peter Southwick and Sean Elliot
DURHAM, NC (January 27, 2014) – There was an interesting confluence of ethics oriented events this week: the Associated Press dismissed a freelancer for digitally altering a photograph; VOGUE magazine retouched a series of photographs of Lena Dunham and was criticized for doing so by another magazine; and an online publication over-processed a photograph of Edward Snowden raising the specter of the famous O.J. Simpson TIME magazine cover. Three incidents that exemplify the state of discussions surrounding photojournalism ethics today.
We have become quite sophisticated in our understanding of digital manipulation (the O.J. Simpson cover, for example), and while we have all but given up on VOGUE and similar celebrity publications ever “getting it” when it comes to photography, the credible news gathering organizations (AP in this case) have taken a much needed and appreciated hard line on ethics violations.
VOGUE produced a major piece on Lena Dunham, the force behind and star of the hit HBO show “Girls”, who is known for looking like a normal woman instead of a super model. The photographs were reworked to make her look thinner etc. and a pigeon sitting on her head was added to one photograph. “Jezebel,” a Web site that criticizes celebrity magazines such as VOGUE, took issue with this “enhancement”, but unfortunately the criticism had nothing to do with the digital alteration of the photographs. The issue they raised was the portrayal of women in VOGUE and other magazines of its kind. The manipulation of the photographs seemed to be accepted as normal practice.
My question is this – if the photographs are works of fantasy, why should we believe the words? If we can’t believe the photographs of Lena Dunham why should we believe the story that accompanies them? If the words are expected to be accurate, shouldn’t the photographs be accurate also?