The camera lies – oh my, does it lie!

Hey – a picture is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional scene – so yes, it is its own reality only representing another reality in a loose way. And no, a picture is not worth a thousand words – except when you choose it very carefully. Problem is, while a picture can convey a lot of information, it is frequently very imprecise, meaning many different things to different people.
mccain
Kevin knows this is near and dear to me, so he sent me this link to this wonderful NPR story examining the ethics of photo journalism. Ouch! Does this ever strip the varnish off of the press – particularly press photographers. It begins:

Every now and then, photojournalism gives rise to ethical questions. For instance, why was O.J.’s image digitally darkened on the cover of Time? Did tight shots of Saddam’s statue being toppled by Iraqis intentionally obscure the U.S. Marines’ role in the incident? Did newspapers whitewash the horror of war by suppressing images of corpses? Were famous photos from World War I and the Spanish Civil War actually reenactments?

There are clear rules that supposedly govern such situations, sometimes observed, sometimes not. But, as Bob reports, one category of mass media photography operates with hardly any rules at all.

But don’t just read this – the best way to appreciate it is to listen to it – same link – and at the same time watch this slide show of the pictures they’re discussing which are on another site. The pictur eof McCain above is the one used by the Atlantic – I think it’s quite heroic. But go to the slide show and see the photo that wasn’t used.

wchurchill_by_ykarshThis famous photo of a scowling Winston Churchill came about when photographer, Yousuf Karsh, took the cigar out of Churchill’s hand and immediately snapped this shot.

One year I taught English 101 at UMass Dartmouth and I focused a healthy segment on how words are used to slant things. But that’s easy. TV and still images can do much more and in amuch more subtle fashion. This story is one hellua a good, brief lesson on how images are used to manipulate our view of the news and newsmakers. My only caveat is please remember that while the photographer might of had a precise idea about what they were trying to convey, the end result can hit different people very differently. I learned that lesson many years ago when I planned to use the photo of a bonfire – part of a rally before a football game – on the cover of our Admissions Bulletin. It was a terrific shot and I and the photographer thought it captured a very positive spirit of campus life – but I tested it on faculty and staff first. The reactions I got included:

  • it looks like devil worship
  • it reminds me of the Watts riots
  • what a great shot – those kids are really having fun!

I used a classroom scene instead – or maybe it was the typical – seldom happens, but looks great – outdoor scene of teachers holding class under the trees on a spring day 😉

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One Response

  1. Writers carefully craft their articles to convey a message, photographers use their cameras and editors pick the shots and rewrite. I think it would be naive to assume that anything is free of bias. When I turn on the TV or open a magazine I instinctively know that I get someones version of things. If whe have a measure of trust for those and if we seek out alternative opinions, even if they differ from ours, only then will we get a relatively unbiased picture. Last time I checked nobody even tried.

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