Sophie has a cold. You might not know it from this image, but Sophie has a very runny nose. Thanks to the power of photoshop it took less than 60 seconds to remove the unsligthly mess from under the child's nose.
Less than a minute to make Sophie appear normal. I am not going to let this get to my head -- but talk about the power to change reality.
What harm can come from wiping off a little nasal mucus?
As a parent this sort of slight of hand would be perfectly acceptable. I want my child to look good -- I want her to feel and look healthy.
However, as a photojournalist I am conflictive. I wouldn't mind the child looking healthy, but altering reality is misleading.
It's all about context.
If the picture were to be used in a newspaper -- my policy would be hands-off the picture. I think a majority of U.S. photojournalists would agree with me here. At the same time, I also wonder if industry standards are being forced to change by the ubiquity of the tools.
I wonder,though if acceptable levels of digital alteration are coming more relaxed.
It has been nearly five years since Jennifer Greer and Joseph Gosen published their study on assessing levels of photo digital manipulation and media credibility was published in Visual Communication Quarterly. The article traces the history of digital manipulation as well as explores the “effect that different levels of photo manipulation have on public attitudes toward the credibility of a photography, photography in general, and the news media.
Greer and Gosen found that the levels of alteration do affect credibility. The more obvious the manipulation, therefore, the less credible the news picture becomes. The authors caution, however, that rampant digital manipulation along with increased media criticism of photojournalism impacts both the public’s perception of photojournalism as a force for accurate and balance visual reportage as well as overall distrust in the media.
“Results showed that readers/viewers do make distinctions about levels of alteration and, while alteration may be justified in some circumstances, the public might take issue with the alteration if it goes too far.
Just because one digitally altered photograph had no significant impact [in the study] does not mean that this pattern would hold true after media consumers were exposed to many cases of digital alteration.”
Fast-forwarding five years from the date of this study to reflect on what is happening today in the media is revealing and quite troubling.
Obsessed with proving that all MSM (mainstream media) reporting from Iraq and the Middle East is biased in favor of Islamic terrorists and therefore American news consumers aren't getting the 'truth' about either region, LGF (Little Green Footballs) has been at the center of an on-going crusade to de-legitimize the press. (Conservative media critics are out to destroy the press; liberal critics want to make it better, stronger.) To the warbloggers, journalists are terrorists. Or as one LGF headline put it, "The Media Are The Enemy."
At first, some critics believed that outing the media on its coverage of the war between Hezbollah and Israel was a positive thing. Now we are learning about the politics behind crusade.
Ultimately, it comes down to the consumer of images to fully acknowledge how the media works for and against people. As Greer and Gosen remind us:
Photojournalists, as well as the reading/viewing public, already benefit from the power of faster, more efficient methods of visual reportage. However, if left in careless hands, this powerful tool potentially can damage the credibility of photography and media.
Unfortunately, this prescient passage has already come to pass too quickly -- not only because of careless and unethical image handling and irresponsible editing -- but also because ideologues (on the left and on the right) seek to capitalize on an already vulnerable and weak-kneed media to push an agenda.