A few months ago, the Associated Press “severed” its relationship with Narciso Contreras, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer because he altered a photo inappropriately. Contreras was a freelancer with a contract with AP, not an AP staffer. His work is stunning, there’s no question about his talent or dedication.
He was terminated by AP because he altered a photo he made in Syria. He made a photo of a Syrian fighter taking cover and there was a video camera in the lower left corner of the frame. He used image editing software to remove the camera. The photos and AP’s explanation are here.
This is not a defense of Contreras. He should not have used image editing software to remove the camera. That’s a fireable offense at any newspaper or wire service I know of.
When photojournalists go out to photograph a news scene we want to put the people who look at our pictures in the middle of what we’re seeing. We’re there to bear witness. But sometimes what we show the world only reflects a sliver of what we’re seeing. Again, this is not a defense of Contreras. Nor is it a condemnation of AP for firing him. But every time photojournalists go out to photograph, we’re making conscious decisions about we show the reader and what we don’t.
In the photo at the top of the page, we see a couple of distraught women in a crowd collapsing in the street. That’s a real moment. The women had been screaming and crying a few meters from a line of Thai soldiers who were on the street after the coup deposed the elected government. Their anger is real. There is nothing fake or manufactured about that moment. But what the reader doesn’t see is in the photo below.
Both photos are a truthful representation of what I saw Monday on the street in Bangkok. Is one more truthful than the other? Or does it take both to present an accurate telling of the story?
This is conundrum photojournalist face on almost every assignment. Certainly on every assignment where there’s more than one photographer present. We want to take our viewers where we are, to see what we see.