Eyes of the Afghan Girl – A critical take on the “Steve McCurry Scandal”

Jun 8, 2016

Kshitij Nagar

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Eyes of the Afghan Girl – A critical take on the “Steve McCurry Scandal”

Jun 8, 2016

Kshitij Nagar

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Afgan-Girl-

I will begin by saying that my intention is not to attack Steve McCurry or defame him in any manner. It is only an attempt to clear certain facts that have come to light regarding his work and to also raise certain questions on aspects that may or may not have been missed, but certainly have not been expressed till now, atleast not publicly. McCurry is an inspiring figure to many, therefore in the light of recent events, a close examination of his photographs and his practice has already been done, I only want to take it a few steps further.

Steve McCurry has come to India on numerous occasions to photograph. It has a special place in his work and in his life. He has expressed his love for India many times over the years. Some regard India as his ‘Karma Bhoomi’ (the land where one works). It is a place that has provided him with countless iconic images and it is the place where he returned to, to shoot about half of the last roll of Kodachrome.

It is also the depiction of this place that has attracted him the most criticism, both in India and internationally. He is often accused of depicting a certain stereotypical, exotic, almost “slumdog millionaire-ish” version of India that panders to western audiences. This is a criticism that Teju Cole of the New York Times also levied on McCurry’s recent volume of photographs titled ‘India’ which is a compendium of all the images he made here in between 1978 and 2014. He was also faced with the same criticism on stage at the launch of the same book in New Delhi. Further, in the review of his book, Cole goes on to remark “The pictures are staged or shot to look as if they were.” Again, McCurry was faced by these same questions at that launch event in January, which he chose to ignore then.

Five months on, a number of things have come to light regarding his work with many questioning his ethics, while others calling it a “targeted witch hunt.” Some of the things that he has come under fire for are astounding, while there are a few details that photographers and fixers in India have always known.

The controversy began with a so-called “botched print” as PetaPixel reported it citing photographer Paolo Vigilione who went to an exhibition of McCurry’s work in Italy and posted about what he had seen on his blog. While he “had no intention to attack McCurry” he certainly got the ball rolling on what has now snowballed into a full-blown controversy.

The images have since been removed from McCurry’s website as well as by Vigilione from his blog. These images were taken from PetaPixel’s article detailing the issue-

Screen-Shot-2016-06-04-at-1.25.19-am

Screen-Shot-2016-06-04-at-1.24.40-am

A further cursory exploration into his work lead to the following few images that PetaPixel too published in its article. These images too have been removed from McCurry’s website, in fact the entire blog seems to have been removed.

Screen-Shot-2016-06-04-at-1.31.31-am

Screen-Shot-2016-06-04-at-1.31.23-am

Screen-Shot-2016-06-04-at-1.31.40-am

Screen-Shot-2016-06-04-at-1.31.50-am

The shot of the children playing football was from a series of personal pictures, however a version of it was also published on Magnum Photos’ website, but has since been removed.

After the initial bit of articles were published in publications and blogs online, Indian photographer Satish Sharma made the following comments on his blog-

“I am not at all surprised at the digital manipulation (done by him) to create the perfect frame.

I have watched him rig (stage) his pictures. (He) Arranged the subjects (back then) because chromes (slide film) could not be that easily manipulated. “

Sharma goes onto cite an important and iconic image, that of the railway engine in front of the Taj.

Train-Cover

Regarding this image Sharma says. “This famous cover picture of his National Geographic   story on the Railways was  a special case that I remember. He actually had to reshoot it and got the railways to take the engine back again, because the first shoot was not sharp enough”

Further elaborating Sharma says-

“For a shot of the kitchen in ‘The Great Indian Rover’ he actually had the railing around the work bench removed. I know because I was there. The last time I saw him he was arranging a picture in Delhi’s Lodi Garden directing a waiter where to stand. “

Perhaps, most perturbing of Sharma’s claims is the following image which also appeared in the same NatGeo issue of 1984 on travelling across India by rail-

avinash-pasricha-steve-mccury

Regarding this Sharma writes- “This apparently off the cuff moment was arranged too. The lady is the wife of a photographer friend and the suitcases the coolie (porter) is carrying are empty. They had to be because the shot took time and lots of patient posing. McCurry’s pictures have been called STAGED CANDID MOMENTS by  Avinash Pasricha , a photographer friend who knows how he works because he  helped  him with  the pictures like the one above. The lady is his sister in law. “

In a bid to investigate and ratify Sharma’s claims, I made a call to Avinash Pasricha, veteran photographer living in Delhi. He had the following to say-

“Yes, from what I can recall, Steve used to stage quite a few shots back then. He needed help whenever he came to India and people obliged. Since my house was and still is centrally located in the city he would come here often. He was always passionate and longing to go out and shoot again. On one occasion that he had come, he told me of a particular shot that he wanted to take on how people travel in India. He requested my sister in law Vanita to accompany him to New Delhi Railway station” says Pasricha. On asking him about the suitcases on the porter’s head, he confirms that they are indeed empty.

A little bit of searching lead me to the lady in the above said image, Ms. Vanita Pasricha who briefly told me the following regarding the image-

“This image is from about 32 years ago. He was a very polite man, a thorough gentleman who wanted a picture on how people travel in India. I went with him to New Delhi Railway Station in the morning for a few quick pictures. Those suitcases are my suitcases and that is my son Mithil that I am holding, who is now infact 38 years old now. I only met him a couple of times, I did not even know whether the photo was published or not. It is only when my brother called from the states did I get to know that it was published in National Geographic.”

The image was indeed published in the June issues of 1984 of NatGeo in the following form, according to this archived copy.

Station

It was published with the following misleading caption-

Screen-Shot-2016-06-06-at-2.11.28-am

While the claims of these people are compelling, damning and perturbing what has been equally perturbing is McCurry’s own handling of this matter and his ultimate defence that he put forward in an exclusive interview with TIME. (The unedited copy of the interview was made available to me on contacting McCurry’s studio in New York for a brief statement. I was informed that Mr. McCurry is presently travelling and is difficult to reach, we will publish a follow up with his responses on these questions as soon as he becomes available.)

In a press conference held at an exhibition of his work in Canada on the 27th of May, he said the he was not in favour of “Photoshopping” or “adding and subtracting elements from a picture” and that the software should only be used as means of colour balance and correction. Three days later though in the interview with TIME he said that he will “rein in his use of Photoshop” when asked about the controversy, while not directly making a reference to the fact that he has done so in the past or what exactly lead to the glaring differences in between the different versions of the published images. The removal of his entire blog and subsequent silence for a number of days raises further questions.

The most perturbing of McCurry’s statements is his claim that he is no longer a photojournalist and more of a “visual storyteller”. The statement in itself is very alarming when you take into account the context that it was said in. The majority of McCurry’s career has been spent photographing subjects for journalistic stories and features, though he now believes otherwise- “The years of covering conflict zones are in the distant past. Except for a brief time at a local newspaper in Pennsylvania, I have never been an employee of a newspaper, news magazine, or other news outlet. I have always freelanced” he said in the interview.

One must surely argue that by merely categorising himself now as a visual storyteller, does not absolve McCurry of the ethics of simple photographic practice, i.e. depicting things the way they are, something he claims to always strive to according to this Ted talk from just a few years ago. Moreover, this is especially important as his work has been continually published in publications such as National Geographic that are bound by a strict code of journalistic ethics. While the days of photographing conflict may well be over, and while he is exploring these new ways of telling stories, his new and recent work continues to pop up in journalistic publications leading to a simple yet perturbing logical anomaly. To add to that anomaly, his own website continues to reference him as a Photojournalist, even though he is out exploring new ways of “visual storytelling.”

Further still, as a practicing photojournalist myself, I must also argue that while McCurry has the freedom to explore new ways of story telling and the freedom to alter images from personal projects (just like any other photographer) surely the publication of these images with a clarification detailing the extent of alteration is necessary considering the fact that the viewer will in most cases connect it to McCurry’s photojournalistic aesthetic, especially when the subject matter of these images(people/ travel/ street etc.) is so similar to McCurry’s photojournalistic work.

On the note of issuing a disclaimer, I must also add that McCurry also cites a previous iconic cover image of monsoon in India from 1984 for National Geographic, which was to an extent altered. The original image was of a horizontal orientation and could not be published in the magazine’s vertical format. NatGeo decided to extend the water to fit the format.

time_cover_comparison

A critical piece of information not shared in the interview is that the image was published with a disclaimer detailing the alteration according to a copy of the issue that I found in an online archive. Further, the reason that NatGeo was legally bound to issue that disclaimer is the fact that just two years prior to that in February 1982, NatGeo was in the middle of a serious controversy where they used an image altering software called ‘Scitex’ to fit a horizontal image of the pyramids in Egypt onto their vertical cover resulting in a squeezed and altered view, different from the original photograph. The action lead to widespread criticism, which NatGeo finally agreed with and decided to change its policy whereby it declared any digital alterations of that nature.

nationalG_web

Infact the editor of NatGeo wrote the following at that time- “At the beginning of our access to Scitex, I think we were seduced by the dictum, ‘If it can be done, it must be done.’
But there’s a danger there. When a photograph becomes synthesis, fantasy, rather than reportage, then the whole purpose of the photograph dies. A photographer is a reporter — a photon thief, if you will. He goes and takes, with a delicate instrument, an extremely thin slice of life. When we changed that slice of life, no matter in what small way, we diluted our credibility. “

What truly needs to be examined is the state of McCurry’s legacy, especially for those that he has inspired over the years, especially in India where he has had a lasting and inspiring footprint. The apparent staging and subsequent publishing in NatGeo raises further more questions for him and NatGeo to answer. Especially if we take into account the stringent rules imposed on photographers by publications in their written contracts, even for freelance basis as well as the close examination of work done by World Press Photo in the past few years, leading to many awards being rescinded and photographers and publications being forced to issue clarifications and apologies subsequently.

In a casual conversation with my father on the issue, he said the following “ I am very pained by this. This is almost unbelievable. I remember going out during the monsoon seasons with my Asahi Pentax in hand, just to see if I could get a picture like McCurry’s. It really pains to even think about this.” Later, on pondering over McCurry’s most iconic image, that of the “Afghan Girl” he also found another, small discrepancy. The dirt,muck and glare from her right eye seems to have disappeared. Below on the left is the original image published by NatGeo and on the right a screen grab from a poster that McCurry is currently selling on his website.

Afgan-Girl-

Screen-Shot-2016-06-06-at-2.22.16-am

Ignoring the obvious difference in the colour of the two images due to different scanning/ printing processes, the difference in the eyes is a bit difficult to miss when kept side by side. The flesh around the eye orbit is flatter and cleaner as compared to a more natural inwards concave shape. The dirt and muck (a vital element to the picture and the character trait of this girl as well the area she was living in) is missing too.

Afgan-Girl-1

Interestingly though, the glare/ muck is back in the version printed by NatGeo in the 100 Best Pictures commemorative issue.

national-geographic-100-best-pictures-cover

The variance in between different versions of published images seems to extend to McCurry’s most iconic image too, just like his other work.

In a polite exchange with his studio over email, seeking a statement from him, I was informed that Mr. McCurry is presently travelling and is difficult to reach, we will publish a follow up with his responses on these questions as soon as he becomes available.

About the Author

Kshitij Nagar is an independent photographer, videographer & journalist based in New Delhi, India. He’s also the Editor in Chief of the photography blog Writing Through Light. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @kshitijnagar.  This article was also published here, and used with permission.

 

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88 responses to “Eyes of the Afghan Girl – A critical take on the “Steve McCurry Scandal””

  1. Franco Kailsan Avatar
    Franco Kailsan

    i have no qualms if a picture is staged because getting the perfect shot can be a very time consuming and expensive however a staged photograph should not be passed off as candid as if the photographer was there at the right place and right time.

    1. John Brunel Avatar
      John Brunel

      Author Kshitij Nagar is sick

      1. Refurb7 Avatar
        Refurb7

        Wow, how many times can you repeat this personal attack on the author?

  2. John Shark Avatar
    John Shark

    What’s up with Steve’s photos lately? I saw another article about a photo in Cuba…it it possible that all the photos we see (in general) in the last 15 years are retouched?

  3. Paul Richards Avatar
    Paul Richards

    At the end of the day he is a superb photographer. Nothing wrong with staging photos. But there is something wrong with saying they aren’t. Also I have no problem with Photoshop to enhance a photo, but that isn’t photojournalism and it must leave National Geographic rather embarassed as they are so against manipulation. It all comes to honesty and integrity, and that is what is in question here. He has been caught out, but I reckon the vast majority of photographers of his ilk will have done the same, but he is the one that is going to take the rap

    1. Arcmor Avatar
      Arcmor

      My take is that once he gained fame from the Afghan Girl photo and put on a pedestal, he had to feed the monster of elevated expectations that ensued. When serendipity and being at the right place at the right time didn’t work out often enough to satisfy his editors, he took to “staging.” I have admired his work throughout the years, but always wondered in the back of my mind, how he fell in to this perfect balance of colors, composition, and subject matter every time. Morally there is nothing wrong if your audience knows about it before hand. The “worth” of his images and his artistry were based on the not knowing some of these facts about how they were achieved. Now that we know, it will be valued accordingly. It’s like you have been paying 3x the price for organic lettuce and then someone tells you it’s just the regular old stuff.

    2. Jameson Clifton Avatar
      Jameson Clifton

      Well said…couldn’t agree more.

  4. Dan K Avatar
    Dan K

    I would be pleased to be able to stage and manipulate photos if I could have the same results.

  5. Enrico Fugagnoli Avatar
    Enrico Fugagnoli

    In my opinion the world is packed with no-talent- would-be-photographers that loose more time in criticizing real artists than going out and trying to improve their own shots. McCurry is a great artist and has all the rights to post process his own shots, and this does not take anything off the fact that he WAS in the right place at the right moment

    1. Hans van Vrouwerf Avatar
      Hans van Vrouwerf

      Nailed it with this comment!!

    2. Cyndy Chaszeyka Avatar
      Cyndy Chaszeyka

      If you look at the pictures manipulated or not they are great and nothing wrong with staging.

    3. John Brunel Avatar
      John Brunel

      Kshitij Nagar is an idiot

    4. Mark Avatar
      Mark

      Absolutely agree

    5. alvintoro Avatar
      alvintoro

      Completely agree. Since the very beginning of this story it’s been a lot more about the internet troll culture looking for someone new to lynch than the actual search of the “truth”. Regardless of where this ends up, I will always have very deep admiration for Steve’s work. I just wish he would skipped the beating around the bush part and just come out of the gate with a: “YES!!! I’ve manipulated every single one of my images since the day a grabbed a camera for the first time! Deal with it!”

    6. dslrcreations Avatar
      dslrcreations

      absolute rubbish to say he was in the right place at the right time. The Images were Staged NOT spontaneous so therefore could have been shot at any place or time of choosing. They are not spur of the moment reportage shots, they are no better than a carefully planned studio shoot

  6. Alex Righetto Avatar
    Alex Righetto

    Photography is not the reality? oh mg!!!!

  7. catlett Avatar
    catlett

    At least be honest. Your initial statement that you aren’t trying to slam him doesn’t let you off of the hook for a rather long blog post that spends every syllable slamming him.

    — “The most perturbing of McCurry’s statements is his claim that he is no longer a photojournalist and more of a “visual storyteller”. ” —

    I’m sure he will probably alter his life course because you are perturbed (a word you use far too often). HE gets to choose how and what he shoots. Not you. The people who contract his services get to decide what is used and how, not you.

    I get that there is jealousy that such an esteemed blogger who would be preferred to be known as a photographer has to get to a guy. I also get that you would like the recognition he has. I somehow doubt that posting on a blog is going to raise your 150 twitter followers to match his 18,800,000 followers or get you published in relevant publications but good luck to you.

    1. Kamil Tamiola Avatar
      Kamil Tamiola

      I think you have missed the point. The article is written in a balanced way. Nobody slams here McCurry’s artistry, choice of the subjects etc. as his work is stellar. The post is about the ethics and confusion around it.

      1. Casey Avatar
        Casey

        A balanced article would have waited (some reasonable amount of time) to get McCurry’s comments. Let’s see how “balanced” the followup article on McCurry’s comments turns out to be.

      2. John Brunel Avatar
        John Brunel

        Waste of time. Scandal? for balance? what a stupid reasoning

      3. catlett Avatar
        catlett

        If you think this article is balanced then you didn’t read the same one I did. This was a slam piece with a fake statement to lead it off.

  8. Arcmor Avatar
    Arcmor

    Cartier-Bresson would have felt like a fool for waiting hours for his decisive moments.

  9. Marek Isalski Avatar
    Marek Isalski

    “The camera never lies… the photographer does.”

  10. Nehemiah Harmsen Avatar
    Nehemiah Harmsen

    The original photo has been found. He he. instagram.com/nehemiah9design

    1. ext237 Avatar
      ext237

      Wrong, that Instagram image is completely fabricated. Just an attempt at collecting clicks and likes.

  11. Rick Avatar
    Rick

    The exhaustive amount of research put into this piece including the microscopic evaluations of the photos to identify any minute differences serves as little more than an acknowledgement that the author has neither a life nor any level of work as a photographer as otherwise he would be too busy for endeavors of this nature. Maybe it is time he refocus his energies.

    1. John Brunel Avatar
      John Brunel

      author Kshitij Nagar is unknown creature living in a dark pit

      1. catlett Avatar
        catlett

        No he’s big time. He as something in the area of 150 Twitter followers.

    2. Kristine L King Avatar
      Kristine L King

      YES!

  12. Steve Avatar
    Steve

    Every photo tells the story that the photographer wants to tell.

    This article is more about jealousy than it is about the images.

  13. Robyn Arouty Avatar
    Robyn Arouty

    What a waste of 4 minutes. A little speck removed? Jesus. Author is a hater.

    1. John Brunel Avatar
      John Brunel

      Author Kshitij Nagar is on drug

  14. Fred Tracey Avatar
    Fred Tracey

    What SCANDAL? Citing TMZ, I mean, The Onion, no wait I meant PetaPixel (sorry, hard to tell them apart) has about as much credibility as the potential republican nominee for president.

    1. John Brunel Avatar
      John Brunel

      Author Kshitij Nagar is sick pathetic short minded

  15. Peter Tomuscheit Avatar
    Peter Tomuscheit

    Robert L. Lüthje

  16. Rarindra Prakarsa Avatar
    Rarindra Prakarsa

    I will be a great person and famous because I discovered McCurry’s “sin”. History will remember this. Hopefully. And i am going to sell all my equipment. My photos doesn’t make me famous.

  17. John Brunel Avatar
    John Brunel

    So what… idiot

  18. Cesar Sales Avatar
    Cesar Sales

    I remember back in grad school the idea got frequently passed around that Nat Geo photographers often rigged, staged, posed their images, to the point that we believed, truthfully or not, that they would often carry trunks of colorful clothing for their subjects to wear. Would be interesting to know if that is true or not.

  19. John Brunel Avatar
    John Brunel

    What scandal… the author Kshitij Nagar needs to be educated

    1. Refurb7 Avatar
      Refurb7

      And you seem to be absolutely clueless about ethics in photojournalism.

  20. Jojo le Merou Avatar
    Jojo le Merou

    Don’t see the prob.

  21. Todd Sipes Avatar
    Todd Sipes

    Who cares?

  22. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Kshitij Nagar, You’re not making any friends this way. Especially hiding behind the ruse of “intention is not to attack Steve McCurry”, when that is precisely what this is. However, I see your point of holding the photojournalist responsible for framing a story. This is just nit-picky bollocks though.

  23. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    I see nothing wrong with McCurry’s process of slightly retouching the photo. The image sensor (film) picks up a slightly different image than what we see in our eyes. This is especially true in high dynamic range scenes, which happen more often than you think. The image sensor is limited; McCurry is adjusting for this and is doing exactly what every single professional photographer does in post. I bet that if you could step back to the exact moment and space when the picture was taken and compare both photos, the retouched one will look more like the real scene.

    This doesn’t mean I agree with all retouching of photos. If the artist retouches in such as way as to “remove fat” or cut someone out of a picture, that’s where I really draw the line. This is not what is happening here.

    1. Jason Avatar
      Jason

      You may have missed the multiple examples of his photos above where he “cut someone out of a picture”. Not that I’m defending this article, as it feels exactly like the hit piece that the author claims it isn’t.

  24. Wanda Marie Titus Avatar
    Wanda Marie Titus

    I love taking photos. Sometimes I take up to a Hundred shots of things I have staged * .. Steve McCurry’s photos are an inspiration. He’s awesome !

  25. Cerpa Cartolini Avatar
    Cerpa Cartolini

    Very good article, we are not talking about any photographer, was a landmark in the world of photography, does not take away how talented, but is cowardly accuse their aistente of “excessive photoshop” … because let’s be honest: it was excessive. I have worked in 3 newspapers in my city and was always impressed by the “perfection” in his photos. Now I realize why. There was such a “turning point” and that “patience”

  26. Joseph Powell Avatar
    Joseph Powell

    I will begin by saying that my intention is not to attack Steve McCurry or defame him in any manner.

    I stopped reading after that. That’s exactly what you’re doing and it tells me you think the rest of us are idiots because you think differently.

    He freelances. And can do what he wants, to whatever images he wants without explaining it to anyone at anytime for any reason.

    You’re just butthurt that it’s not you.

  27. محمد زیشان اسد Avatar
    محمد زیشان اسد

    and the who supporting staged photography with respect to journalism well journalsit these days stage shoot so much tht they will show culprits as victims and victims as culprits its as simple as tht! staged vs non staged photography well thts fine whn its for art purpose its completely unethical whn u r doing tht for journalism purpose!

  28. Baluta Cristian Avatar
    Baluta Cristian

    So how many pictures are staged, only this? You cannot be 100% of something, i’m not convinced he’s not a photojournalist.

  29. pvphoto Avatar
    pvphoto

    “ethics of simple photographic practice”, I must have missed that law/rule/commandment!

  30. Kristine L King Avatar
    Kristine L King

    I agree, all photographers enhance their images in a digital program. All photos are retouched it’s having the talent to capture emotion. time and place – he has this talent!!!

    1. Stan Rothstein Avatar
      Stan Rothstein

      In the past I have read that Ansel Adams had boulders, logs, etc. moved into place to enhance his photos, so, it did not start with digital imaging! What matters is the results obtained! Does the finished photo make you happy? Did it help you see in a different direction? Did you gain greater awareness of what is around you and do the images you view help to bring out what is within you?Only you the viewer can answer these questions.

      1. ext237 Avatar
        ext237

        Commercial and landscape photography is completely different from photojournalism.

        If a wildlife photographer took a photo of deer and photoshop-cloned in a bunch of wolves to make it look more interesting — and then told you “oh that’s how I saw it happen” — would you be ok with that?

        Someone selling an image as photojournalism is saying “this is how I saw it happen”. Anything fabricated or altered is a lie.

        1. Stan Rothstein Avatar
          Stan Rothstein

          I do understand your viewpoint. I tend to view things from an artistic perspective, therefore, I would accept the placement of people, animals, etc. into a landscape. From a photojournalist approach, I would also appreciate what is real and not manipulated; however, even “real images” can be misinterpreted! A classical example is a photo taken during the Vietnam war showing a man being shot with a gun at point-blank range. It appeared as though the soldier being murdered was from South Vietnam. This was later proven to be a Vietcong Leader who was working behind the lines , killing many So. Viet’s without mercy. He was being put to death by a S. Viet commander! The point being, even photos, without proper verbiage, is a form of manipulation and a form of propaganda! I hope I exonerated myself!

          1. ext237 Avatar
            ext237

            The Vietnam photo you describe wasn’t altered. Research that photographers story. He never doctored the image. He photographed and reported what he saw without jeopardizing his ethics to make the story “more interesting” than it was. The photographer participated in no fiction to make that image more interesting.

          2. Stan Rothstein Avatar
            Stan Rothstein

            You are correct!! What I was attempting to point out was that the photographer’s image is exactly what occurred; however, as I previously stated, it was not explained by the Press that the man being shot was a Vietcong officer who was found guilty of war crimes and was being killed by a South Viet officer. Everyone I knew thought that the “North” was killing a “South” soldier. The unaltered photo was being used as propaganda by the South to further insight anger against the North for those of us back in the States. Later on, it was properly explained by the Press.

  • Refurb7 Avatar
    Refurb7

    Manipulation and staging is not OK in the world of photojournalism. It is flat out AGAINST THE RULES. If this were OK, McCurry would just say, “Hey, it’s really OK, no rule against it.” But unlike some of the clueless commenters here, McCurry knows *very* well that this is wrong in photojournalism. He absolutely knows it is wrong. And he knows that for years everyone in photography regarded him as one of the world’s most renowned photojournalists. So he feels compelled to re-define himself as a “visual storyteller” (i.e. artist NON-photojournalist) after being exposed.

    McCurry is one of my photographic heroes and I feel saddened that he didn’t proactively redefine himself earlier, but rather did it as a response to embarrassing disclosures. But we all make mistakes. Hopefully it’s a valuable lesson to others.

    That said, I feel that Teju Cole’s recent criticism (which precedes this “scandal”) reflected nothing more than Cole’s personal preference for some other photographer’s less beautiful pics, not a valid criticism of McCurry.

  • Rob Avatar
    Rob

    Let’s not forget that staging photographs is not a new, or unheard of concept. The iconic image of American Marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima was restaged as well. The patience, passion, dedication, and strive for perfection is something that is missing from many modern photographers in a point-and-shoot world.

    1. Dave_TX Avatar
      Dave_TX

      Replacing a small flag with a larger flag that can be seen from a lot farther off constitutes restaging?

  • phillip mccordall Avatar
    phillip mccordall

    As a reativly experienced photographer, having cheated all my life as an advertising photographer, where cheating is part of a well paid branch of photography. I also take pictures for myself however.
    I think it’s important to realise is that improvement of an image has been done since photography began. I have several images from the late 1800 and early 1900s that have been retouched, either with paint in many forms or pencil, not forgetting the b/w print process where in the darkroom the photographers would lighten or darken, bleach parts of an image and even distort the photo. Photoshop is just an improved system. of doing it

    Now I will draw the with news photography that must not have anything changed, except what has been done before in the darkroom . All the “great” photographers and the not so great, used a darkroom to enhance their images.including masks too double expose a print.I’m not saying this is right but just a fact of life.
    Unfortunately I do know for a fact that in the late seventies, football fans on occasions were paid to start a fight so that the “press photographer “could get an exclusive image.

    Now editorial, I believe and don’t forget this is only my opinion, I believe that editorial is not news. Editorial is a way illustrating an article , if the images need a little amount of change to improve that message, then there’s no problem with it, up too a point,where the image is varying from the truth.

    It’s not important who took the photo, the important thing is ,does the image illustrate the subject. If so then there’s no problem.

    I’ve seen Cartier Bresson mentioned, do you really believe that his images had no darkroom manipulation? The difference is you can’t see the original too compare

    1. Arcmor Avatar
      Arcmor

      Cartier-Bresson did not do darkroom work himself. Most of his images were printed bu Magnum’s master darkroom printer Pablo Inirio – who was indeed very creative in bringing out the essence of his images. Darkroom manipulation is different from staging and cloning things out. It seems that he hated cropping as well. Only two of images are believed to have been cropped – one being the famous Behind the Gare St. Lazare.

  • You Call That Journalism? Avatar
    You Call That Journalism?

    Why are you all slamming the author? None of you have a problem with setting up a photo on the train platform with empty luggage and then passing it off as a found moment, published in National Geographic?!!!

  • Andis Jurjans Avatar
    Andis Jurjans

    I am honestly disgusted by the majority of comments.
    Freelance or not, for years this person has been called and has called himself a photojournalist. And his works have been bought by organizations representing the highest possible standards not only of the aesthetics, but also of ethics.
    His work as his vision and perception of the events, people, places – truyly amazing. But that is not journalism.
    Where is the line? http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/missile-photo-fake-is-latest-shot-in-phoney-war-on-iran-26462126.html is this as innocent?
    It is journalism. Journalists should be the ones who go in to an event and bring the event to us. Not their views. Not their opinion, unless it is explicitly stated. The events. Who did what. Not “how I want others to feel”.
    Is a ring with an artificial diamond just as pretty as the real deal? Well, it gets close. But would you like to pay the price of a real stone for something that has been grown artificially? I would not.
    Nobody really cares what you do in your daily life. Whether you smoke in public places, whether you get caught driving under influence, anything – nobody cares. You’ve done wrong, but thats it. However, if you are considered as an example for the public – a celebrity, for instance – it is a different level of responsibility. The same applies in this case as well. A photographer is not the same as a photojournalist, and the latter has, by code of professional ethics, to play by some other rules. That is his job and responsibility. And knowing that the pictures are “real” and “perfect” as they are – sets the bar for other photographers.
    Had these been his personal images taken just for his blog, nobody would bat an eye.

    1. Andis Jurjans Avatar
      Andis Jurjans

      The thing is. We are so used to poor journalism, that we already think of it as a norm. Thats wrong.

    2. Rick Avatar
      Rick

      How could you expect that he is a photojournalist when the majority of his work is being published through NatGeo? NatGeo is not publishing historical documentation, they are selling a fantasy, selling a wild, colorful world that stands still in time. Take a step back from their wild, colorful world and you’ll find highways and schools and shopping malls just like anywhere else in the world.

      If you doubt me, call up a mental image of how far out in the desert NatGeo has led you to believe the Great Pyramid at Giza sits. Now call up an aerial photo on Google Earth. Unless your mental image was “less that 1000 feet” from the edge of town and surrounded on 3 sides, you have fallen for the NatGeo fantasy.

      1. Andis Jurjans Avatar
        Andis Jurjans

        Well, not exactly. I doubt they have photoshopped the town out of any image – as long as they manage to find and take a shot of a certain view without any later alterations – that is a fair game. I could go to the same spot and, probably with some binoculars, see the same. Longer and wider lenses also have their effects, as well as underwater lighting, etc. And I am okay with that as well. I am not okay with altering what is in the frame. If he selected one of the boys and made him look like an albino – would that still be ok? I doubt it.

  • Kevin Blackburn Avatar
    Kevin Blackburn

    You people are idiots do you not realize that once film of RAW files are handed over to the Geographic the photographer then has no say on any manipulation that the Magazine does. This is true of most every major magazine publication in existence for the last 50 years. or more. Now if the Photographer manipulate and or takes the image manipulated by another and misrepresents the images then the photographers integrity may be called into question but then again if you want to keep your job and assignments coming in and pay your bills and feed you family. I think you where I am going with this.

    As for me I started my career as an editorial Photographer and saw these very things happening and it just wasn’t my bag SO I made the transition to Commercial and Art photography more than 14 years ago and love what I do to earn my living without someone else’s input or the concern of this kind of nonsense. Hey if the AD or Client wants to punch up the colors hey let them they want to manipulate and shift the feeling hey they paid for it let them.

  • Larry Morgan Avatar
    Larry Morgan

    Wow what s waste of a read. Who the hell cares!

  • alvintoro Avatar
    alvintoro

    Maybe I was brought up by my parents to be skeptical and just by default assume that ALL media has ALWAYS been manipulated. But I’ve always found the whole conversation about “ethics” in “photojournalism” absolutely pointless as manipulation of the “truth” starts the moment the photographer chooses where and what to put in the frame. The only way to get to the real truth, is to physically be there. Intentional or subconsciously, everything else you see, will always someone else’s truth embedded in it by design.

    1. Dave_TX Avatar
      Dave_TX

      If you are physically there along with another person, the truth you perceive will be different from the truth the person alongside you perceives. There is a bit of the Rashomon effect in one’s memory of everything one witnesses.

  • Puffin Films Avatar
    Puffin Films

    You should take the time to practice photography instead of trying to ruin someone else’s work. Who gives a shit how the shots were made, if he didn’t like the original and took the time to get what he wanted then kudos to him for giving us something we can feel, not just look at.

  • ext237 Avatar
    ext237

    The article and these comments reflect a significant generation gap. Nat Geo required photographers to turn over film and negatives (rather than prints) to prevent alteration and preserve their credibility. The point of photojournalism is to write a story with authentic images, not create non-fiction and stage actors.

    Although the article did a good job of describing the alterations, it didn’t provide enough educational detail to explain why its an ethical issue. Then again, not sure the content-aware-fill generation would even bother to read such an explanation.

  • Art Lives Avatar
    Art Lives

    Photo manipulation has been going on since the invention of the camera, this is a non-story. I’m not sure but I think just about every photo ever taken for a commercial exploit is manipulated / staged in some way.

    1. ext237 Avatar
      ext237

      See, perfect example of my point. Nat Geo wasn’t creating images for commercial exploit — it was photojournalism. I would be surprised if anyone posting “this is a non-story” has even held a National Geographic magazine, much less understand the premise of the magazine and ethics of its photography.

  • Cameraman Mike Avatar
    Cameraman Mike

    Ever since the ‘day in the life’ cover was manipulated to fit the cover…I had lost faith that documentary photography would ever be trustful again…

  • SutureSelf Avatar
    SutureSelf

    “…the editor of NatGeo wrote…’When a photograph becomes synthesis,
    fantasy, rather than reportage, then the whole purpose of the photograph
    dies. A photographer is a reporter — a photon thief, if you will.’”

    This is the sort of pronunciamento that seeks to dress a narrow opinion in the attire of universal truth but is complete hogwash. A photographer is whatever the individual photographer fashions himself to be, using whatever photographic tools he chooses.

    The problem in this case seems to be that certain viewers inferred from certain photographs characteristics that were not inherent to them. Then, when it turned out that reality was at odds with those viewers’ perceptions, they decided to attack the photographer for not adhering to their fantasy of what reality should have been.

    1. ext237 Avatar
      ext237

      What you’re describing is a cognitive dissonance — a perception of expectation that differs from the actual. And you’re right.

      You’re also right that global generalizations are hogwash. And that a photographer is whoever he wants to be.

      But the expectation of the viewer isn’t their own, it’s an expectation influenced by the role of this medium. Viewers/readers are promised (based on the Nat Geo culture and charter) to be shown real life stories and images. So they expect to see photojournalism, not fiction or creations.

      If he wanted to be a commercial artist, that certainly was his choice. But he had a job as a photographic reporter with an ethical duty to depict the real. His images, however fantastic and artistically valuable, are staged and manipulated, a serious breach of photo journalism ethics.

      But many of us modern photoshop photographers are now ok with that.

  • Jay Avatar
    Jay

    Taking Pictures of Impoverished 3rd world countries and they are more concerned that the photo has some photoshop in it, over the problems that are apparent in the photos, 1st world problems FTW!

  • se777ens Avatar
    se777ens

    Staged, manipulated or whatever, they are still great works of art!

    1. ext237 Avatar
      ext237

      I photoshop like mad. I even have someone hold a tree branch out of the way if it causes a shadow across a clients face. Then again, I’m not shooting for a magazine after agreeing to provide photojournalism services and unaltered images.

  • TonyC Avatar
    TonyC

    I have to assume that all who criticize him have never staged or reshot a photo to accomplish telling a story. Never used an app or manipulated a photo in the darkroom. Ah, what saints you are. Nearly perfect and you’re not sufficiently recognized. What a waste of true talent when photographers like McCurry are out duping the public.

  • Peter Duke Avatar
    Peter Duke

    Richard Avedon said “All photographs are accurate, none of them the truth” and I have to say he is completely correct. A photograph is a two dimensional rendering of a 4 dimensional world, so there is no way is can be rendered in any way that is “real”.

    This is part of this Columbia School of Journalism fantasyland where photographers are imagined to be these fact machines that provide empirical proof of unambiguous reality which is really just a bunch of self aggrandizing bullshit.

    Look no further than the 2013 World Press Photo where Petapixel poured over the image, but COMPLETELY FAILED to acknowledge that the children might not have even been killed by the Israelis, but by misfiring Hamas rockets targeted at israel. A context that was missed by nearly everyone.

    http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/palestinian-rockets-killed-gaza-civilians-during-war-amnesty-749864

    So my advice is to question every image, but if you get fooled, there is only one person to blame, and you can find them in any mirror.

  • Peter Duke ✘ Avatar
    Peter Duke ✘

    . No @McCurryStudios scandal, only #ClickBait.

    “All photographs are accurate, none the truth” ~ Richard Avedon

  • Stéphane Robert Avatar
    Stéphane Robert

    Did peoples ask DaVinci to modify is paint for the standard? No.,

  • Tomcat Avatar
    Tomcat

    Mr. McCurry is an artist and each one of his photographs prove it. As potographer and storytelling his work is impecable, devoted to his craft and looking for a perfect image in the tiniest details. I’ve follow his work for many years and I can say that none of the people that is criticizing him shows the least dedication and artistic work as him. A shame that DIY Photography publish this kind of articles.