Like many, I was asked to comment on the Steve McCurry … what do we call it … fiasco, embarrassment, betrayal? Here’s my what I said to the President of the Union of Arab Photographers, with some additions and tidying up:
“Of course I have been following some of the discussion around Steve McCurry. It is good that the discussion is taking place as it shows that there is a genuine and strong concern over the morality and ethics of image manipulation. In McCurry’s case, there seem to be so many, we begin to doubt them all.
I think McCurry is going down a slippery slope when he says he’s no longer a photojournalist but a visual story teller. We have instances of other photographers, particularly Luc Delahaye, who have been very clear about when and where he crossed the line from photojournalism to fine art or a more personal photography. So the problem with McCurry is that he has not been transparent, not honest, and somewhat lacking in clarity.
The point is that I haven’t seen anyone looking at his advertising or fashion work and criticising image manipulation there. They are looking at all his travel work and that travels on the same set of rails as documentary photojournalism. And we are finding sometimes very extensive changes – e.g. the rickshaw in the rain – in exactly the kind of photography we can reasonably expect minimal image manipulation.
This is what we knew:
Until this was dug up:
I cannot understand anyone wishing to take out the grinning man (there’s another, behind him, who has also been eliminated). It’s easy to see that the manipulated version is too highly saturated in colour for a rainy day, and too magenta but we could probably have passed that a matter of taste. But at least thirteen (some have counted 20) substantial points of cloning? That does seem rather over enthusiastic.
What would I have done? I’d certainly have burnt in the bright patch behind the rearmost man in the rickshaw, as well as darkened (a little) the light patch that stretches from behind the rickshaw ma to beyond his chin. I’d also darken the bright table cloth at the far right. That would do fine and would not have raised any comment at all.
I think an analogy is helpful. Many journalists also write short stories or novels. We would expect these writers to sign-post very clearly when they are reporting from a real event, or telling a story they made up – and by and large, they do.
Now, McCurry has made it difficult for us to believe what McCurry says. That is sad. He is still a great photographer, but he is no longer as trusted. We thought his brilliance was in his camera work, his skill in catching the perfect composition. Now we’re not so sure.
That’s sad for McCurry. Sad for photojournalism.