Yesterday, my daughter and I discussed a recent New York Times article regarding criticism of an Obama cover photo.
The photo was used by the weekly news magazine The Economist for its June 19 issue. It shows Obama standing, head bowed, hands on hips, with an oil rig in the background. And he’s alone. It’s a dramatic shot evoking a strong message.
Turns out, in the original photo, Obama isn’t alone. Reuters photographer Larry Downing shot the image with two people standing alongside Obama, participating in an apparent conversation.
The Economist’s decision to digitally remove these two has caused a bit of ruckus. Some, including Reuters, feel altering the image has also altered the message.
My daughter’s and my discussion was interesting.
As a visual communications professional, I surmised the magazine wanted to convey a sense of isolation, that Obama is alone in his responsibility of the Gulf oil mess. The Economist’s editor claims not, but given the headline “Obama v. BP” and the story’s content, it’s hard to imagine otherwise. Whatever their motive, editing the extras from the photo creates a very striking composition.
My daughter viewed the issue from a journalistic side. As an attorney interested in government and current affairs, she felt altering the image was a misrepresentation of the event as it occurred. It did not convey the truth.
With today’s sophisticated editing software, this conflict of ethics becomes commonplace. We define graphic design as the use of words and images to visually communicate a message. Photojournalism, on the other hand, is the use of photography to tell a news story. The question we must then consider is how blurred can the line between the two become?
When does editing a photo become unethical?
Is editing software a threat to photojournalism?
Is a magazine cover a journalistic piece or an artistic piece?
How do photojournalism, advertising and art differ, and how should editing ethics apply to each?
What’s your opinion?