A Stanford University CS201 Project

by Frederick Vallaeys

April 15, 1998

Interesting Excerpts from "Little photoshop of horrors: the ethics of manipulating journalistic imagery"


Mitchell: Let me cut the issue in a slightly different way. It's an important challenge, the uncritical use of the word "manipulated." It's hard to imagine any kind of image that's not manipulated, from the simple fact that the dynamic range of intensity out in the world is greater than the dynamic range of any kind of print process. There's an arbitrary step in mapping that much larger range into a much smaller range

The digital world has opened up the possibility of many different kinds of conventions. One of the subtle issues here that bears on the distinction between fact and fiction is that one can look at images and not be clear about the conventions under which they were produced. That's become particularly insidious in the case of digitally generated images that might be completely synthetic. They might be collages of some kind. But there are images that are not photographic in any sense that can be completely truthful. Take a magnetic resonance scan of the human body. You get a bunch of digital data that's translated into some kind of display according to an algorithm. It's certainly used as evidence. Medical practitioners make life or death decisions based on that evidence. It operates under a completely different set of conventions. And you have to know what those conventions are in order to approach the issue of truth or falsity.

Froelich: I'll give an example. When Newsday last year ran the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan picture because they skated together [in the 1994 Winter Olympics!, they meshed the two of them on the ice and they did it in a practically full-bleed front-page photo . It's a famous example of manipulated images that are used to manipulate readers into buying your paper Even though Newsday put a tiny little agate caption down there that said, "As they may look in two days," [readers had to look at the picture before they took note of the caption!. Is it smart? Is it interesting? Is it newsworthy? Is this what newspapers should be doing? Whether there's an icon there or not, it's still manipulation. I don't think that a label would transform the fact of it. The fact of it is what we're talking about. The more interesting question here is about when it's appropriate and used intelligently and when it's used for wrong-headed results.

Rubinstein: A similar example was in Vanity Fair when they had Courtney Love pregnant and smoking, and they had to take out the cigarette because they thought it was really bad to show a woman pregnant and smoking. They were doing it for a good cause, but there were criticisms about that.

Ritchin: A Swedish airplane crashed and eight Finnish newspapers ran it as a news photograph. Yet there was no photographer present, no camera present. They just asked three eyewitnesses what it was like and kind of composited the image from available footage and ran it. It was the first news photograph I'm aware of in the history of news photography where there was no camera and no photographer. I said at the time of our panel, I'm sure next year the Gennifer Flowers and Clinton tryst will appear as a photograph.

Little photoshop of horrors: the ethics
of manipulating journalistic imagery.
(v49 n6) Start Page: p24(25) ISSN: 0032-8510