Not Trusting Our Viewers

There has been a lot written about the images of Steve McCurry being altered – whether is was his staff, his staff under his direction or the man himself doesn’t really matter. The images were altered and a photographer who has been held highly for decades for his journalism work is not rebranding himself as a “visual storyteller.”

Which is fine, I actually have no problem with him going forward with that. I do have some issues with him repurposing older work, from an era when he branded himself as a photojournalist. It is his work, he can do with it as he sees fit, but I think it should be disclosed that these images have been altered.

That’s just my opinion.

Over at Reading the Pictures, Lewis Bush has his take on the situation.* In it, there’s this one line that really resonated with me that I think anyone working under the auspices of journalism should take to heart:

I’m mad because (as we now know) he’s forcing me to remain in the foreground, to track horizontally, and far worse, he’s communicating that I can’t be trusted with the details.

That last phrase … that hits hard. When we alter images (or quotes or data), we are essentially saying we don’t tryst our audience to come to the conclusion we want. And that is a phenomenally arrogant thought.

As journalists (I’m not going to deal with the newly self-applied “visual storyteller” monicker any further), it is imperative that we act as a conduit for information – perhaps a bit of a translator, but never as an interpreter. It is imperative that we present information as it is, not altered, not re-colored and not manipulated.

* I’m making an assumption this piece is by Lewis Bush. He is on their masthead and is listed as one of the tags below the piece but there is no formal byline on the site.