4/2/03 Chapel Hill, NC
A photojournalist named Brian Walski took the above picture of a British soldier in Basra, Iraq, and it ran in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Today, he was fired, and I’ve added several arrows to the image to show why. This is the great thing about the internet there are always 14 people out there obsessed with accuracy, and apparently they all alerted the LATimes to an obviously-Photoshopped picture. The above image is actually a combination of two different photos (you can see them both here) and in his war-torn haste, Walski either figured nobody would notice, or else that all brown people look the same.
The red arrow shows the same bent knee twice, the violet arrow shows the same Iraqi civilian twice, and the blue arrow is the most obvious duplication of a dude in the background. He did it for reasons of “composition,” trying to make the picture better by faking an interaction between the soldier and the man carrying his baby. Indeed, the fake is a more powerful picture, but not that much more powerful, and certainly not worth losing your job over.
Not only that, but people win Pulitzers for photographs. If this pic had done so, Walski would have had to provide a negative or at least an original digital file – and none exists (although perhaps he could have cobbled something together). The problem with shortcuts in art is that you’re always found out. Some artists are thrown into murky ethical waters (like the Realist painters who were discovered to have traced photographs) and some are hailed as masters (like Ansel Adams, who burned & dodged & fucked with his photos endlessly).
Walski would have gotten away with it if he hadn’t been careless, but I imagine being in the middle of the Iraqi desert with a laptop has got to be somewhat ungrounding. The problem is, I think I do a fair amount of altering on this blog too: I change some names, some venues, and occasionally I have screwed around with some photographs. The name and place changes are done to protect various privacies, especially back in January when we were full-throttle raising money for the film. There are also libel issues to consider, I guess, but the legal ethics of blogging are a nascent issue at best.
And I do “Photoshop out” flaws on people’s faces I don’t think a particular zit needs to be enshrined forever, and I’ve taken the shine off a few subjects. But there is one altered photo I’d like to cop to right now. It was taken back in January, when Chopin the dog and I were playing on the beach near Santa Cruz. I posted this picture:
…when the original image was this:
Thats my brother Steve in the bottom image, also taking a picture of us, and I just didn’t feel as though he fit the whole “a boy and his dog” vibe I was going for. So I’m offering a mea culpa to all those involved, and if the Pulitzer people are out there, I pray they can overlook my hubris and my control freak issues and keep me in the pool for this year’s Prize. What’s a few “ones and zeros” between friends when we’re talking about Great Art? Go team!!!
P.S. If I ever alter a photo like that again, I’ll tell you.
P.P.S. Oh yeah, that time stamp right below this is usually wrong. It’s almost always 3am when I do these.