Friday, May 08, 2009

Real Fakes

With all the talk of newspapers evolving or vanishing, I think we've missed a key point: reputable newspapers generally put out photographs they can stand behind. There have been plenty of scandals over the years, of course, but that's the point -- if a fake photo runs in a major newspaper, it's a big deal and gets a retraction or correction.

That just won't be the case in pay-per-click driven aggregators.

So what does the future of fakery look like? To consider that, don't think of the photos that will be revealed as fakes amid scandal. Instead, look at the way known fakes are becoming par for the course, greeted only by a shrug.

"Rocker BOB GELDOF's daughters PEACHES and PIXIE are reportedly furious over a new art exhibition which depicts them in a seedy bondage sex pose. In a doctored photograph, the pair are shown tied together by ropes, wearing kinky leather underwear, with their breasts on show."
Drudge smears "joker" Franken with doctored photo
"On May 4, the Drudge Report posted a photo of Minnesota Democrat Al Franken wearing a diaper and bunny ears. As the blog ThinkProgress noted in October 2006, the photo is doctored. Indeed, a spokesman for Franken told the Cincinnati Enquirer at that time that the "picture is a fake.""
Colombo says shelling images 'fake'
"Sri Lanka's military has accused the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of fabricating images that purported to show the aftermath of a deadly army attack on a hospital in the conflict zone. The photographs, first published on a website, depicted what Tamil separatist sources said was an artillery hit on a makeshift hospital in Mullivaikal on Saturday."


Chris said...

I think this will come down to the standards and ethics of that particular paper. In NY alone, I think there will be some "online" papers who vow to hold the highest standards in digital print. Meanwhile, others will continue to exist more as online tabloids who will run anything for shock, and click value.

Also, while I understand this was not the point of your post, the third example you listed struck a chord with me as I just covered a story about the Tamil people. I do not agree with the Sri Lankan military's accusation of the Tamils doctoring photos. I've seen those pictures and they are unfortunately quite real, and gruesome.

Our industry faces a new challenge as a result of Photoshop and digital manipulation. Like baseball players who hit 50 or more home runs, everything has to be questioned. When people see a great, powerful picture they often ask whether or not it was "Photoshopped". I can't blame them for wondering.

Thanks for this thought provoking post. I believe there is still so much left to be sorted out about this topic.

Ted Fisher said...

Great points, Chris.

One note on the Tamil story: I found it interesting that the accusation wasn't one of Photoshopping. (That's sort of the default claim, now.)

Instead, the claim was one of staging the scene -- which of course has always been possible in photography.

I'm not sure I'm remembering it correctly just now, but I think there are some very interesting references in Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" to the practice of changing official government photos when certain people fell out of favor. I think that's the most interesting type of fake: where anyone might remember what really happened, but everyone is forced to "agree" with what the photo "proves."

Thanks for the thoughtful comments....