Truth and Integrity – Is Seeing Believing?

It was a sad day when I read about award winning photographer Souvid Datta infringing on another photographer’s work by using elements of their photographs and claiming that the photos were his. In the age of “fake news” Datta erodes the integrity of the profession of photojournalism and the reputation of dedicated photojournalists who risk their lives taking photographs that create awareness of the travesties in the world.

I was further bothered by Datta’s explanation in an interview he did for Time magazine. Using his lack of knowledge because of his youth and inexperience is no excuse for his actions. There are too many articles online about ethics and copyright to excuse his ignorance, especially for someone who admittedly learned Photoshop techniques on You Tube.

While I’m glad that he eventually told the truth, there’s nothing commendable about doing so after getting caught in a lie. There is no turning back of the clock or enough apologies that will undo the damage this has done to the profession of photojournalism.

It is easy to manipulate images and seeing is believing is no longer true.Arthur County, Nebraska In an age where many if not most images have been greatly altered or composited, we’ve become somewhat jaded by a real image that is straight out of the camera. Manipulation has become the norm but it should never be accepted in journalism.

I’m not a photojournalist and have on occasion altered my images, but I’m most proud of the images that I shot that have not been manipulated.

Marathon swimming, East River, New York City

Nowadays, folks who look at the images contained in this blog will assume that they are composites – but they’re not. It took a lot of skill to produce them along with a bit of luck.

The Power We Have as Visual Creators

The last two weeks have been enlightening and humbling for me, and I’ll try to share some of the thoughts that have been racing through my mind.

I was honored to be asked to speak about video, at ASMP’s Ohio Valley Chapter’s Photo Tech conference last week.  It’s a great event and an enthusiastic and engaged group of people.  I also had the pleasure of seeing Walt Jones presentation:  “CGI – Friend or Foe”.  Walt is a talented photographer and CGI artist.  He is in my opinion a new breed of visual communicators.  He started out by showing examples of “images” and asking the audience if they were photos or CGI.  I was 100% wrong with every one of my guesses.  The point is – I couldn’t tell the difference.  I was in awe of the power of these relatively new tools that we as “image creators” have at our fingertips.

It really got me thinking that “seeing is NOT believing” anymore and the ramifications of that.  I started thinking of the ethical consequences and how in the wrong hands this power can be misused. But as I tossed those thoughts around in my head, I realized that this is really nothing new as far as the power we, as visual creators have, to manipulate an image or skew the story or the message.  Even before Photoshop and similar applications hit the scene, we as image creators could sway opinion or belief, just by what we chose to show, or not show.  If you look back in history, photographs, film and TV, have swayed public opinion long before the tools of Photoshop and CGI.

Yesterday, I got an email from a photographer, Aaron Huey, with a link to his Ted talk.  He told the story of the Lakota Sioux Indians through his words and his images.  He presented a timeline of this tribe’s history through his words, as he showed his images of modern day Lakota on their reservation or as he refers to it – their prisoner of war camp.  It was one of the most powerful Ted talks, I have ever seen.  It also reinforced the notion of the “power” that we all have as visual creators.

I’ve been thinking about that power a lot, and the responsibility that comes with it and that I believe that we all have the obligation, to use it wisely.  A few years ago, I created a documentary entitled Freedom’s Ride, a story about two diverse groups of high school students who rode the bus together to Alabama, tracing back the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. The words of one teacher that I interviewed have stayed with me.  He said, “we can pass all the laws we want – but we can’t legislate morality”.   I’ve been thinking about that statement a lot this week.  It’s never been more important than it is now, because of the tools of technology, that we make sure our moral compasses are in check and headed in the right direction.

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