I’ve come back to the Halstead article referred to in the last post because I was interested in Halstead’s view on the whole issue of ethics. The starting point was the decision taken by North Caroline Press Photographers’ Association to revoke the awards given for Patrick Schneider’s photographs because he had ‘influenced the reality’ of the images. He than goes on to challenge what news photographers have defined as ‘reality’ for the previous century. He talks about what is seen by the human eye and how this is distorted by using different lenses and suggests that photographers make choices about composition when they choose their lens and this is not always what they see through their own eyes. He talks about the addition of flash, that unless you are a dog, you probably don’t see in black and white and how different effects are achieved with the use of different films, all of which means that what we see in print is not what we would have seen through our own eyes but nobody questioned the ethics or reality of any of this.
‘With the arrival of Photoshop, many photographers and editors suddenly started to lose their ethical compass’ says Halstead, siting the occasion when National Geographic moved a pyramid because they thought it gave a better composition, when a moonrise was added above a cowboys head because it looked better on the cover of ‘A day in the Life of America’ magazine, (very topical for assignment 4), or when OJ Simpson was given a darker skin tone by Time Magazine. The issue about the Schneider photographs was just the tip of the ethical iceberg says Halstead, most of us don’t know what goes on inside the equipment we use and he talks about a the dodging and burning that goes on inside a Canon scanner and the processing that happens inside modern digital camera. Dirck Halstead describes this whole issue as the tip of the ethical iceberg. Halstead.d. 2003. If you Think Dodging and Burning is a Problem Now, Just Wait. www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0310/dhcommentary.html
I did dabble in black and white film photograph at one point. Dodging and burning was just something that you learnt as part of the processing and you never gave a thought to the ethics of it. I have managed to track down the offending Patrick Schneider images, two appear to have very little editing but the third, as mentioned earlier has had the background completely removed and I can see why this was disallowed at time that it was taken.
My aim with my photography is to reproduce what I see and some processing does help me achieve that. I can’t see a point when I would really want to add anything to or subtract anything from my photographs although having thought about Halstead’s comments above, what about when I use a really wide aperture so that the background is thrown out of focus? Is this really very different from what Scheider did in his image that was dissallowed? Food for thought!