Category "Ethics"

Advertising Controlling Editorial

- - Ethics

A scene that’s all too familiar in the world of magazines went down on the TechCrunch blog a couple days ago (here):

In an email to our sales team, the agency said:

“We found this on your site today, obviously not a good thing for AMEX or for ZYNC branding.

“Are you able to take this down from your site? If so, please do as ASAP.”

“If you are not able to monitor this more closely, we unfortunately will not be able to run with TechCrunch in the future.”

Unfortunately, this kind of thing has been happening for a long time now and this sad state of journalism can be summed up by this transcript from a talk that future-of-journalism guru Clay Shirky gave at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy

I think the first thing to recognize about the commercial structures of the newspaper industry is that it is not enough for newspapers to run at a profit to reverse the current threat and change. If next year they all started throwing off 30 percent free cash flow again, that would not yet reverse the change, because there were other characteristics of the commercial environment as well.

The first of them was that advertisers were forced to overpay for the services they received, because there weren’t many alternatives for reaching people with display ads — or especially things like coupons. And because they overpaid, the newspapers essentially had the kind of speculative investment capital to do long-range, high-risk work. So it isn’t enough to be commercial; you have to be commercial at a level above what some theoretical market would bare.

My friend Bob Spinrad — who recently passed away, but who ran Xerox PARC, the Palo Alto Research Center, for a while — said, “The only institutions that do R&D are either institutions that are monopolies or wrongly believe that they are.” Xerox is an example of an institution that wrongly believed it was a monopoly and was willing to fund the invention of Ethernet and laptops and the graphic user interface and all the rest of it that we take for granted now. IBM, AT&T — the list of commercial entities that believed that they were monopolies, and during the time that they were monopolies could take this philosophy of overinvesting in speculative work is large. But when the commercial inputs to that kind of R&D work, the R&D work ends as well.

The second characteristic of the happy state of the 20th-century newspapering was that the advertisers were not only overcharged, they were underserved. Not only did they have to deliver more money to the newspapers than they would have wanted, they didn’t even get to say: “And don’t report on my industry, please.” There was a time when Ford went to The New York Times during the rollover stories and said, “You know, if you keep going on this, we may just pull all Ford ads in The New York Times.” To which the Times said, “Okay.” And the ability to do that — to say essentially to the advertiser, “Where else are you going to go?” — was a big part of what kept newspapers from suffering from commercial capture. It worked better for bigger papers than smaller papers, but that bulwark of guest commercial capture was a feature of the 20th century commercial market. Neither of those, neither the overpaying or the underserving, is true in the current market any longer, because media is now created by demand rather than supply — which is to say the next web page is printed when someone wants it to be printed, not printed and stored in a warehouse in advance if someone who may want it. Turned out that when you have an advertising market that balances supply and demand efficiently, the price plummets. And so for a long time, people could say analog dollars to digital dimes as if — well, when do we get the digital dimes? The answer may be never. The answer may be that we are seeing advertising priced at its real value for the first time in history, and that value is a tiny fraction of what we had gotten used to.

Full story and transcript is (here).

The Strange Case Of The Modeling Polaroid

- - Ethics, Just Plain Dumb

contra-vampire-weekendLast month Vanity Fair had a web exclusive on a fascinating story over a disputed model release. The ultra-hip band Vampire Weekend, who perform their concerts in Ivy League-style getups, seemed to have stumbled upon the perfect image for their new album Contra. Months before the debut on January 12th this year, a photograph of the ultimate prepster: blond hair, blue eyes, popped collar, made its way around the internet linking to a site called, I Think Ur a Contra. When the album finally dropped the picture was the cover and became an integral part of the bands website and tour.

How they acquired the Polaroid is where this story gets fascinating. According to the band they bought it off New York photographer and filmmaker Tod Brody for $5000. He says that he took the photo in the summer of 1983 during a casting session for a television commercial. But, Vanity Fair has an interview with the model, Ann Kirsten Kennis, who alleges that the photograph was instead taken by her mother and somehow picked up by Brody. According to VF she has a similar looking Polaroid of she and her sister framed in her house. Ann, apparently tired of seeing her picture plastered all over the place filed a $2 million misappropriation-of-image lawsuit in LA against Vampire Weekend, Tod Brody, and the band’s London-based label, XL Recordings.

But, here’s where it gets real interesting. According the Vanity Fair:

“If the Contra case does go to trial, the outcome could hinge on a key document: a model release form that appears to be dated July 30, 2009. (The date is crossed out and re-written.) The form is from Vampire Weekend Inc. to someone named “Kirsten Johnsen” (spelled “Johnson” elsewhere on the form), who signed her permission for the band to use her image for a fee of $1. The form contains no mention of Brody, but it does include an address named in the suit as Brody’s residence. No release form from the 1980s has yet been presented in court.”

To me this is a clear example of a photographer providing a model release where one didn’t exist and having it blow up in his face. $5000 bucks in the pocket from an old casting picture that nobody will notice… To make matters worse, there is an entire website dedicated to uncovering Tod Brody as a fraud: This is not looking good for Tod. My guess is that this thing will be settled out of court and we will never know what really went down. What’s interesting to me this idea that companies are somehow responsible to fact check a release that’s given to them. I’m sure there’s some legal precedent that could be established if this goes to trial or maybe it already exists. Either way it’s a fascinating story to read.

Photographer Rights Activist Tests LA County Sheriff’s On Their Understanding Of The Law

- - Ethics

Discarted a blog written by “photographers & concerned citizens living in Los Angeles. / With the goal to shoot photographs freely in public spaces wherever, whenever, of whoever. / And a desire to get the word out, educate and engage,” has video posted of an encounter with two LA County Sheriff deputies inside the Hollywood and Western Metro Station. MSNBC is reporting (here) that Shawn, the man who took the video says his constitutional rights were violated and he’s posted phone numbers and emails on the Discarted site to rally complaints against the deputies (here).

I love the idea that a group of photographer rights activists will go out and make sure the police understand the law. These Sheriff Deputies not only fail they try to intimidate the photographer by threatening to make his life miserable if they were to place him on a FBI watch list. They also try to review the images he’s taken but can’t because he’s shooting film.

The Sheriff initially tells the photographer what he is doing is against MTA rules (here).

Photography Guidelines

* Only permissible in public areas, proof of fare required in marked fare required areas (station platforms of all rail stations and the Metro Orange Line)
* No commercial photography without prior authorization and consent from Metro
* Hand held equipment only, no tripods are permitted
* No photography inside moving trains for privacy and safety reasons
* No flash photography, especially into oncoming transit vehicles (rail or bus)
* Photography must not interfere with passenger safety or movement at any time

thx for the tip,

Online Symposium: Seeking Justice – Social Activism through Journalism & Documentary Practice

- - Ethics, Events

The Centre for Documentary Practice invites you to logon and join the world’s first online journalism and documentary conference on October 15th 2009, starting 12:01am (GMT) (That’s 8PM EST).

Speakers include Paul Fusco, Ed Kashi, Jodi Bieber, Marcus Bleasdale, Shahidul Alam, Gary Knight, Robin Hammond, Adam Ferguson, Travis Beard, Michael Coyne, Masaru Goto, Jack Picone, Megan Lewis, and more to be confirmed.

On October 15th we will connect an international community of documentary practitioners and journalists for one day, to share stories, to stimulate discussion and debate about our discipline, and to inspire each other to continue the fight for justice.

[read more here] thx luca.

Is Photo Manipulation Bad For Photography?

- - Ethics, The Future

Grayson and Mike at Outside Magazine asked me to write an essay for their photography issue and we settled on the topic of photo manipulation. It’s certainly a hot button issue these days not only because of how easy it’s gotten to make realistic fakes but also because it’s gotten easier to publicly debate it and uncover forgeries that are passed off as real. I personally think we’ve reached the point where media organizations need to air out and in most cases simply create guidelines for what they believe is acceptable. Additionally they need to start informing their readers on the where’s, why’s and how’s of these policies. As many astute observers of media have pointed out, transparency in journalism will be a critical part of how media works in the future and the credibility of brands will hang on our belief that their intention is delivering some version of the truth.

You can read the full essay I wrote (here) and a response from Ed Freeman (here) but I wanted to discuss the conclusion I arrived at after interviewing dozens of people for the story. Photos that are faked are intrinsically tied to photos that are real. They draw much of their power from the public’s belief that photos never lie. Of course all of us know “the camera always lies” and the second you pick a lens or a place to stand you’re influencing the reality of the picture in some way. But, we can’t escape that the public still wants to believe in a photograph’s ability to tell the truth. So, people who take images that appear to be truthful but are really altered beyond reality are at some level destroying this bond.

What amounts to a forgery in photography is incredibly subjective and grey. And, like I said above I think it’s up to the media organizations to define and their audience to accept or reject. And really anything is possible now, so the “old darkroom techniques” aren’t really good anymore for guidelines. I believe very strongly that the intentions of whatever is done to the image, whether it is to represent what actually happened in front of the camera or to make what happened seem better than it actually was, help define what’s acceptable. One way organizations are starting to do that is to require photographers to submit RAW files to compare the finished images with (or what about just shooting film).

It seems helpful when thinking about this to look at writing because the same techniques that writers use to take research, raw dialogue and observation and then turn that into a story is no different than what photographers need to do when approaching a subject. So, why don’t we have fiction and non-fiction photography (I think photo-illustrations are different)? And why do we mix non-fiction stories with fiction photography. This seems like part of the solution and something other people have been indicating is a problem with the NY Times Magazine, because they appear to want it both ways. But, let’s be honest with ourselves writers stretch the boundary of non-fiction to it’s breaking point all the time. So, again it’s up to the publication to become more transparent about their guidelines and to not start blaming contributors when the readers show up with torches.

I think the place where I found this practice of photo fakery most troubling was in wildlife photography. Photographers in that genre will simply tack a “fine art” sign to their back and claim exemption from any need to replicate reality. The problem with this is that they more than anyone are benefiting from the public’s misguided belief that all pictures are real. My first interview for the piece was with Art Wolfe who way back in 1994 ignited a firestorm when he published a wildlife book entitled Migrations where a third of the images were fakes. Art was careful to point out that he didn’t misrepresent natural history and he called the pictures photo-illustrations. This was similar to a response I kept hearing from Steve Bloom when I tried to pin him down about a charge many people made to me that his wildlife images are mostly composites and extreme digital enhancements. Steve gave me incredibly evasive email answers in the vein of what Edgar Martins had to say about his dust up with the NY Times Magazine. Why can’t we just be honest and say “I did it because I wanted to make my photos look better than anyone elses”

And look, I’m not claiming I’m any sort of knight-riding-a-white-stallion either I’m just saying it’s time to start policing ourselves (starting with magazines) or else we’ll end up like the fashion industry and congress will soon be considering anti-photoshopping laws (I used to wish each month there was such a law when the owner’s of both magazines I worked at insisted we heinously paint the sky blue on the cover).

When people see an amazing photograph for the first time they usually ask, “is it real?” The answer should be yes.

The Ethics of Reviewing

- - Ethics

Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer has a nice piece about the ethics of reviewing products (here).

I’ve been wondering—are the ethical requirements really the same for a personal blog as they are for a magazine? I’ve accepted a camera on extended loan lately for the the first time in my career, too. That is something that is common enough industry-wide, but that I’ve never done before myself. A new thing.

And then there are junkets. Junkets are a common perk in business. Once, when I was an editor, I was offered a particularly dazzling one. To publicize a name-change, a manufacturer offered a flight to Paris for a big dinner at a fancy restaurant—I forget which one, now, but my memory is that the name was world-famous—and then on to a Mediterranean country for a corporate presentation followed by three days at an idyllic resort. Boy, was I ever tempted. I really, really wanted to go. Turned it down.

I count the ethical lapse in product reviews as one of the many small cuts that contribute to the overall demise of magazines as authoritative, trusted, must-read sources of information. The rise of product reviews as a great source of advertising income for magazines ultimately led to the advertisers controlling the outcome of the reviews (along with all kinds of content you wouldn’t suspect they would have influence over). It’s a double edged sword because you either keep the advertising and lose reader trust or you lose the advertising and keep your readers happy. Everyone has tried to have it both ways for too long.

It would be sad to see the only place where unvarnished reviews exist is at the online point of sale because you really have to wade through a lot of comments from people with different agendas and of course the PR and marketing are working the back channels here as well. Ideally I think that just as Mike Johnston has done here trusted reviewers will emerge as they post and continually update a code of ethics of some sort and give disclosures within the reviews they write.

NYTimes Reminds Freelance Photographers “No Unauthorized Alteration Of Photos”

- - Ethics

I’m not familiar with how assignments are made at the NY Times Magazine, but it looks like this policy is a part of the contract photographers sign when they start working with “The Times.” This memo just went out (presumably in response to the Edgar Martins fiasco) to remind everyone to only submit unaltered images. Except of course portraits, fashion and still life, natch.

Here’s the memo:


This is a reminder of The Times’s policies on digital manipulation or other alteration of photos.

As you know, under the contract you signed for The Times, you warrant that any photo submitted for publication “will be original and unaltered (unless it is a photo illustration, pre-approved by your editor and fully disclosed in caption information materials).”

The Times takes this obligation very seriously; the integrity of photographs and other material we publish goes to the heart of our credibility as a news organization. The prohibition on unauthorized alteration of photos applies to all sections of the paper, the Magazine and the Web site.

This passage from the newsroom’s “Guidelines on Our Integrity” explains our rules in more detail:

Photography and Images. Images in our pages, in the paper or on the Web, that purport to depict reality must be genuine in every way. No people or objects may be added, rearranged, reversed, distorted or removed from a scene (except for the recognized practice of cropping to omit extraneous outer portions). Adjustments of color or gray scale should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction, analogous to the “burning” and “dodging” that formerly took place in darkroom processing of images. Pictures of news situations must not be posed.

In some sections, and in magazines, where a photograph is used to serve the same purposes as a commissioned drawing or painting – as an illustration of an idea or situation or as a demonstration of how a device works, etc. – it must always be clearly labeled as a photo illustration. This does not apply to portraits or still-lifes (photos of food, shoes, etc.), but it does apply to other kinds of shots in which we have artificially arranged people or things, as well as to collages, montages, and photographs that have been digitally altered.

If you have any questions about what is permissible under the rules, please consult the assigning editor.


Deputy Managing Editor
The New York Times Newspaper
Division of The New York Times Company

Flashes Of Hope

- - Ethics

Photographer Kevin Brusie sent me a link to this amazing organization (he started the Maine chapter last year):

Flashes of Hope is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating powerful, uplifting portraits of children fighting cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.”

It’s all staffed by volunteer professional photographers and a donation (here) goes towards processing and framing of the portraits for the family. What a wonderful gift.


NYTimes Magazine Pulls Photo Essay After Questions Of Digital Alteration Are Raised

- - Ethics

The New York Times commissioned Portuguese photographer Edgar Martins to travel around the United States and take photographs of abandoned construction projects left in the wake of the housing and securities market collapse. They pulled the online piece (here) after questions were raised over on Metafilter (here). Initially everyone was happily debating the economy and then suddenly someone commented “I call bullshit on this not being photoshopped” and everyone suddenly started debating the veracity of the images.

The NY Times policy on digital alteration was recently discussed by Michele McNally in their Talk To The Newsroom column (here). Their ethical guidelines state that “Images in our pages, in the paper or on the Web, that purport to depict reality must be genuine in every way” anything that’s altered must be labeled a photo-illustration except of course “this does not apply to portraits or still-lifes.”

So, the Metafilter crowd started taking the Edgar Martins pictures and mirroring one side of them to show that he had simply done that and then added anomalies in so it’s not a perfect match (here and here). In an interview on Art Most Fierce (here) Edgar states “When I photograph I don’t do any post production to the images, either in the darkroom or digitally, because it erodes the process. So I respect the essence of these spaces.”



I’m going to speculate that he wasn’t liking the pictures he made on assignment and that the mirror images are not that far off from the real thing so he decided to create something a little more pleasing to his eye. Only Edgar knows the truth, but people who build houses can tell you this kind of symmetry is highly improbable.

Thanks for the tip Mason.

Mark Seliger Rip Off

- - Ethics

It appears that Mexico has its very own Mark Seliger… well, they have a photographer who bought Mark’s Physiognomy book and tried to knock-off many of the setups for Mexican television company Televisa’s book featuring their on-air talent. The photos were taken by Gabriel Saavedra.

This blogger (here) broke the story several months ago.

Obviously simply copying an idea and setup doesn’t come close to making a picture work but it’s interesting to see how difficult it is in the comparison. The rigid attention to detail in Mark’s work really comes out here.





Discovered it on You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice.

Ethics And Photography Discussion

- - Ethics

Interesting conversation over on the NPR radio show On The Media (here) where host Bob Garfield talks with Martin Schoeller, Jill Greenberg, Platon and former DOP of Time Magazine Maryanne Golon about the ethics of portrait photography. It’s interesting because he’s looking for answers about the journalistic responsibility photographers have to subjects and viewers but he’s not asking photojournalists he’s asking celebrity portrait photographers who by and large as you will hear or read don’t really take that into consideration when making pictures. It’s a good discussion to have because publications like Time have long since crossed over into hiring photographers that will give them more punch on the newsstand and less of a balanced look at the subject.

“one category of mass media photography operates with hardly any rules at all”

You can listen here:

Or download (here).

There’s much more in there but I really enjoyed this exchange:

MARTIN SCHOELLER: I think there has been a long tradition in portrait photography where photographers try to capture a person’s personality, rather than feeling obliged in trying to make them look good. The best example, I think, is Richard Avedon. I mean, you feel like he would take your picture and you would come across as mentally challenged. I don’t think Avedon ever tried to please anyone but himself with his portraits.

BOB GARFIELD: Nor Schoeller himself. His ultratight portraits, which have appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, are typically grim mug shots, sort of Chuck Close meets your driver’s license photo. His Jack Nicholson could be a serial rapist, and his Barack Obama resembles Abraham Lincoln, homely wart and all.

The shots are arty and arresting but not exactly flattering, although Schoeller takes issue with that characterization.

MARTIN SCHOELLER: I don’t think my pictures are unflattering, to be honest. The light is very flattering. It’s not a wide-angle lens; they’re not distorted. I just think that people are nowadays not used to seeing people as people anymore, and your perception of the environment is so twisted by all these pictures that you see in magazines and advertisements that if you see a person just for who they are, you are really shocked.

BOB GARFIELD: Are we indeed so conditioned to the unreal world of ads and celebrity photography that we, the audience, can’t handle the truth? Certainly, magazine photography, at least where movie stars aren’t involved, is not hagiography. It is not commissioned to flatter the subject. But whether you’re JFK sitting for Karsh of Ottawa or the family next door posing in sweaters at Olan Mills, no one wants to look mentally challenged or criminal, or demonic, or even unattractive.

So do portraitists and editors have any responsibility to their subjects’ basic vanity? Reporters certainly don’t. If the reporting doesn’t distort facts or context, nobody has a beef. Why should photography be held to a different standard?

PLATON: All I can do is to try and find a human quality and break through all of these plastic walls that are put up in front of me and my sitter, and all the time restrictions and all the pressure that they try to bombard me with to stop me finding perhaps my sense of what the truth is.


One thing that Bob seems to be missing in this whole discussion is that it’s the magazine that determines the ethics of the photography they use. It’s the magazine’s job to fact check not only the stories but also the photography. There are almost always many images to choose from a shoot and the final selection of images to run will ultimately determine the tone of how the subject is portrayed. The editors are making those final decisions. It’s up to the readers to align themselves with magazines that deliver whatever level of ethics in storytelling they are comfortable with.