week, the North Carolina Press Photographers Association in the
United States, rescinded three Pictures of the Year awards given
to Charlotte Observer photographer Patrick Schneider.
We find the behavior of many of the photojournalists whose names
appear below who have passed very ill advised judgment on Mr Schneider,
as well as many of the picture editors in their corresponding newspapers
who share their views, to have reached such an incredible low point
in this ongoing debate about the veracity of images in photojournalism.
We might be reaching the dark ages again. But more about that later.
The NCPPA board voted 4-0, with one abstention, to strip Schneider's
awards after determining that he had removed background information
from certain images through excessive adjustments in Photoshop.
Board members include NCPPA president and News & Observer
(Raleigh, N.C.) photographer Chuck Liddy, Ted Richardson and Jennifer
Rotenizer, photographers at the Winston-Salem Journal,
and Chris English, a photographer at UNC Greensborough. David Foster,
a photographer at The Observer, abstained.
told The Observer that Schneider had violated the Code
of Ethics outlined by the National Press Photographers Association
(NPPA), which states in part: "In documentary photojournalism,
it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way (electronically,
or in the darkroom) that deceives the public."
first arose about Schneider's work after two photographers came
to him with complaints. Liddy says the photographers, whom he won't
name, threatened to go to the NPPA if action wasn't taken at a state
Mr. Liddy, rather than taking the bull by the horns, and denounce
the perpetrators of such accusations that can only send photography
several decades back, allied himself with the thinking of these
narrow minds, setting himself and the entire crew at the NCPPA for
a fall. But we shall see further on why we believe that they are
so utterly wrong in their judgments.
NCPPA then took their concerns to The Observer, which performed
an audit of the photographer's work. After looking at thousands
of images, Observer editors say they found only a handful that were
objectionable. Editor Jennie Buckner concluded that Schneider did
not intend to deceive readers or contest judges, but that "he
went over the line in the use of some techniques, which altered
the backgrounds in ways that left us uncomfortable."
nearly a month of negotiations, The Observer released Schneider's
raw files to Liddy and the NCPPA. Schneider, who has won several
NCPPA awards over the last few years, declined to comment on specific
images, but Liddy says background details such as parking lots,
fences and people were taken out of the pictures by using the digital
equivalent of "hand of God" burns. Speaking about
one sunrise photo (pictured), Liddy says Schneider's digital color
enhancement resulted in what was "basically a made-up picture".
So let us review some of the accusations leveled at Mr. Schneider
about the integrity of his images. Also in the context of the Brian
Walski photographs in the Los Angeles Times, that led to
his dismissal for compositing two images from Iraq (see the debate
generated in ZoneZero's forums on this matter).
First of all, we have to place all of this into a larger context,
otherwise we end up looking solely at the "burning or dodging
tool" as if that would somehow represent the overarching depth
of the argument. If we are to delve into the issue of integrity
I am sure that many of those newspapers that are so decidedly against
their photographers using the tools of their trade as they see fit,
have a lot to answer about many other issues that we might as well
bring up at this time so that we can take a better look at the entire
panorama of what is going on here.
For instance, what went on across the communications industry with
their arrangements with the US Military and their "embedded
photojournalists" with the recent war on Irak, and how that
turned out as far as all the distortions of information and manipulation
of truths. These dispositions in essence compromised all of the
photojournalists involved, as they inevitably became a propaganda
machine not an agency for information. So one would have to ask
oneself what were they all thinking of, when discussing this so
called "code of ethics" about some one using a lighter
shades of colors in their images through image manipulation, and
attributing to that a distortion of content, while at the same time
they covered up for the use of embedded photojournalism. I suppose
one can look at this with some degree of humor, if it were not as
Sure it is far easier to use Mr. Schneider or Walski, as scapegoats
for having used their skills to make a better image without distorting
the essential information in their corresponding images, rather
than to address the fundamental flaws in the information they are
providing to the world at large. The newspaper and magazine organizations
are diverting the attention to the photographers modus operandi,
as if that was the cause for any loss of credibility, and hoping
to regain it, by chastising creativity and the use of the tools
of the 21st century, rather than taking a good look at the real
causes behind any loss of trust by the public. They have conveniently
forgot that THEY HAVE BEEN LYING using so called STRAIGHT IMAGES,
What were these very same publications telling the world about the
war on Iraq, before the bombing started? Were they casting the same
critical judgment on their written assertions about the "weapons
of mass destruction" statements, as they do now on dodging
and burning technique applied to a photograph?
When the photographer became an embedded photographer, any sense
of "objectivity" had to have become totally lost, so who
was then the guardian for integrity at those news organizations
at the time? Who got fired for accepting such arrangements? Does
anyone have any doubt that the photographs had only a little to
do with the overall "truth" of what was going to happen
in Iraq? Apparently six moths after the invasion of Iraq, the US
public has now had to discover that their "heroic welcoming"
imagery were mostly photo-ops set up by the military establishment.
Have all those photographers who took those historically altered
images, been fired? I think not. Mind you, the propaganda machine
worked, for a time, mostly for internal US consumption, not outside
of the US. The rest of the world was getting regularly better information,
and still is.
I would have assumed that all photographers would stand up for their
rights to use their tools as they saw fit, leaving the issue of
integrity and veracity of the image to their individual responsibility.
Any photographer who needs to be explained what misleading information
is or looks like, should not be given a camera in the first place.
You don't need a computer to create a misleading image as we all
know, so one would need to have a clarity about such issues and
how to deal with them the moment the images are taken. The statue
of Sadam Hussein being torn down in Baghdad (see the debate
generated in ZoneZero on this matter) is one very good example of
straight pictures which were totally manipulated without the need
for any computer.
However, let us look at what the pictures that were denounced to
and by the NCPPA as being in violating the "code of ethics"
which allegedly deceived the public.
None of the three images which they dismissed from the awards, in
our opinion, had the slightest possibility of being misinterpreted
as to their content, by anyone. Between what the photographer had
originally captured and what he delivered, the interpretations were
absolutely identical as to the content, what changed was an esthetical
value, and we agree with the photographer, for the benefit of the
images. The changes introduced by Mr. Patrick Schneider did not
alter the fundamental information in the photographs.
Second: The variations denounced as
transformation of Mr. Schneider's images are so frivolous that one
could account for such shifts alone by the changes in printing quality
from one publication to another. So were do they go from here?
Third: The panel, had a serious lapse
of judgment, misunderstanding aesthetically pleasing traits within
an image for content misinformation. I suppose that they will in
the end advocate for all written journalist to get rid of spelling
checkers as that might also lead to the distortion of information
received should anything be corrected. And possibly our latter day
Savonarolas' will find it appropriate to demand those who tape an
interview will now have to publish it verbatim, as who knows, no
one can risk that the public not trust journalists. So, no more
of this editing stuff.
In conclusion, I would say, that who we have to hold to the coals
are many of the newspaper organizations and associations that support
so many of the false arguments and misguided codes of ethics, not
the photographers. It is time to get our act together and start
to respond to these utter unreasonable demands, which only put confusion
Clearly, photojournalists of integrity must accept that they have
a responsibility to be truthful in the information they provide,
but that is no more or less than what is expected of any journalist,
whether they are photographers or writers.
CODE OF ETHICS
Stop telling us how an image is supposed to be created. Stop telling
us what constitutes the "right color" when in fact you
could be color-blind and the images when printed offer variations
that surpass the arguments you are presenting against alterations.
Stop telling us how our images are supposed to be produced when
you place any caption that suits your needs or crop the pictures
as you see it fits. Stop telling us about the truth in pictures
when you constantly use those very same pictures out of context
to satisfy your editorial needs to support texts or headers that
have arbitrarily been pulled together. Stop telling us about the
truth in photojournalism when what you are selling most times is
propaganda disguised as information.
In short, stop manipulating photographers and photography to cover
up for what constitutes an industry with a wide and very shameful
performance. I truly believe that the photographers should be considered
fully responsible for their results, yes you need to define what
that means, but not by telling us what not to use, as if we were
seven year old kids, but what the goals are: Veracity in the story
being told. As my friend Chip Simone wrote: -the "electrojournalists"
of today, have a totally new set of opportunities and thus responsibilities-.
The definition of a responsibility can not established by setting
a constraint on the tools to be used, that seems to be utterly lacking
The importance in the gesture of the two firemen in the picture
below is what that image seems to be all about, not the background.
For any judges to have made an issue about the background and disqualifying
the image as an alteration is unacceptable, is not to have understood
the nature of image making and the significance of what Patrick
Schneider actually did. He not only saw when he took the image,
but he continued seeing afterwards, something that seems to have
completely eluded the NCPPA people in their utter confusion of what
the new tools of this century bring to photography. In our estimation,
Mr. Schneider used the computer in order to enhance and make a better
picture, he performed this to the best of his abilities and he certainly
did not misrepresent anyone.
The only ones who in fact misrepresented everything were those who
actually pointed at him with their accusing fingers.
Coyoacán, México. October 2003
by Patrick Schneider
over the images to enlarge them.
share your comments on this issue with us in our