The recent controversy surrounding Steve McCurry and his use of Photoshop has raised both questions relating to his past work and broader questions of representation in photography. Though an increasing number of images showing evidence of cloning and other manipulations have been uncovered, recently, two videos have surfaced that raise further questions.
The above video is a TEDx interview of Mr. McCurry from 2015. At the 7:00 mark, the interviewer asks him his stance on Photoshop, to which he replies:
I believe that the picture should reflect exactly what you saw and experienced when you took the picture. I don't think you should have any adjustments in terms of Photoshop — kind of garish colors. I want to just capture life as it is without really interfering, and I want it to reflect reality, actually.
While we can continue to debate both McCurry's status as a photojournalist or "visual storyteller" (as he puts it) and how his past dictates his need to clearly categorize his work for his audience, it's a thought-provoking quote, regardless of where you stand on the issue. He even goes so far as to call it an "ethical line" and mentions that one can consult any major news organization's guidelines as to where to draw said line in the video below (32:30 mark):
For me, the fact that McCurry took these stances so recently (2015 and 2013 respectively) reinvigorated the thought of intention. Were we supposed to perceive the images he was producing as faithful (in the journalistic sense) to reality? That certainly seems to be the message behind his words, and yet, we have an increasing collection of images that deviate from that message. For me, one issue that particularly stands out is that his audience in both videos likely consists largely of photographers. If the claim is made that manipulations aren't being used when they actually are, it's a tremendous disservice to those who aspire to be like him, as it will leave them wondering why they can never attain that level of capturing "reality."
If we even allow that he is a "visual storyteller" and thus allowed to do whatever he pleases, how do you reconcile the dissonance between his words and apparent actions? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.
Note: Thank you to Rick Johnston for bringing these videos to my attention.