Steve McCurry Will Only Use Photoshop 'in a Minimal Way' From Now On

Steve McCurry Will Only Use Photoshop 'in a Minimal Way' From Now On

Recently, Steve McCurry was embroiled in a controversy regarding the use of Photoshop in his work. Many have weighed in on both sides of the argument, but now, McCurry himself has given a detailed response.

In the last few weeks, many of McCurry's works over the past decades have been found to have manipulations that extend beyond those allowable by standard journalistic practice. This has led some people to criticize him as misrepresenting the work, saying that his career and reputation as a photojournalist has created an expectation of a certain method of post-processing or lack thereof. On the other hand, many have argued that if the photos were not taken for a news organization, then McCurry was no more obligated to adhere to those standards than the rest of us. In a recent interview with TIME, McCurry gave the following statement: 

I've always let my pictures do the talking, but now, I understand that people want me to describe the category into which I would put myself, and so, I would say that today, I am a visual storyteller... I understand that it's virtually impossible to assign me to a specific category or classification, but that's partly a function of working for 40 years and having a career which has evolved as media itself has changed.

This is very much in line with the arguments presented by many, but nonetheless, as more images with such manipulations were uncovered, the controversy sustained itself. Thus, McCurry has noted:

Going forward, I am committed to only using [Photoshop] in a minimal way, even for my own work taken on personal trips... Even though I felt that I could do what I wanted to my own pictures in an aesthetic and compositional sense, I now understand how confusing it must be for people who think I'm still a photojournalist.

Has the audience unfairly backed McCurry into a corner? Or is it right that he maintains these standards? Personally, I think the issue was somewhere in-between; a clearer delineation between what constituted work in a photojournalistic capacity and what was personal work free from the aforementioned standards may have obviated this entire ordeal before it started. What do you think?

Lead image by Flickr user John Ramspott, used under Creative Commons.

[via TIME]

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Christopher Nolan's picture

McCurry should do what he wants to do, it is his art

Anonymous's picture

Amen brother!!

Robert Raymer's picture

Who cares what he does in his personal work? Unless he is on assignment in a photojournalistic capacity, he has no obligation to use or not use photoshop in any particular way. If he is shooting for himself, he should be able to edit for himself as well. We don't get mad when travel photographers use HDR, layer stacking, luminosity masks,m the "Horton" effect, or any of the myriad other tricks they do to represent a particular scene the way they want to present it rather than the way it actually looks sooc.

The whole retouching in photojournalism debate and what constitutes a "truthful" image is questionable as well. No image is objective, period! Even sooc, certain decisions such as framing, exposure, and most importantly composition have been made, consciously or unconsciously by the photographer that can have far more effect on "truthfulness" than the removal of an unimportant but aestheticly or compositionally distracting element.

And this debate is not new and did not start with photoshop. Photos have been manipulated as long as photography has been around.

Joe Black's picture

Thanks for the link

michael andrew's picture

He gained his fame in a photojournalist career works. Now wealthy art buyers purchase his work because it is strikingly close to the same type of work he has always done, while under strict ethics guidelines. So I assume people find it odd that the ethics meant nothing to him, and he was just following rules and perhaps not caring about those rules. It would be one thing if he was selling images of waterfalls and skyscapes, but he is selling the exact same kind of work he would get piblished on covers of magazines, newspapers and journals that crafted his legend as a world class photojournalist.

Robert Raymer's picture

Unless he is found to have manipulated images he made while on assignment for photojournalistic publications, I don't see how one can say ethics mean nothing to him. The fact that people are getting upset about manipulation of images shot as personal work just because it looks like journalistic work is on them, not on him.

Dave Kavanagh's picture

I just don't understand the fuss over this. I fully understand the rules about image manipulation when it comes to photojournalism. Not all his work is photojournalism though. Why should he apply the same restrictions to all his work?

Eduardo Cervantes's picture

McCurry is way smarter than Trump.

Deleted Account's picture

Why don't magazines that are worried about this simply write a policy statement for everyone to follow? This is allowed and this is allowed but not this, this or this. Any editing beyond these parameters must be made clear to the publication and the photographer must accept a disclaimer to be attached to his published works reading: "certain images may include retouching beyond normal standards for compositional and storytelling purposes." What's wrong with that? Beyond paid photojournalistic work though, I think he should just tell everyone to F-off and mind their own damn business. The truth in reality is what we make it. If a journalist is told to go get images of inner-city violence he will search it out and find it for the story. The same photographer can be told to get pictures of urban renewal in the same city at the same time and he will get pictures of that too. Both are true stories of the city but they can be used to paint a city in completely different colors to suit the story/political agenda. Retouching to move a sign or a person or even a piece of trash from the road for compositional purposes is so unworthy of mention to me. It's political correctness to the stupidest power. And apologizing for it in non-photojournalistic work is dumber still. Rant over. Oh, one more thing: sloppy photoshop is sloppy photoshop and that is about the only thing I can criticize him on. A proffessional shouldn't let things like that slip past them.

Mark Sperry's picture

The problem isn't specifically that he used photoshop to edit his images. A simple 'I'm a story teller now, not a journalist anymore so I take more liberties, etc' explanation would have worked. The problem is that he blatantly LIED about it. His bogus 'lab tech gone wild' excuse was just insulting. Now he just sounds like a coward who won't even stand up for his own work.

fran Camargo's picture

No more working with journalist photographer I think he's free to edit your photos ...

Anonymous's picture

I think he should have just said this when this issue came to light. I think he could have handeled it better.

That being said who are any of us to tell him what he can and can't do with his art just because he was a photojournalist? He has no obligation to any of us if it's not being used for journalistic purposes. I'd be pissed if someone told me I couldn't do something with my own work. He's an artist first and foremost and he should be allowed to create it any way he feels like.

Just because he was a photojournalist once doesn't mean he has to keep doing that.

Dallas Dahms's picture

Photographers do not have to answer to other photographers about the work they do.

Robert Raymer's picture

Until it comes to light that one of his reportage works was photoshopped beyond standard practices (i.e. beyond exposure, color correction, dodge/burn etc) and has been found to have elements added/removed, no he does not.

Just because he works as a photojournalist does not mean every image he produces is in that capacity. Unless he or the publication an image is published in are telling the public that the images are supposed to represent photojournalistic work, he owes the "public" nothing.

Robert Raymer's picture

What comment? That he said he is going to limit photoshop usage going forward "even in his own personal work"?

That doesn't make me question his photojournalistic work at all, it makes me think that he has always refrained from manipulation beyond what is acceptable by photojournalistic standards, but now he feels he needs to apply those same standards to his personal work. If anything I think the public and the industry owe him for an apology for pigeonholing him as only the type of photographer they are comfortable viewing him as and forcing unreasonable standards onto his personal, non journalistic images.

Jim Clark's picture

He markets the book using Photojournalistic credentials - and is surprised people are pissed off learning he doesn't hold to the standards of the profession?
If he is not working in that genre - state it clearly and do what you want.

Anonymous's picture

He should've told them all to f*ck of, then drop the mic and walk out. Keep making awesome work Steve!! Afghan Girl is easily one of the best portraits ever shot.

Anonymous's picture

He's not a photojournalist anymore, thats like saying bodybuilders who use steroids harm baseball players credibility.

John Haugaard's picture

"What that's saying . . . ." No it is not.

Terry Hernlund's picture

The man ought to be able to do whatever he wants with his pictures. This whole hoopla over it is stupid.

Deleted Account's picture

I can shoot everything on film and don't need photoshop. Does that make me better than Steve McCurry?

Just joking. Seriously though, Photoshop is becoming a real crutch.

Jeff Cowan's picture

The internet has become a self-righteous forum for public skewerings. This doesn't actually have anything to do with McCurry if you really think deeply about it.

Felix Wu's picture

I personally like to achieve things in camera, most things including lighting colour and contrast. While in PS era people just drop backgrounds and throw elements into a shot, it's much more exciting to see an authentic non-manipulated photograph as well as all that effort in making that a finished photographs before the shutter clicks. Photoshop is like instant noodles - fast, result, fast but lack of real nutrition. Drawing, and graphic design and now 3d renderings have blended too much into photography IMO.

I mean as a photographer who wants to make great image, even it takes more time and effort in pre-production, it's still very interesting and way more interesting than just doing all that digital layers by clicking the buttons in photoshop.

Robert Raymer's picture

I keep reading comments here and petapixel about missing the days of film or how people dislike photoshop and prefer to get everything right in camera so the don't need photoshop. While that is very noble (and while I too prefer to get as much right in camera as possible, mostly for speed of workflow) here is my take...

The fact that something was shot on film does not make it any less manipulated. Take any of the masters of their fields who shot on film...Ansel Adams and his landscapes or Richard Avedon and his portraits for example are two that immediately come to mind. If you think their photos, or those of other masters were not manipulated you are mistaken. In fact their final images were heavily retouched and post processed to achieve the "truth" of the images they wanted you to see.

As for photoshop, manipulation has been around as long as photography itself, from splicing, hand coloring, dying, dodging and burning to photoshop. The negatives and raw files have never been more than a starting point in any type of photographic work, and even the negatives and raw files have had conscious or unconscious decisions made to determine how the photographer wants them to look.

Not to get too philosophical, but in photography there is no such thing as truth, photojournalistic or otherwise, just the "truth" the photographer wants you to see. This is what separates the good photojournalists specifically from ones that don't make it in the field. The ones that think simply pointing a camera and capturing a "true" picture without any forethought to the story they want to tell is journalism will not make it. The journalists that survive and thrive are able to make conscious decisions about light, composition and which split second to click the shutter in order to make an image that tells their story, whatever it is, and would likely be able to tell the exact opposite story under the same conditions if they chose too. After all, there is no "truth" in reality either, just perspective.

Mary Robinson's picture

I, personally, think he owes no one an explanation, nor does he need to apologize to anyone. It's his photography, his art, his personal work, he wasn't trying to send them to magazines or news agencies as 'Photojournalistic Images'. I think seeing how he changed the image to suit his personal vision was amazing. I feel sad that he has changed his whole way of doing things just to suit a small group of people that believe he should be pigeon-holed into a role as a Photojournalist because he chose to do that as a career for many years.

robert gainor's picture

People are under the assumption that photography should be free of manipulation but every photograph that has ever been published has been manipulated to some degree whether it be through exposure, dodging and burning, lens choice, compositing, which has been around for over one hundred years, or other means of manipulation. Even the simple act of framing can have a dramatic affect on a photograph. The only fault I find is that McCurry's Photoshopping skills are terrible. This mistake should have been caught way before this image was released, unless he wanted to cause a controversy, then by all means...

John Hill's picture

Wow! Did he fabricate a lie in his images. Did he actually mislead and change the meaning of his images??? Well in that case, we must attack photo greats like Ansel Adams and others who spent hours, days and weeks in the darkroom enhancing the images that made them living icons! Film and digital are not perfect mediums. Images vary from camera to camera and manufacturer to manufacturer! In order to bring the image to or close to what the eye sees, requires some alterations whether it be Photoshop or a darkroom. I suppose that most of the critics really have no depth of understanding of all the elements and facets of what a realistic image is today and how it needs to be altered from the camera's digital RAW file to print! If we want everything to be believable and beyond any foolery, then we must all use the same camera with the same lens and and settings. That would be dull and pitiful wouldn't it. We would all look just like each other. I guess then we would have final and lasting peace!....... NOT!

Colin Johnson's picture

Ethical photography, what a novel idea.
Who amongst you feel that this image is NOT staged?

In the article, the author claims not but later says:

"But, ultimately, what difference does it make if a photo is posed or candid? Isn’t the final product — the picture, the story, the feeling it provokes — all that matters? Do people reject songs that aren’t inspired by reality but instead imagined by the songwriter? I’m not talking about documentary photography or reportage — that obviously, by definition, shouldn’t be staged. But street?"

Full article here:

Why does he feel that documentary or reportage shouldn't but it is OK to fake street?
Isn't the essence of street photography to be candid and capture real life, which by it's very essence is a from of documentary or reportage photography?

I fail to make the distinction...