The Steve McCurry Tempest in a Teapot.

You have probably all seen Steve McCurry's most famous photograph. It's the photograph of the Afghani woman with the haunting green eyes. It graced the cover of National Geographic and has been reprinted endlessly, everywhere.

For most of his career McCurry made his living as a magazine editorial photographer. From all indications he performed well, followed the rules and made a living traveling the world. In the last decade he transitioned from magazine editorial work into the art world and has been using the skill set and vision he honed in his previous career to make work that many, many people find truly evocative.

Recently he has been taken to task, sometimes harshly, for apparently PhotoShopping some distracting elements out of his work. The important thing to remember here is that he is not enlisting this work into the world of hard news or breaking news. Rather, it is being sold as "art" in galleries and on the web.

The knee jerk argument, if I can sum it up, is basically: "Once a starving photojournalist always a starving photojournalist!!!" His critics would hold him to journalistic ethics and standards even though he is no longer working in that field or having his work used to directly illustrate news.

To me this smacks of indentured servitude to a cause.

I say, that at this point, all bets are off. The once free press is now settled into the hands of about seven major holding companies and they all have agendas put in place to serve a tiny elite of plutocrats and their pet causes. Photojournalists are being discarded like old VHS tapes. The contract calling for a lifetime of service to the ideals of the free press is null and void by those who no longer work in that niche.

Here's what I wrote in the comments at theOnlinePhotographer.com in response to Michael's thoughtful article, and the reason and unreasonable comments that followed:

Steve McCurry is a very, very good photographer. He may have been a photojournalist at one time and should, then, have hewed to the rules of that industry. For many years now he has worked outside that field and just creates art. His manipulations have no more or less merit than the contrived set ups of Crewdson or Skoglund. The art is the art. He is not working in breaking news. He is not manipulating images in the service of some political agenda. He is creating art. No different than the legion of photographers who routinely edit out teen acne, double chins and wrinkles in images of graduating seniors or mid-level corporate managers. His vision now includes the ability to hone or distill an image for our enjoyment. If he was shooting for the NYTime, hard news, to illustrate a news story then he was out of line. If he was showing us his impression of a place and time and people then screw the critics and go for it. Tell me that every landscape photographer whose work has ever graced a gallery wall didn't burn in some sky, take out a piece of trash in the foreground or pretty up the colors. Should we dig up Ansel Adams and burn him at the stake for his egregious over-darkening of the sky in Moonrise over Hernandez, NM.? Photojournalism is one of those jobs that's been beaten to a pulp by the economy and cast aside by media moguls. McCurry left the fold to do what he does best and make a bit of money for a decent retirement ---- and now a bunch of fat and sassy armchair quarterbacks, who've never risked dysentery and war are going to deny the guy his chance to be an aging artist with some sort of financial safety net under his feet? Get real. Put your Hush Puppies on, button up your cardigan and go out for a walk. Contemplate your misplaced outrage and then direct it somewhere meaningful.

If you disagree I'd like to know the reasons why. Not "how I feel" but what rational and logical belief causes you to champion your cause. We are no longer living in the age where the news is anything but un-tinted by the interjection of corporate holding company self-interests; why then should photographers be the symbolic surrogates that help give credibility to an already fixed system?

Give McCurry a break. His art appeals to a broad cross section of our culture. His work is good and visually satisfying. What he did for a living before becoming an artist should not be part of our assessment of the value of his work. 


Oldrail said...

Thank you Kirk! It is nice to read your article and agree with you completely. I wish I had 1/10 of McCurry's talent and I wish him well. Glad you are back as I read your blog daily.

Anonymous said...

Very well said Kirk. Lots of experts with a keyboard and an opinion who don't know all that much, except how to rush to judgement. Give the guy a break.

George said...

Bravo. The first comment is a mind-turd.

Michael said...

I dunno. What I took away early on in the discussion was an ambiguity in how Steve McCurry presented himself. If he did in fact, at some point earlier, come out explicitly as an art photographer, and if he then stuck to that line throughout, then you are entirely right. But I think there was an equivocation written into his eventual response, which as I recall said that some minion in the office had screwed up. So in that respect (if my memory is right) he left us feeling uncertain about where he stands himself. On that evidence it sounds as if he *might possibly* be wanting to have his cake and eat it too: a documentary photographer who also produces fabulous photos quite routinely.

Boris Hornbein said...

p.s. I'm reminded of the dust-cloud generated by foot-dragging effetes in the wake of Paul Simon's discovery of Africa (for which Simon deserved a grand and whooping Hurrah). Internet gnats and bot-flies abound. Let's all brush them out of our hair and press on.

Unknown said...

Kirk -

When I read Mike's last post, this is the post I sent...

In the early and mid eighties, when we were all young, a bunch of us were covering the war in Lebanon. Don McCullin was the best among us, but it was a pretty solid group with Dirck Halstead, Robin Moyer, Gene Richards, Bill Foley and a bunch of others who have gone on to do fairly well as old photographers who don’t get shot at any more. Our publications wanted to see war. National Geo had Steve McCurry shooting the religious leaders. Steve probably had just as much a chance of being somewhere in Beirut that got bombed as we had. We were shooting what our publications thought was important. Steve was shooting what his publication thought was important. Our pictures could never be as moving and life changing as the what we were photographing. Steve’s pictures might have been more dramatic than what he was photographing.

All of us are shaped by what we did when we were young. The news publications gave some of us amazing educations that went far beyond what we learned in school. I don’t think Steve got the same education. He was unique. Geo sent him into dangerous situations that their other photographers never entered. But, somehow and not surprisingly, what they published always seemed more distanced from the events than what appeared in the news publications. Steve is currently getting criticized for using his computer to clean up his images and make them a little “prettier.” I think the criticism is valid. But I also think Steve is a good guy who was told early in the game to make his pictures pretty.

Sophia said...

Completely agree with you and had a very good laugh at the Hush Puppies and cardigan comment!

As I have said before, the siren call of click baiting makes all other photography blogs so tiresome.

Tom Devlin said...

I am completely biased on this.

This comes from helping to put together a recent eight month exhibition of his work here in Hickory, NC. In addition I had the opportunity to talk to McCurry on the phone while putting this show together as well as spend two days with him in January when he visited the exhibition. We talked about a variety of subjects and ideas during his visit.

There was no doubt in my mind where McCurry is at with his work. The folks going after him do not have a clue.

You hit the situation right on the head Kirk.

Good piece.


Willie said...

Hi Kirk,
First I have to say that I agree with the tone of your post.
I generally would give leeway to Art rather than Documentary when any sort of 'manipulation or changing' occurs.
I think most people hold that if something is clearly in or even claims to documentary, reportage, or news that a certain trust is placed in the assumption of truth (or a great degree of it anyway).

Had McCurry clearly stated that he had left that field and was indeed producing Fine Art renderings of h viewpoint, all would be well. At least I hope it would have been. I say hope, because there are always those who would tear down, rather than appreciate.

On the other hand - in deference to your request to state reasons why I would disagree (not "how I feel" etc). In this instance (the rickshaw image anyway) I have the book 'Untold - the stories behind the photographs' by Steve McCurry.

I love the book. I actually enjoy reading about the exploits behind the photographs. Nothing will take that away.

The image in question is on page 48. It is the modified image.
So is it art as presented in that context?

No, it is not.

On page 53 there is a copy of a letter from the Director General of Meteorology, India, which references assistance to be given during McCurry's project. Clearly stated is 'Photographs for National Geographic Magazine.

The biography information on the inside of the dustcover (inside back) refer in no uncertain terms about 'finest documentary tradition/ photojournalist/ World Press Photo prizes/ Robet Capa medals etc etc.

So now, do I have to judge the rickshaw image in light of those claims?
Does it meet what is generally accepted for documentary images?

Maybe not.

Had it been presented simply as an example of his art, it would have been different.

Had the original image been presented in the book under the overarching guise of documentary, would it have been any less an image?

No, I don't think so.

I still love the book. I still love the stories contained therein.

It's just that now I look at it with slight unease. What other photographs in the book are not in fact what they claim to be?

It is the only McCurry book I have. I bought it because of the narrative, the stories behind the image, the thought that 'so this is what it was like'. I guess the whole thing can leave someone jaded.

Sure - I wish him a successful late life career as an artist. He is surely talented. He does what he does and even if others apply (with varying degrees of accuracy) labels referring to his old fashioned, imperialist outlook, or whatever else they throw at him, who cares?

It is his choice to produce whatever art he wants.

Just please, please do not offer it up as an accurate rendition of what was there.
Don't sell me the journalistic viewpoint and then let me see that I was robbed.

I'll buy art if I like it.
I want truth, because I need it.


Bassman said...

Two simple parts to my argument in support of your position:

1. Anyone who confuses a photograph with reality is ignorant
2. Anyone who deliberately manipulates a photograph in order to mislead the viewer about reality is a liar

In my view, McCurry is not a liar. Many of his critics are ignorant.

Jim said...

I am totally with you on this Kirk. NG was never a hard news organization in my view anyway. This is just a round of "gotcha" by people who are jealous of his success.

Anonymous said...


Given the recent dust-up, I thought it was an irony to happen across an article on the Web titled "See India Through Steve McCurry's Lens." Ironic because when you add and subtract elements, you're explicitly departing from the view through the lens.

As I see the whole affair from my distant viewpoint here in the hinterlands, the current problem with Mr. McCurry is simply that his background is in photojournalism and editorial photography, and he markets himself using those credentials, and his primary affiliations (National Geographic magazine and Magnum Photos) inhabit those universes, and his current work seems to all appearances to be a seamless continuation of all that earlier work—same look, same subjects, same approach. But, by the clear standards of his now-known-to-be-former profession(s), he got caught cheating. So now he has to engineer a clumsy coverup (really sort of a primer on why not to do a coverup and all the ways it can be done badly), and start mumbling about how, yeah, things really shouldn't be added or subtracted using Photoshop, and I promise to be good from now on, and whimper whimper.

Anonymous said...

While I can't comment in regards to whether Mr. McCurry has been tossed aside by his industry and/or whether he is feathering his retirement nest, I otherwise agree with what you've written. That said, I also think that perhaps Mr. McCurry could have/should have done a better job at owning this for more or less the reasons you cite.

Paul said...

The whole concept of photojournalism is fatally flawed.
Unless a photographer sets his camera on a tripod in auto mode with a random timer dictating when the shutter is released then the image has been manipulated.
Cropping, exposure compensation, shutter speed, aperture and viewpoint are all in-camera methods of manipulating viewers interpretation of an image. Add in a caption and post processing to emphasise parts of an image and not others and the trail of breadcrumbs from reality to the photographer's interpretation of the scene is complete. Whether it's a war scene, a refugee or a corporate headshot the photograph is a composite of the scene plus the photographer's intent.
I personally don't care what Steve McCurry did in processing his images, I still think his images are fantastic images and many are thought provoking and/or educational.

James Leynse said...

Kirk, I disagree. McCurry's reputation is based on his work at Nat Geo and as a journalist. When the average viewer sees his work or buys his prints, they are basing their appraisal of his work on his reputation as a photojournalist. To now turn around now and say, in effect "just kidding," undermines the hard work he actually did and puts into question his actual photojournalism. A reputation is a very valuable thing and McCurry's was that of a great photojournalist. Now, not so much.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be a cyclical story ..

The photographer, whoever he is, is trying to tell a story. He selects the framing and timing of the image to convey that story. By post processing he tries to make that story more apparent to his viewer. In this subjective process he brings his ethical/artistic background to bear to do what Adams called making a picture......

The viewer, similarly brings his experience with life and photography to find a story in the photograph. He also brings certain ethical/artistic expectations to that viewing and is either satisfied or disappointed in those expectations being met...Another subjective process...

Of course, some viewers are looking for the flaw in the picture that proves we are all human and that the photographers is not exceptional.

This whole discussion is cyclical and I can't recall how many times I've read it.. It has no end ...

Chris said...

I think McCurry has blundered and has been "caught red handed". In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter (of course), but then nothing matters, the whole world is going to hell. His apologies/explanations were mealy mouthed and inadequate. McCurry built his career on being a documentary shooter. Now we know how he gets his results. He is a good photographer, so it is all the more baffling why he felt it necessary to pretty up and alter what he presents as "India" etc. etc.

Perhaps now he can actually give up going to these places and shoot them all from a studio on Long Island. Should save him some dough.

Gordon Lewis said...

Since you asked, Kirk, I agree with previous commenters that the problem here was that McCurry wanted to have his cake and eat it to. He wanted to present himself as someone steeped in photojournalism and the documentary photographic tradition, but he didn't want to conform to its accepted traditions and conventions. To put it another way, he wanted the freedoms afforded art and commercial photographers while giving the impression his images somehow represented "truth." The resulting moral outrage seems overdone to me, to suggest that McCurry did nothing to contribute to the situation he's in is equally disingenuous.

Jeff said...

I don't know if what McCurry did is 'wrong' in any way but isn't this very harmful to photography? Does't it reinforces people's opinions that you can't trust a photo any more than you can trust what someone has painted or written. Maybe it's been like this for a long time but does it help to remind people? Why do photography as art at all now? Are the only reasons (unless it's your job) are that it's cheap and quick to do and you don't have to develop the skills to paint or draw or write?

Alan Fairley said...

This is a little OT, but ... Back in film days, photographs had a certain power because of the underlying assumption that there was a thing out there in reality that they depicted (which might have been tweaked in the darkroom, but only within the limits possible then). With the digital era, that power has been lost, because of the extensive way the image can be altered - elements cloned in or out, etc etc, or even made up from whole cloth (e.g. CGI in cinema). I miss it.

Anonymous said...

"The whole concept of photojournalism is fatally flawed."

Whole academic treatises have been written on journalism and photojournalism by writers far more talented and informed than I ever hope to be, but the bottom line is that journalists have an obligation to try to be as objective as possible in describing what is in front of them, whether they use words or pictures. And what Mr. McCurry did - making wholesale changes to a picture, including removing two of the five people that form the main subject of the image - is not merely choosing a different perspective or cropping or making some minor edits to improve a photo. It runs counter to pretty much every standard of journalism. And it is not the kind of an error that an assistant can make that a photographer of his distinction would not notice, especially if an image was selected for publication. (disclaimer: I am a journalist by training, and I don't have a kind view of journalists that lie in their reportage or photographs about what they saw.)

Circling back to Mr. McCurry - I have long enjoyed his work, especially his portraits. However, I think that some of the flak he has received is deserved. His sin was not in altering his images to create fine art, but rather doing so while passing himself off as an accomplished photojournalist - the implication being that he was being as objective as possible. As others have noted, if he had made it clear all along that this was created art and not documentary style photography, it would have been a non-issue. But at the same time, had he admitted that upfront, I wonder if his later work would have been as highly regarded (and valued in the commercial market). I think not, and I think Mr. McCurry probably realizes that too.

He is certainly not - and was never - required to remain a photojournalist, and doesn't owe anyone an explanation of why/if he switched to fine art photography. He could even continue to do both, as long as it is clear which is which. However, what he did goes to the heart of his credibility because he never made clear that he had switched to making fine art photography, and his denials (blaming an assistant and promising to not do it again) demonstrate that he still sees himself as a documentary-style photographer, not a fine art image maker, who was caught in a lie.


Kirk Tuck said...

I am not a journalist and I was not "trained" as a journalist but it seems to me that holding McCurry's past against him and forcing him to alway be an objective journalist is wrong. I get that altering news photographs is ethically wrong but what he is doing is not journalism or hard news. He was making beautiful photos for presentation and collection. Where he screwed up is in the telling of the story of the manipulation. But where is this infernal assumption that anyone with talent is also a master of public relations? Even major companies mess up their messaging under stress.

He blamed an assistant. That part was wrong. But manipulating images in PhotoShop when the destination for the photos was a collector's wall or a gallery show is not wrong.

If he sold an image of a cleaned up street to Fortune Magazine for a news story and captioned it, "See how well Bangalore's clean up efforts have gone." You'd get no argument from me about ethics. But as a collectable art print? Anything goes.

while some countries still have rigid caste system I think most will allow a man to move into a different career niche if he so desires.

Finally, I'd like to see where everyone is getting the idea that he's actively marketing his current connections to magazine journalism or hard news when selling his current work. I'm not saying it doesn't exist but talking about his resume in the past tense is totally valid. He was an National Geo photographer. He is now something else.

Murray Davidson said...

There is a disturbing underlying assumption in the commentaries that anyone suddenly put on the spot, in the internet "spotlights", can be trashed because they fumble the explanations. We're not all great at snappy answers, being glib enough, and quick to spin. The fumbling explanation and answers to critics are more a sign of honest "what?, really? um..." "I meant no harm, didn't do anything wrong" than a slick answer that soothed the internet moral police ever would have been.
Just because you don't give snappy answers - which was part of the tone of Mike's and others' commentary - doesn't make you (more) guilty. Of course, a better lawyer always helps your case...
I feel strongly (as someone who has changed career a couple of times) that the past is good for references, the track record proves my abilities, but is NOT what you (I) am today; and in my current job, I am not doing my old one.
(And I wholeheartedly endorse Kirk's TOP comments and his thoughts here.)

Sophia said...

Does anyone think that buyers of McCurry's 'pretty' prints care at all that the street was really dirtier than shown or that there were additional soccer players? I hardly think so. If his actual customers are not feeling outraged and mislead, why is everyone else?

Because they read on a click bait blog that they should be?

Chris said...

I receive mailings from a gallery in Greenwich, CT which is/was always selling the latest McCurry prints. I somehow doubt that all those people who bought his prints will be quite so willing to pony up for any new ones, I may be wrong, but somehow I don't think so. Authenticity (whatever this means) is a very valuable commodity for art and sales and I think McCurry has lost a very great deal of it. We can perhaps understand that McCurry never mentioned or announced that he now "photoshops" his work as it might not have occurred to him to do so, but I find it hard to believe that people have not asked him, including those who represent him in the art market. Did they then keep quiet to prevent harming their golden goose? Or did he speak an untruth to these questioners? There is not much he can say now as the cat is out of the bag, so probably better to keep quiet, but it will continue to come up now whenever his pictures are mentioned, which cannot be a good thing for him.

Anonymous said...

"Finally, I'd like to see where everyone is getting the idea that he's actively marketing his current connections to magazine journalism or hard news when selling his current work"

Kirk, this is his bio page on his website: http://stevemccurry.com/bio

It only mentions his accomplishments as a photojournalist and his charitable work. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that his whole fine art business model is based on his credibility as a photojournalist, whether he is one now or not.


amolitor said...

My thinking, which overlaps a lot with other people's, is that McCurry was unaware of the place he holds in the minds of the people who look at his pictures.

Art is almost entirely about perception and, whether rightly or wrongly, McCurry's place in the minds of his audience was one of a guy who wouldn't photoshop out a guy on a motorscooter. Gursky, just to pick another example, is a guy who we think of as a guy who totally *would* do that, and a lot more besides.

Is it McCurry's responsibility to be aware of how people think about him and his work? I think you can make an argument that, as a working Artist, it's actually his job to do that. But I also think you can make an argument, perhaps equally strong, that it's not his job at all and it's not his problem. Well, obviously it's his *problem*, now, but perhaps it should not be.

The problem isn't that 'shopping is bad. The problem isn't that McCurry presented himself as a PJ. The problem is that there's a disconnect between how "the public" perceived him, and how he perceived himself.

Spencer H said...

Thank you for your take on this. A few websites, Petapixel chief among them, have been on this witch hunt for McCurry the past few weeks. Each instance of transgression they gleefully document to me just brings to mind our cultural obsession with train wreck celebrities; people that have everything and we watch their lives fall apart due to sex, drugs, finances or whatever is in right now. We love to watch the might fall back to our plebeian levels.

No matter what anyone says about their virtuousness on this, I have a hard time believing its anything more than a sick enjoyment of watching people fail.

He's doing his work in his way. Go do your own in your way.

Jason Orth said...

Thank you Gordon for this succinct summary, and it's my feeling exactly. Much more coherent than the pretzel twist defenses or simple fanboy responses.

McCurry seemed to enjoy straddling that line until he got caught. And judging by his recent Facebook page update with a picture of him in his "visual storyteller"...um photojournalist days, he still seems to want to straddle that line

Kirk Tuck said...

On the other hand pigeon-holing McCurry by occupation seems disingenuous. Work only becomes photojournalism when the work (not the man) is used in editorial or news media. That McCurry takes photojournalistic style images is immaterial to his ethics. If the images aren't now intended for use in publications for news value then what do we care if the man cops the attitude of being a journalist or an artist? It's the use of the work that makes the rules.

I can photograph my neighbor on a public street all day long and if I am not harassing him I am not breaking any laws. If I sell an image of my neighbor to use in an advertisement THEN I have stepped over the line into painful, legal doo-doo.

If McCurry cops the photojournalist identity but does not use the retouched image in a news or editorial USE then his perceived indiscretion is rendered baseless. He's just another guy doing street photography and trying to sell prints as art. It's always the use. Only the use.

As strange as it seems in this debate we have slipped into the Biographical Fallacy of judging the person instead of the work and, to take it one step further, judging the implied intention of the work rather than its actual use.

Used in news? Bad man. Slap wrist. Used in art? No opinion about the man, only the art.

The only thing that is mildly off to me is his readiness to toss his assistant under the bus. But, if you are hell bent on using the biographical fallacy in your argument who is to say SM didn't toss the guy under the bus because the lab guy was a pain in the ass....if we only knew the lab guy..

The Use is what makes the photo manipulation ethical or unethical and only the use. The sales pitch is a totally different ethics discussion. If SM declared that each original print was un-manipulated then it might be fraud. I haven't heard anything like that.

No journalistic use? No foul. Rules of the game.

Two days ago I retouched out the wrinkle on a CEO's shirt. I took a blemish off his face. I selected his image, inverted and feathered the selection and blurred the background more in post. I took some red out of his face with the hue and saturation control. I took a bit of dandruff off his dark colored suit jacket. In the annual report we will, by omission, let people believe that the image they see is truthful. Annual reports are supposed to provide truthful look at a company. Is our retouching unethical? If you think it is then we have bad news for you.....

Peter C. said...

Out of curiosity, I Googled Steve McCurry, and the description of his web site - which comes from the content of his site - is as follows:
"Steve McCurry, photojournalist, displays his recent work in essay form as well as offering a gallery of well-known work."

Given how he represents himself online, I don't think any confusion about whether his work is journalism or fine art should be attributed to those viewing his work. While I agree that he has every right to leave photojournalism behind, and pursue fine art photography (or pursue both), he should be clear about his intention.

Both are valid pursuits, but they are different. As the photographer Guy Tal eloquently phrased it in his book, "More Than a Rock":
"The purpose of illustration is to say: 'Here’s what you would have seen had you been there.' The purpose of art is to say: 'Here’s what you would not have seen had I not shown it to you, even if you were standing next to me.'"

Thomas Rink said...

I don't want to take a moral position in this debate. These are Mr McCurry's pictures, and he can do with them whatever he sees fit. What I find interesting is the nature of the clone jobs - here reality has been "cleaned up" and amended to fit a picture of reality within the mind of the photoshop operator (whoever it was).

In *my* opinion, this mental picture must be one of an incredibly boring world.

It is a world of landscapes without electric powerline pylons but warm, "punchy" colours, inhabitated by pretty people with flawless complexions. Wait, there can be old guys if they have pittoresque wrinkles in their faces. There are no frame intrusions in this world, nor do people overlap with one another or (gasp) poles.

To make my point clearer: A lot of clone jobs dealt with the removal of "edge distractions". Now have a look at the following landscape painting by Gustav Klimt:


Mr. Klimt actively painted the edge distraction in (upper left corner)! There are more examples of this in his work, this is just the first one a quick search revealed. It's the small imperfections and the right amount of chaos and chance which makes things interesting.

This is just my personal opinion, and not an objective judgement or critique.

Best, Thomas

Paul said...

Kirk you're slipping, no mention of gear and you've ended up with a great debate :)
I think we are all a bunch of wankers, for most of the 7.4 billion people in the world a photograph provokes a binary response they like or don't it, they believe the scene or doubt it. They don't care about photojournalist ethics or equipment used. They interpret the image using their life experience and religious and cultural beliefs.
All photography is art some is just more artistic than others.

jlemile salvignol said...

I fully endorse the comments of Kirk. That MacCurry's case is a sort of witch trials ridiculous and dishonest. But Purity is in this sense a proto-fascist concept, and this type of simulacrum claims raises serious concerns for tomorrow. This is a parody of return at the time of the cultural revolution of Mao, with trial, deportation and why not firing squad. This is actually the freedom of the artist that is at stake. Thus joined the fight against free speech raging on both sides of the Atlantic.

H. Walters said...

Agreed, Kirk. I would possibly go even further.

Anyone who takes photographs of any kind at face value, whether documentary or art, is naive in the extreme. Journalists whose medium is words rather than pictures create exactly the mental picture they want you to see, rather than an exhaustive taxonomy of the scene (where does the "scene" begin and end, anyway? You will always leave most of the universe out of your description however you go about it). Why should photographers be any different?

Just because many have a child-like view that; (a) everything in the news is an accurate depiction of events; and (b) photographs are incontrovertible evidence, doesn't make it so.

Henry Richardson said...

I guess I don't care all that much what Steve does using PS, but one thing that was very interesting to me is that I now understand how so many of his photos from around the world just look so perfect. :-) I travel abroad a lot and photograph a lot. In real life there are wires, trash, signs for Coca-Cola, advertisements for mobile phones, mix of people in both traditional garb and western t-shirts, utility poles, etc. Now I know that Steve makes extensive, extreme use of PS and also stages some of his photos (even using models) so that is one reason why they look so good. And a staff of PS experts doing some of the work for him. I don't mind that he does it, but it makes me feel much, much better about my own photos. :-)

I almost never do much with regards to cloning, etc. in PS. If I do it is usually really minor stuff. For the last 5 years I have been using LR and it doesn't do a good job with cloning so I just skip it. I could send the file off to PS to do it, but that creates a huge 16-bit tiff file that gets retained and is a lot of trouble. If I was trying to sell photos though I would probably do it a bit more. Or if I was going to make a big print then I might also.

I just read this fascinating post by Robert Dannin who has a lot of inside baseball knowledge of the the background with regards to McCurry, NatGeo, etc. He pretty much supports your view, by the way. You might find it interesting:


Henry Richardson said...

On further thought I want to add one more comment.

All the brouhaha about McCurry, Capa, and others just makes me feel so much better about my own photography. :-) It is sort of like women who can get unrealistic expectations of how their body should look based on women in fashion magazines, movie stars, etc. Those women often have had plastic surgery and have gone to other extraordinary means to get themselves looking the way they do and then on top of that Photoshop is often used extensively on their photos. A woman who has tried for a long time to achieve similar looks by dieting, exercise, etc. must be thrilled when she learns that her objects of admiration are to a large degree the result of plastic surgery and Photoshop. Now that I know how much goes on with many of the famous photos from big names that we see I feel rather thrilled about my own meager photos. :-)