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. 

As I sat editing in still photographs to my recent video project I had new thoughts about what aspect ratios to shoot...

When I shoot portraits I sure like working in a square format. This will come as no revelation to people who have followed the blog for a while...

For most commercial stuff I've been shooting whatever the actual, full format of the sensor is. The reason, no doubt developed in earlier times (the era of insufficient resolution), it to take full advantage of the total number of pixels available.

But as I sat editing video and trying to add still photographs to it I discovered that it might be a better idea, going forward, to shoot the routine documentary work and corporate advertising work in a skinnier format; something like 16:9.

We now have ample resolution at our disposal and shooting with an aspect ratio like 16:9 means we're not losing much quality but we might be gaining a library of images with more flexibility for multi-media work.

Now I know that someone out there will tell me that they have a series of sub-routines hardwired in their massive brains that can immediately identify the intended future use of every image they create which then informs them exactly how much space to leave in their 3:2 composition for future cropping. The rest of us mere mortals would do better with a formal guideline.

The issue in video is that every 35mm, m4:3 and square frame will have to be chopped, top and bottom, to work in the much more horizontal video format. If we start by setting our cameras to the video crop (16:9) we can compose a shot that we know will work for both still and video. With a 24, 36, or 42 megapixel camera we can easily cropped off the ends of the frame without a visible reduction in quality.

For me frame lines in a finder are NOT enough. I want to see the frame, sitting in a field of black, that shows me the exact edges without my mind having to remember to stay "within the lines."

After my time in video editing this week I think I am about to become a photographer of extremes, with my Sony cameras set to 16:9 for general shooting and then set to 1:1 for portrait work and art that will never grace the moving screens. Can't think of a more practical way to do it.

While the a6300 and the A7R2 don't give me 1:1 they do both give me 16:9 and that's a good start. Both the RX10s provide a wider range of aspect ratios that also includes 1:1. I wonder if the RX10iii would also make a good portrait camera? Next experiment?

Just something I fell asleep thinking about last night...