Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1999/01/13

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Subject: Re: [Leica] ethics of staging
From: Eric Welch <>
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 09:24:55 -0600

>I have seen many situations where photo journalists ask the subjects to
>repeat gestures allowing different angles of view or asking other people
>to move in or out of the view. We all have seen the preparation of pre
>and post-negociation pics for example. Is that staging ? If it is, 90pct
>of CNN footage and of press images implicate at least some amount of

TV is rarely journalism. That isn't a good example. Any journalist who asks
people to recreate a scene is beyond the pale, unprofessional and of
questionable integrity. Period. You don't present pictures that are
supposed to be records of events if they are not what they purport to be.
That is the basic ethical structure that most photojournalists on this side
of the pond operate on. There are those who don't have the honesty to
function that way, but that in no way negates the differences between them
and real journalists. Just like a writer would never manipulate a quote to
make someone say something they didn't, if they are true journalists,
photographers must act with the same honesty.

>staging. Keeping the kids from waving towards the camera is staging,

Telling kids that they won't be photographed if they're are mugging for the
camera is different than telling them to do something for the camera. It is
a very complex set of circumstances that we often work in, and it takes a
person who lives and breaths integrity to sort out any given situation. We
can write 'til our fingers fall off giving exceptions, or variations. But
the bottom line is, that there's a difference between being there, and
telling people what to do.

>The fact that some of the people in many Salgado pictures are looking
>straight at the lens shows that - to some degree - the photographer has
>influenced the reality of the scene.

The question is, are we the readers fooled by those pictures? No. It's
obvious in those situations that they are aware of the camera. Nothing
wrong with that. It's when it looks like the person is going on about their
business, but the photographer is directly influencing WHAT they are doing
that it comes clear the picture is not honest.

Journalism ethics relating to photography is hardly 40 years old.The
pressures of some employers and the ignorance of many editors and
photographers to those ethics always makes it difficult to pin down a
simple description of what I'm talking about. And the unscrupulous people
who are willing to cheat to improve their careers casts a bad light on the
rest of us. I know my professional standards, and I know the history of
what I'm talking about. Why would Gene Smith lie to a group of students
about how he stages pictures if he didn't feel some embarrassment for
crossing the line? He has the excuse of having started his career when
there were no ethical standards for photojournalists to speak of.

And that's what I'm talking about. Journalism standards. Not photography
standards. Dosineau can pose all the pictures he wants. It's just fine.
Duane Michals is the ultimate stager. His work is just fine too. But he's
not a journalist. So no problem. One time he told a group I was with that
our standards were getting in the way of our creativity. And all I could
say to that was that's the price for doing what we do.

Eric Welch
St. Joseph, MO

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