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

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Subject: Re: [Leica] ethics of staging
From: Alan Ball <>
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 18:38:50 +0100

Eric Welch wrote:

> TV is rarely journalism. That isn't a good example. 

Wow, Eric, that is quite a statement. It is impossible to let that pass:
there are PLENTY of GREAT journalists (and cameramen) who work for TV.
Their deontology is just as tough and respectable as in any other media,
printed, audio or web. As in any other media there is a proportion of
bad journalists or crooked journalists. And there is a proportion of
dishonest or biased  stations as there is a proportion of dishonest and
biased publishers...

> 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.

My point of view is that there almost always is a some subjectvity in
the journalist's choices (subjects, tone of voice, choice of words,
choice of angle of view and even choice of emulsion) and mutual
influence between subject and journalist (editor, photojournalist,

That mutual influence can imply a certain proportion of what you call
'staging' and still be respectable, professional, honest and
informative. Is it important to know that Arafat and Nethanayou maybe
shook hands 3 times in a row at the request of photogs and camera crews
anxious to get a good pic ? Should the 'honest' caption be "historical
handshake, take nr3" ?

Is asking the fireman to look at me when I shoot him in action being
dishonest ? Or should I have moved around him in such a way that I could
have grabbed the image of his face ? IMHO, that is the same thing,
because moving around him would have limited his freedom of movement and
of action, or at least modified his surroundings and thus I would have
imposed on him a behaviour he maybe would not have had if I had not
moved. Is that dishonest ? I think not.

> ...<snip>...But
> the bottom line is, that there's a difference between being there, and
> telling people what to do.

There is a difference also between being there and not being there. I
have often participated in demonstrations that completely changed in
mood because press crews were arriving. I suspect that the Palestinians
are more resolute at confronting Israeli soldiers with stones if they
know the media are there. So, is that 'staging' on the journalist side ?
This is not an easy ground !

Maybe the only 'honest' way to guarantee not 'staging' a scene is to use
only 1200mm tele lenses or satellite images ;-)

> >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.

And if I wait till the guys I have put in movement stop looking at the
lens ? A picture only tells the story the photographer wants to tell and
the viewer wants to see. The best help for an honest journalist is an
educated viewer, listener or reader, capable of being critical towards
what seems obvious. The fact that a photojournalist modifies a situation
up to a certain degree does not translate into dishonest work. If I
choose to take the image of the weakest of the hungry people in a
refugee camp in South Sudan rather than showing those who manage beter
is not dishonest, it is choosing to show a part of the reality from the
angle of view I find the most important (or the most spectacular ?). Is
that 'staging' ? Yes !

At the end of the day, the photojournalist builds what will become the
common, universal, image of a reality at a certain moment of time.
Depending on PJ's own beliefs and subjectivity, the final common image
may vary a lot. The presence of a number of photogs from different media
at a certain scene is the best guarantee that the viewer will not be
totally manipulated when building the representation of reality. At
least not by the photogs...

The image of Paris projected by Doisneau's work may be built upon a
proportion of staged or restaged situations, it is not necessarily less
honest, moving, informative and essential as if it had been built
through unstaged shooting by an invisible photographer with an invisible