AP Severs Ties with Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image

Courtesy of AP Photos

Courtesy of AP Photos

Associated Press (AP) has severed ties with freelance photographer Narciso Contreras for altering a news photograph he shot in Syria, the wire service has announced. Contreras was part of a team of AP photographers that shared the Pulitzer Prize last year for coverage of the Syrian civil war.

AP reports that Contreras “recently told its editors that he manipulated a digital picture of a Syrian rebel fighter taken last September.” The image shows the rebel fighter taking cover in a rugged landscape. Contreras altered the image by removing from the scene a video camera sitting on the ground near the soldier.

Santiago Lyon, AP’s director of photography, said the alteration “involved a corner of the image with little news importance,” but it was nevertheless a breach of AP’s standards. “Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable,” Lyon said.

AP says the altered image was not part of AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning portfolio.

Contreras said he removed the video camera from the image in question because he thought it would distract viewers, according to the AP report.

“I took the wrong decision when I removed the camera … I feel ashamed about that,” he said. “You can go through my archives and you can find that this is a single case that happened probably at one very stressed moment, at one very difficult situation, but yeah, it happened to me, so I have to assume the consequences.”

Contreras, who is 38, began his career freelancing for newspapers in Mexico, but made his reputation with his coverage of the war in Syria. Time Lightbox showcased his work in December, 2012.

“[Contreras] has managed to illuminate and distill the horrors of the…war — more consistently than any of his often more-experienced peers,” Time senior photo editor Phil Bicker wrote in a story that accompanies the 44-image gallery. “What makes Contreras’s work in Syria even more astonishing is the fact that he has, in a sense, come out of nowhere to emerge as the one photographer whose work will likely be seen as the photographic record of the conflict.”

AP says it has removed all of Contreras’s images from its archives. There were about 500 in all. AP says it has compared as many as it could to Contreras’s original image files, and found no other instances of alteration.

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21 Responses to “AP Severs Ties with Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image”

  1. AP severs ties with noted war photographer for having altered an image | Digital Trends Says:

    […] (Via PDN) […]

  2. Robert Says:

    Don’t you think this is going a bit too far… Dismissal over the editing of a corner of the image that has nothing to do with the subject!

    This sort of “retouching” was being done long before digital and it’s only scared individuals how have no experience themselves that are in charge that seem to be empowering these silly rules.

  3. Dina Says:

    I don’t think it’s a silly rule at all. The job of the journalist is to show the news as it happened. Altering the image so substantially changes the story. I find it fascinating that there was a video camera right there. It may not have been part of the story the photographer wanted to tell, but it’s part of the story nonetheless.

    Years from now, who knows whether that video camera, or any other “insignificant” details will actually be important? We have to trust these images to accurately reflect reality. This is our historic record.

    Besides, AP itself has a very very important line to walk here regarding credibility. It has to take a hardline stance on this, otherwise all “unbelievable” images will seem suspect.

  4. Gregg Morris Says:

    A penalty, perhaps. Dismissal, extreme. The editing didn’t affect the “news” facts and context of the news picture. I wonder if there were some hidden agendas or office politics involved with the decision to dismiss.

  5. Bruno Schreck Says:

    Honesty should be the sole foundation of this issue. The AP has made a choice based on simplicity instead. As photographers, we know that a dishonest image can be created without any retouching or manipulation, other than the choice of camera point of view.
    The AP is simplifying it’s task of determining whether an image is honest by applying the “no retouching” standard. It would require extra work and sophistication in making the judgement on honesty here. And the AP is unwilling to hold that responsibility. In this case, the image is just as honest with or without the alteration.

  6. Eugene Langan Says:

    Does this mean that AP photographers cannot crop there images? The moment a photographer of worth puts his/her camera to their eye they are already influencing the final image. While rights and wrongs of digital image manipulation is a complex area the assumption that ‘the camera never lies’ has, since the invention of photography, been a false one.

  7. Dave Cearley Says:

    AP photographers are supposed to leave the editing up to the editors. It’s a well known and frequently enforced integrity issue I have no doubt the photographer was aware of when he made the ill advised edit. Now pulling down his other 500 outstanding images I agree is a little over the top.

  8. Geof Kirby Says:

    Surely what AP is concerned about is the photographer’s integrity. Edit like this and it may (or may not) be the thin end of the wedge. I thinks that it’s got little to do with the image in question. More a case of the photographer undermining the integrity of his past imagery and this, for press purposes, has to be unacceptable.

  9. bernardo Says:

    fuck ap

  10. Dina Says:

    A photographer can always choose what not to show, by simply not shooting it or cropping it out, etc. But if the photographer does choose to show something? It had better be accurate.

    Fabricating anything (even as minor as some additional landscape where there was none) is still fabricating. And fabrications go against the very essence of journalistic photography.

  11. Jim Kahnweiler Says:

    I agree with those who observe that merely framing a scene is a form of manipulation. A photo is an illustration that tells a story. Removing, or adding, elements that enhance that story has been the role of journalists since Homer. What a report choses to quote, or not to quote, is just as manipulative as any photoshopping. As Richard Avadon said many years ago, a photo is not the truth, but an opinion. We’re seduced by the verisimilitude of an image; it’s a two dimensional representation of a moment in time. AP of all groups should know this. Their retouching policy is illogical.

  12. Srihari Says:

    This is total BS. AP needs to unclench.

  13. jeff karg Says:

    If there ever was a slippery slope… I was a documentary photographer and now I’m a painter in search of perfection.

    But if I worked for AP I’d know my creed demands that PS is not allowed.

  14. Sam David Says:

    While I recognize that photographers have been dodging and burning since the 1850’s, I am truly opposed to any manipulation that makes the image something other than what was in front of the lens. Given all of my work is with beautiful women the only removals I condone are pimples, scars and insect bites. It is what it is.

  15. michael gallagher Says:

    Morally there is no problem with changing the camera/ lens image because that is construed to be a personal decision. Ethically it is wrong because photo-journalists belong to a community of documentarians that ascribes to a common set of rules to present what happened and not what they thought about what happened. The documentarian who violates those community values degrades the trustworthiness of all photo-journalists work, [it’s not just a job.]

  16. Dan Says:

    I think some of the commenters are missing the importance of the problem with the photo; an element present in the original photo was removed. Yes, in one sense you can “remove” something by cropping differently, but your viewers understand and accept that to a certain extent. But the AP’s credibility (and of course Contreras’) is damaged when something that was in the original photo as shot has been removed. How do you know it hasn’t happened before and won’t happen again if the AP doesn’t come down hard on it. The credibility issue is especially critical with war photography when each side may try to claim that photographs have been doctored.

    Any photojournalist should have understood that digitally removing the video camera was improper. The AP says: “…nor will we alter photo or image content.” Their standards clearly prohibit what Contreras did and can be read at:

  17. Dave R Says:

    An unfortunate casualty of “zero tolerance.” Please tolerate more, people! Talk about problems when they arise and if you can agree they won’t happen again, carry on. What a stupid waste.

  18. Joshua Slocum Says:

    The BBC and REUTERS routinely not just alter or retouch photos but present staged photos. Many of these images originate with the propaganda arms of Islamic terrorist groups. For example, the most famous “image” of the last Intifada terrorist campaign was a complete fake, originating out of a staged fraudulent video.

  19. mike penney Says:

    AP is full of crap. They alter images all the time. They select or deselect (sometimes called censoring) them for the feed. They crop them. They burn, dodge, change color, lighten, darken, and convert to black and white. All picture agencies have been all those things since day one.
    The photographer should have control over what image is delivered. The delivered image should stand on it’s own. If the editors detect a trend from photographer that images are not being faithful to reality then they should do something. In this particular case what if he had just burned down the corner to hide the camera… Under past AP et. al. practices that would have been acceptable. There is no real difference and the picture editor is quoted as saying so.
    Otherwise we are doomed to looking at a bunch of crap quality photos which are not allowed to be photoshopped into something useful. My point is RAW images from any digital camera are pretty much junk. If you want to use Ansel Adams’ analogy about photography being negatives and prints (similar to musical scores and performances) then why not just hand out sheets of music and take away the interpretive power of the artist (photographer in this case).

  20. Hugo Says:

    For all anyone knows that was a staged photo. AP could be playing nicely with him by not pushing on that. You would have to assume there are more cases where he has done this. He got away very lightly. His reputation should be in tatters for those that expect real journalism.

  21. Week in Review: 01.24.2014 - Aperture Foundation NY - Aperture Foundation NY Says:

    […] other AP photographers last year, due to a single Photoshopped image, the New York Times reported. Contreras turned himself in, admitting that he had removed a colleague’s video camera from one of his images taken in […]