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May 3rd, 2011

UPDATED: If White House Releases ‘The Photo,’ Will Conspiracy Theorists Believe?

Helene Cooper at the New York Times has a post today on The Caucus Blog that reports the White House is “leaning towards” releasing photographic evidence of Bin Laden’s killing.

“It looks like him, covered in blood, with a hole in his head,” an unnamed official told Cooper. There are reasons the White House wouldn’t release the photo, including their desire to honor Muslim law, which led to Bin Laden’s burial at sea, and concern that releasing the photograph might provoke Bin Laden’s followers, or perhaps even violate international law.

In her article Cooper notes that in addition to voices on the political right and conspiracy theorists, many ordinary Americans are interested in seeing the photo to provide “closure” to the September 11 attacks and their aftermath.

It’s interesting to consider, however, whether seeing will be believing. The ordinary citizens who believe Bin Laden is dead seem likely to accept a photograph as the final bit of proof.

But a photo, if released, may do little for conspiracy theorists and others who disbelieve the claim Ben Laden is dead, except of course touch off another round of debate and analysis centered on the image itself and its validity.

In an age where a fake photos of a dead Bin Laden were already picked up and circulated by news organizations, much to their embarrassment, it is certainly conceivable that a photo could be created and/or staged. It begs the question: can a photograph alone bear the burden of proof any longer, or will the public require testimony from imaging experts in order to accept the validity of the image? Will a photograph do anything to convince those who already question the US government’s claims?

UPDATE, 5/4/11, 3:15pm EST:

President Obama has decided not to release photographic evidence of Bin Laden’s death, saying in an interview with 60 Minutes, a transcript of which was read today at a White House press briefing, “we don’t trot this stuff out as trophies — that’s not who we are.” Though Obama appears to be positioning the decision as a moral and ethical choice by the government, the fact that a photograph would do little to prove Bin Laden’s killing to those who don’t believe it happened must have played a role, making the release of the photo a decision with more potential downside than upside.

When issued by a government, the decision suggests, photographic evidence isn’t worth much, except to those who would use it as—positive or negative—propaganda.

February 1st, 2011

Photog Glen E. Friedman Suing Artist For Infringement of RUN DMC Image

Photographer Glen E. Friedman is suing artist Theirry Guetta for copyright infringement in a case that echoes the recently settled legal dispute between the Associated Press and Shepard Fairey. To create his iconic “Hope” poster of Obama, Fairey used an image of Obama taken by a photographer working for the Associated Press without permission. The AP claimed infringement, while Fairey argued fair use. The parties settled recently, with neither admitting defeat.

Thierry Guetta is accused of using a well-know Friedman image of hip-hop pioneers RUN DMC as the basis for several artworks, including “posters, lithographs, paintings and other art,” according to the complaint filed by Freidman and his lawyers in a California district court.

Friedman alleges that Guetta’s use of the image has caused “substantial damage to [Friedman’s] business in the form of diversion of trade, loss of income and profits, and a dilution of the value of its rights.”

In establishing copyright, the complaint notes that the image of RUN DMC was included in a copyrighted book Friedman published in 1994. The complaint also notes that Guetta has sold products based on the copyrighted image.

In their answer to the complaint, Guetta and his lawyers deny that Guetta had any knowledge that he was infringing on Friedman’s copyright. They claim that Guetta’s work is protected by the First Amendment (free speech) and that if any use of the copyrighted work is proved, it is fair use.

A trial date has not been set.

December 16th, 2010

NGS Photo Contest Winner: Does It Look Real to You?

©Aaron Lim Bon Teck

Aaron Lim Bon Teck of Singapore has won the $10,000 grand prize in the 2010 National Geographic Photography Contest with an image of the eruption of Indonesia’s Gunung Rinjani volcano.

It’s an impressive shot, but it’s hard to believe this panoramic image was created without High Dynamic Range imaging (HDR) and some stitching.

Not that those techniques are against the contest rules. But National Geographic did try to discourage them.

“I strongly urge you to submit photographs that are un-manipulated and real,” National Geographic told entrants in an addendum to the contest rules. “The world is already full of visual artifice, and we don’t want the National Geographic Photo Contest to add to it. We want to see the world through your eyes, not the tools of Photoshop.”

Oh, well. There’s always next year.  (For more about the controversy over HDR, see our story here.)

Lim Boon Teck’s image also won in the Nature category. The winner of the People category was Chan Kwok Hung of Hong Kong. Jana Asenbrennerova of San Francisco took top prize in the Places category.

September 16th, 2010

Egyptian Newspaper Doctors Peace Talk Photo

An Egyptian newspaper doctored a White House pool photo taken during Mideast peace talks last week in order to move Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak ahead of the other world leaders at the talks.

In the original photo (left) ,  in which President Barack Obama is leading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Mubarak to a media event, Mubarak was clearly trailing the others.  Egypt’s Al Ahrem, the state-run newspaper (doesn’t that phrase sound ominous?) instead ran a photo with Mubarak leading the charge into the room, either to flatter his importance or to make him look extra eager to get those peace talks started.

After the doctored photo appeared in the paper on September 14, a blogger in Egypt noted the change, and and independent media outlets in Egypt have criticized Al Ahrem. The independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm, said Al-Ahram had “carried out surgery” on the photo “to show Mubarak leading and the rest behind.” According to the Telegraph in Britain, Al Ahram has since replaced the image on its web site with a picture of the assembled leaders seated on chairs in the Red Sea resort.

As attempts to flatter a country’s leader goes, this seems less amusing than when Paris Match, an independent weekly in France, retouched a photo of a shirtless President Nicolas Sarkozy to remove his love handles in 2007.

This altered news photo of Mubarak has the look of one of those Soviet-era uses of airbrushing (described in The Commissar Vanishes)  to remove or replace leaders according to the political winds of the day.

July 22nd, 2010

Photoshop Disasters (Part 2): Jersey Shore’s JWOWW Loses Her Belly Button

First we had the case of the missing caddie. Now one of the stars of MTV's Jersey Shore — the prosaically named JWOWW — appears to have lost her belly button to a clumsy Photoshop job.

Check out the nearly buttonless shot to the left from Maxim; and the "before" photo to the right with strategically placed religious ornamentation dangling.

(If you ask us, they both look like disasters…waka waka.)

(From Gawker via ONTD)


July 20th, 2010

Photographer Cut by Getty for Altered Golf Photo Offers Explanation

Golfer-before The freelance photographer we told you about yesterday who was dropped by Getty after one of his images of a golf tournament was found to have been digitally altered has offered an explanation of what happened.

Marc Feldman, whose freelance status with Getty was terminated over the altered photo, told the Dallas Morning News he made "a fatal mistake."

"There was absolutely no intent to pass this off as a real image," Feldman explained to Dallas Morning News photo editor Guy Reynolds for the paper's Photography Blog. "Only a moron would have sent both."

A photo Feldman captured of golfer Matt Bettencort was distributed by
Getty Images even though a caddie had been digitally removed from the
background. Getty, which has a strict policy against altering its news
images, later put out a "mandatory kill" notice on the photo after Reynolds alerted them to it, and dropped
Feldman from its roster.

Feldman, 61, told Reynolds that he was in the press tent processing the images when Bettencort and his caddie stopped by to look at the photos. The caddie then suggested the photo would look better without him in it.

Matt Bettencourt 2 copy-thumb-300x190-86601 "So I showed them how easy I could do that," Feldman told Reynolds. "I thought I just saved it to the desktop not to the send folder. I certainly did not mean to send both of them to Getty."

What do you think about Feldman's explanation? Does it sound like a plausible, honest mistake? Have you ever done anything similar? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

July 19th, 2010

Getty Photographer Dropped Over Altered Golf Photo

Photo-kill Getty Images has severed ties with a freelance photographer after an image he captured of a golf tournament was determined to have been altered with software.

The photographer, Marc Feldman, was cut by Getty after the manipulated image was discovered by a photo editor at the Dallas Morning News.

"Getty Images actively advocates and upholds strict guidelines pertaining to the capture and dissemination of its editorial content," Getty's public relations manager Jodi Einhorn wrote PDN in an email.

Golfer-before "As such, when Getty Images was made aware of (the) altered image in our coverage of this event, it was immediately removed…from our website and a mandatory 'kill' request was sent to our feed-based subscribers. In adherence with our zero tolerance policy on photo manipulation, we terminated our relationship with freelance photographer Marc Feldman."

The story broke when photo editor Guy Reynolds of the Dallas Morning News stumbled on the altered image while perusing photos of the Reno-Tahoe golf tournament. Reynolds found two Getty images of golfer Matt Bettencourt, one showing him with a caddy behind him, the other with just trees.

At first Reynolds thought the images were shot by two different photographers from slightly different angles but, as it turns out, both were credited to Marc Feldman, a Getty freelancer.

After inspecting the images more closely, Reynolds discovered they were the same shot but "one had been doctored with software to remove the other man."

Reynolds contacted Getty's picture desk in New York about the images and a "Mandatory Kill" advisory (to the right, above) was sent out shortly thereafter.

(Via Dallas Morning News' Photography Blog.)


May 20th, 2010

Policy Drives Newspaper to Doctor Front Page Photo

May 20th, 2010



The Dominion Post of Morgantown, West Virginia altered a front page news photograph on May 15 to remove three public officials from the image, West Virginia Public Broadcasting has reported.

The paper’s editor explained that The Dominion Post has a policy–in effect during the political campaign season–against publishing photos of officials running for re-election.


The photo shows a bill-signing ceremony that was attended by six people: the West Virginia governor, two citizens with a personal interest in the bill (which toughened penalties for hit-and-run accidents) and three Democratic legislators who sponsored the bill.

The three legislators, all running for re-election, were digitally removed from the photograph published by The Dominion (above, right).

The original photograph (above left) was shot by Martin Valent, a photographer for the West Virginia Legislative Reference and Information Center. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Valent said, referring to the altered version of his photo. “This is beyond my comprehension.”

West Virginia Public Broadcasting says the editor of the newspaper expressed surprise that anyone would question the alteration to remove the three legislators, given that it was election season.

The paper did include the words “photo illustration” in the photo caption to indicate that the photo had been altered.