January 23rd, 2014

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.

December 12th, 2013

AP Photo Chief Appeals to Public About White House Access. Will It Help?

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, from memorial for Nelson Mandela. Handouts like these are "visual press releases," argues AP's Santiago Lyon.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, from memorial for Nelson Mandela. Handouts like these are visual press releases, argues AP’s Santiago Lyon.

The White House has waved off a complaint from media organizations about photographers’ lack of access to the Oval Office, and now Associated Press director of photography Santiago Lyon has taken the complaint to the op-ed pages of The New York Times.

The question is, will the AP’s protest stir the kind of public outrage that makes the White House relent?

Last month, 38 media organizations sent a joint letter of protest to the Obama administration, charging that it was denying them the right to photograph and videotape the President while he was performing official duties in his office. According to the letter, the administration is keeping photographers out by designating the president’s work meetings as private. But the White House has been posting its own photos of those meetings on social media.

In other words, the White House is doing an end run around the press corps. The aggrieved media organizations criticized the administration for its lack of transparency, and dismissed the White House photos as “visual press releases.” The news organizations asked for a meeting with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to discuss removing the restrictions.

Through one of his deputies, Carney’s response boiled down to: We’re keeping the public plenty informed, so take a hike.

With Lyon’s Op-ed piece to the Times, AP is hoping to get a more sympathetic hearing in the court of public opinion.

Carney “missed the point entirely” with his dismissive response to the protest letter, Lyon writes. From there, he reiterates the point that White House photos are visual press releases, not journalism. The official photos “propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he writes.

After arguing the merits of images by independent news photographers, Lyon concludes: “Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda.”

And he’s exactly right. But it’s hard to imagine a public clamor on AP’s behalf for two reasons. First, when it comes to Oval Office photo ops, citizens might have a hard time distinguishing between photos from the pool and White House handouts. Second, the public doesn’t hold the press in high esteem these days. To many non-journalists, Lyon’s complaint might only come across as whining.

What citizens are really interested in are images of the President’s unscripted moments, as Lyon suggests in his op-ed piece. He mentions some memorable photos of past presidents. Most happened outside the Oval Office: Nixon flashing a victory sign as he was boarding a helicopter after his resignation, Ronald Reagan waving from a hospital window after his cancer surgery, George W. Bush’s look of astonishment when he first heard of the 9/11 attacks.

What news organizations need to do, besides editorialize in The New York Times, is redouble their efforts to show the public what the White House will never release: fresh, unscripted, uncensored images of the President. The pictures from Nelson Mandela’s funeral of Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro and the selfie incident were certainly a good start.

July 19th, 2012

New Gizmos at the Olympics: AP’s Robotic Cameras

Major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Olympic games are the incubation grounds for new camera technology, because news organizations are jockeying for competitive advantage and a chance to show off. And the Summer Olympics in London are no exception.

Associated Press has posted this promotional video touting the robotic cameras it has developed for this year’s games. Remote cameras are usually fixed, but operators of AP’s remote robotic cameras will be able to pan, zoom, and swivel the camera up and down using a joy stick, as they monitor the view on a computer screen–and click the shutter at decisive moments.

AP says it will have a robotic camera in each of 12 different venues. Anticipating where all this might be leading, we asked whether a single operator will be controlling several cameras at once, and whether operators can work from far-off locations–say a desk in New York–similar to the way the military flies its drones.

AP spokesperson Paul Colford says there will be one operator per camera. He adds that according to AP director of photography Santiago Lyon, the operator has to be at the venue where the camera is located, “because otherwise there would be a delay in what the operator is seeing.”