Monday, July 05, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don't It?

Well, yes it does. That's why photojournalists (or in this case, their editors) should not screw with their photos.

Case in point, the cover of a recent The Economist issue (on the left). Apparently an editor felt the need to remove the two people standing with President Obama. As a result, they've changed the photo. Or, more precisely, the visceral experience you get from looking at the photo. And they changed the meaning too.

The original picture (on the right) was taken by Larry Downing for Reuters. The altered cover shot was created by Emma Duncan, Deputy Editor of The Economist. Here's her explanation for the alteration:

"We often edit the photos we use on our covers," she said. And this particular cover was altered because "the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers."
This is a ridiculous explanation. If any element of the photo is "puzzling" to the viewer, it can be taken care of in the caption. That's why captions were invented.

And the fact that President Obama is standing with two unidentified people is not very puzzling. Sure, I'd like to know who the two people he's with are. But for me, it's not essential that I know. I can infer from the photo that he's probably standing with some Gulf State officials, or maybe locals. To get the full effect of the photo, it is not essential to know who the other two people are.

Taking them out completely changes the meaning of the photo. Instead of President Obama leaning down to hear what the woman is saying (as he is in the unretouched photo), he's now hanging his head in shame, or embarrassment at the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of BP being the bad guy in the photo (as they are in the unretouched version), now President Obama is the bad guy.

But, what do you expect. Both The Economist and BP are owned by British companies. So, I guess we know where their loyalties lie.

1 comment:

sixpence said...

It's a magazine cover. Removing the other figures improves the composition. It also gives President Obama a dignified air. I see nothing that he should be "ashamed" of.

I agree the excuse for the alteration is poor, but the result is a strong image.

Your last paragraph is unworthy and insulting.