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Re: Photography as a Weapon
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 16:16:08 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Chris Gulker" <cg () gulker com>
Date: August 13, 2008 4:13:58 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net, rforno () infowarrior org
Subject: Re: [IP] Photography as a Weapon

Dave and Richard-

Writing from the perspective of a former working photojournalist (mostly for American daily newspapers and weekly magazines), I'd offer this on the topic of photographs:

Media, particularly better newspapers and newsweeklies, often use photographs to illustrate and expand the reader's comprehension of a given story, and take considerable pains to guarantee the accuracy of their pictures (as well as their words).

Yes, photos have, not infrequently, been used as a kind of evidence to convince otherwise skeptical readers of a story's basis in fact. The recent story about an orphaned 44-lb. cat comes to mind: if the reader had only words, they might suspect an exaggeration: the photo (and news videos) put such doubts to rest. The cat is huge.

The Iranian missile photo is the most recent semi-clueless propaganda effort from a regime not known for a sophisticated command of media. Most media outlets that originally used the photo also clearly noted the source: in effect, they said 'Here's a photo provided by the Iranian government,' which leaves the reader to decide how much they do or don't trust the source.

That most outlets missed the fake speaks more to the epidemic of staff cuts currently plaguing traditional print media: photos are increasingly handled by people who have no formal training in photography, particularly in modern digital techniques.

I could write a short book on this topic: suffice to say that photos have been used and misused, faked, nuanced and manipulated for more than a century - almost since the birth of the medium. It's always been possible to lie using either words or photos - a fact well known to repressive governments, political operatives, publicists and their ilk. Photoshop and digital techniques merely make it easier to create (and discover) convincing fakes.

As always, best policy is 'reader (viewer) beware'...

- Chris
Chris Gulker
cg () gulker com

On Wed, Aug 13, 2008 at 11:18 AM, David Farber <dave () farber net> wrote:

Begin forwarded message:

From: Richard Forno <rforno () infowarrior org>
Date: August 13, 2008 12:52:36 PM EDT
To: Undisclosed-recipients: <>;
Cc: Dave Farber <dave () farber net>
Subject: Photography as a Weapon

Photography as a Weapon

As almost everyone knows by now, various major daily newspaper published, on July 10, a photograph of four Iranian missiles streaking heavenward; then Little Green Footballs (significantly, a blog and not a daily newspaper) provided evidence that the photograph had been faked. Later, many of those same papers published a Whitman's sampler of retractions and apologies. For me it raised a series of questions about images.[1] Do they provide illustration of a text or an idea of evidence of some underlying reality or both? And if they are evidence, don't we have to know that the evidence is reliable, that it can be trusted?

Hany Farid, a Dartmouth professor and an expert on digital photography, has published a number of journal articles and a recent Scientific American article on digital photographic fraud. He seemed to be a good person to start with. If a photograph has been tampered with, he's the person to analyze how the tampering has been done. I wanted to discuss with him the issue of the Iranian photograph starting with the issue of why we trust photographs in the first place.

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