Photography vs ethics

Jun 21, 2016, 09:51 IST | Dipanjan Sinha

A panel discussion intends to figure the ethical parameters of work done on a photograph in light of the recent controversy around Steve McCurry’s work

The icon of photojournalism in the last few decades, US photographer Steve McCurry has been embroiled in a controversy that has not only led to questioning of the quality and ethics of his photography but also made people question their trust on photographs in times of massive post-click improvisation and editing.

Steve McCurry (right) in conversation with writer and curator Girish Shahane during a visit to Mumbai earlier this year. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Steve McCurry (right) in conversation with writer and curator Girish Shahane during a visit to Mumbai earlier this year. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

What has emerged from the controversy is that some of his iconic photos were touched upon considerably, while some were staged. In fact, an international magazine has admitted that the picture of a tailor wading through floodwaters with his sewing machine, which it used for its cover, was altered by the magazine. There have been allegations that his iconic photograph of the Afghan girl was altered too. To clear the air on ethical practices, Photo Konnect, a Mumbai-based photography collective, has organised a panel discussion titled, The Steve McCurry Debate, to explore the ethical boundaries of altering photos or staging them.

Visitors at an exhibition dedicated to the works of Steve McCurry at CerModern museum in Ankara last year. Pic/AFP

Mulchand Dedhia, founder of Photo Konnect, explains that it is indeed a confusing situation where almost everyone is altering photographs. “There are several arguments here and through this debate we want to have a clearer picture on the ethical boundaries. While one side argues that every one now is editing photos and McCurry has become a victim of his stature, another group points out that the photographer is responsible for his work. Then, people also argue that a photograph is always influenced and that there is no true photo. It is, hence, important that we talk about this more to figure out ethics of photography in our times,” he says.

K Madhavan Pillai 

Reuters photographer and panelist for the event, Shailesh Andrade agrees. “Anybody can shoot a picture now and almost everyone does post-click work. Sometimes, it is so much that it ceases to be a photograph and becomes a sort of painting. Though, if not strictly a work of journalism, there is nothing wrong with that. It is, however, robbing the craft of photography of the pleasures of going out and hunting for that perfect sight and moment,” he explains and asserts, “If you have a great photo, you do not need to do too much work on it.” On McCurry, he is clear that there is no doubt that what he has done is unethical and even points out that an Associated Press journalist recently lost his job for such manipulation of photos.

Shailesh Andrade
Shailesh Andrade

The other panelist, K Madhavan Pillai, chief editor of Better Photography, is not completely convinced about the guilt of McCurry. “My take is that we don’t know enough,” he says, and points out, “Though photographers have to take ownership of their work, many times, they do not have control of what goes in print. And moreover, McCurry cannot possibly go against the magazines who are his source of income.”

Pillai feels that manipulation has been there from the very beginning of photography as black and white is not the natural colour of the world. “But now, people don’t trust photos. If there is a lush green field or a clear blue sky, it is likely that people would suspect that it is edited.”

On: June 25, 4 pm
At: Khar Social, Rohan Plaza, Ram Krishna Nagar, Khar (W).
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