Despite being on the forefront documenting the Syrian civil war and winning a Pulitzer Prize for his work, even a prominent war photographer can’t get away with Photoshopping his work. The Associated Press just gave freelance photographer Narciso Contreras the boot for having manipulated a news photo he took last September, and has removed all the photos Contreras shot for the agency (about 500).
The severance shows that AP is taking the matter seriously, even though Contreras is recognized as one of the most important photographers covering the conflict in Syria. His work was showcased on Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog, and he was part of the team of AP photographers that shared the Pulitzer Prize for covering the civil war.
Contreras had no ill intentions for altering the photo, which he recently informed his editors at AP. The photo shows a Syrian rebel fighter taking cover. Contreras edited out a video camera that was on the ground near the soldier; Contreras’s reasoning was that he felt the object was too distracting for the viewer. In the grand scheme of things, the alteration had no major impact to the story the photo was conveying – even Santiago Lyon, AP’s director of photography, said the change “involved a corner of the image with little news importance” – but it was a breach against AP’s policies regardless. (The image was not part of the collection that won the Pulitzer.)
“I took the wrong decision when I removed the camera … I feel ashamed about that,” Contreras 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.” The AP investigated Contreras’s other images and found no other instances of photo manipulation.
The story brings to mind the World Press Photo controversy last year, where the winning photo was accused of having been heavily manipulated and its authenticity questioned. The WPP’s investigation found that the photo is real, but there was a bit of post-processing involved – enough for the WPP to change its rules to address the matter. Photoshop and other photo software are great for manipulating images to express our creativity, but when it comes to news reporting, even the best photographers can’t get away with it.
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