Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zackary Canepari - NYT Staged Photo Controversy

Zackary Canepari has a pretty big problem. At the ripe old age of 30 or so, he is likely now persona non-grata at the New York Times, and his journalistic ethics will also likely give other editorial publications pause to hire him.

PDNPulse first reported, in New York Times Withdraws Posed News Photo (5/19/08), about the photo above, and the Times' withdrawal of the photograph, including an apology that PDN ran.

What was this photographer thinking when he staged a news photo?

(Continued after the Jump)


While we have not spoken to Zack, his Lightstalkers page shows he's been in and out of India and the Middle East for almost two years, and according to Verve Photo, in this article Zack Canepari - The New Breed of Documentary Photographers (2/27/09), he's been a photographer since 2003. Canepari started doing portraits - making images happen, not standing back and waiting for them to happen.

Unfortunately, when publications pay a pittance for their photographers, and do not pay a living wage, the photographers with the integrity necessary to work for the top publications in the world do other things - their own projects, books, commercial work, and so on. Heck, even a few teach classes and workshops. Because the New York Times has not, well, pardon the pun, kept up with the times, in terms of pay, they have reapt what they have sown. I would not be surprised that there are others they didn't catch, and in an era where photographers are driven to compete, whether Zack's posed photo, which is over the line, to the Reuters photographer with the "enhanced" smoke , which is egregiously over the line, until photographers are paid fairly enough that they can do their jobs - and, it should be said, are staffers with job security, pressures like this will continue to errode the public's trust in journalistic works. The problem is, once people realize this and think about course-correcting, it will be too late, and visual journalism will have been dealt a mortal blow around the world.

If, as Verve Photo suggests, Zack is "the new breed of documentary photography", the world of photojournalism is in dire straits indeed.

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19 comments:

BKYoung said...

I'm curious:

If we see this as an "environmental portrait," rather than a straight news photo, is it still egregiously over the line?

Not that I'm defending him: hunting around for an AK until you can find one and jamming it in the guy's hands, when he didn't have one, is wrong. But let's play a little Devil's Advocate:

He's here to show a tactical leader of the Taliban -- not a Disney animator or something -- who apparently didn't want his face shown. The guy obviously didn't object to being portrayed as a fighter, and most likely does carry an AK all the time. (I'd love to know why he didn't have one around that day.) And finally, it seems the background didn't really speak to anything.

If he had been sent to make a picture of, say, a tailor and said, "Let's stand in front of the shop, holding a swath of fabric," would anyone be so upset? The example of the the smoke in Lebanon picture -- a clear deception of a news event -- is somewhat different.

How exactly was this picture "sold"?

Giulio Sciorio said...

NEWS is always filtered too. It does not surprise me at all that photos are staged. Zack's problem is that he got caught by someone with ethics.

Charles said...

Giulio: the Times retraction note states quite clearly, "The Times subsequently learned from the photographer" (emphasis added). He wasn't caught by anyone, he told them himself. But they only asked after they had printed the picture.

Given Canepari's background in commercial portraiture, it sounds like this is a simple conflict of ethical distinctions. The subject is a member of the Taliban and it's hard to imagine he hasn't personally handled weapons, so Canepari clearly saw no problem in reinforcing the image with a borrowed AK. A news organisation operates to a far more purist standard, however, and the photo-editor should have made that clear on hiring him and checked again before running the photo.

The fundamental fault here lies with the photo-editor involved.

John Harrington said...

Charles -

While I think there is enough fault to go around, the photographer had a responsibility, neh, a duty, to deliver to his client within their ethical boundaries, and he did not. The photo editor's fault is ex post facto, and thus, her fault could not have existed unless his did.

-- John

Pete said...

I'm not sure that I think the NYT has a duty to check each photo before they print it, unless they have a reason to suspect the photographer. (In which case they probably should get another photographer.)

You ask the photog to take pictures, and perhaps you'll look at each photo you plan to use for obvious problems (like an arm cut of in mid-frame without reason) but I can't imagine a newsroom with the ability to check each photo before they run it.

They should, however, be sure the photographers they use are aware of, and understand the ethical rules they are using when taking pictures. (Especially with people whose 'normal' photography is not journalistic.)

Seems to me this is more of a feature photo, rather than news photo, so that changes the equation a bit, as well.

For even something as 'simple' as changing location can be a problem. If the photog is asking the subject to go to another area that has bombed out buildings or something behind him, that would change the entire feel of the photo.

The main reason that this is a problem is that the reader doesn't know the difference between a feature and a news photo in this context.

So they will think that this person always carries a weapon, when that may not be true.

Wade said...

There's absolutely no link between editorial rates of pay and one's ethical outlook. To make one is to be seriously clutching at straws to support your own prejudice against people who undertake lowly-paid editorial work.

John Harrington said...

Wade -

You are entitled to your opinion, no matter how wrong it may be. The link is, in part, relative to people not knowing that it is wrong to manufacture a situation and then allow (or cause) people to think it was not a manufactured situation. They do not know because no one taught them that, because there is so low a barrier to entry.

To suggest I am "prejudiced" against people who undertake lowly-paid work is the same as saying I am prejudiced against someone who takes illicit drugs. I am not in either case - I just know how much harm taking those assignments does to people's careers and the photographic community, in much the same way that someone is doing harm to themselves and their own family and community by doing drugs does. I have seen first hand the harm that both of these situations do to the people who succumb to them. One will kill you, the other will not.

-- John

Charles said...

Pete said: "The main reason that this is a problem is that the reader doesn't know the difference between a feature and a news photo in this context.

So they will think that this person always carries a weapon, when that may not be true."

I think you've hit the nail on the head here. And yes, I'll accept that my earlier comment about the photo-editor checking with the photog before publication is unrealistic in the circumstances.

I think you're absolutely correct, this was shot as a feature photo by someone who's probably shot a lot of feature photos. But it was printed as a news photo, which is a context that carries extra baggage that is the issue here.

Was the photo posed? Absolutely 100%, that's obvious. Taking a posed shot where the subject was in deep shadow was probably the only way to get the photo without Canepari getting really shot himself - these people don't mess around. You can see how the thinking goes from there: "Well, this is a posed shot, so I'll get him to borrow an AK to give it a bit more punch..." Where Canepari went wrong was probably in not making it blatantly clear to a busy overworked photo-ed that this was staged by stating so in the caption. The fact is that even without the AK, this photo is clearly in violation of the NPPA code simply because it was deliberately posed so the guy's face would be obscured.

News photography has, quite rightly, adopted an extremely exacting standard in which the photographer is purely passive and can do nothing to influence the image he produces either before or after the shutter is pressed. This is the only way to cultivate a environment in which press photography can be trusted. But in this situation the photo had to be posed and that means the code is broken, there are no shades of grey. If you're breaking the code by gesturing to show a kid how to point his toy gun, then you're certainly breaking it by telling a subject where to stand.

Yes, Pete has a point in that the photo might infer that Taliban logistical commanders always carry firearms. I don't believe that Winston Churchill always carried a tommygun, but I'm sure he 'inspected' one in 1940 near Hartlepool for his famous photo.

Sorry John, the bottom line is that, AK or not, this is a posed photo (because it had to be posed) and therefore breaks the code. The photo-editor involved should have recognised this and made sure this was reflected in the caption. Canepari may well have been at fault for assuming the nature of the photo was obvious and not flagging it as posed, but I think it's out of order for anyone to accuse him of a gross ethical violation.

Anonymous said...

John Harrington said...
Wade -

You are entitled to your opinion, no matter how wrong it may be.


_____

John, someone's opinion is never wrong. The opinion may be at odds with yours, but it is not wrong.

They can have facts wrong. They can make a statement that is flawed, but it is never wrong.

Wade said...

John -

"You are entitled to your opinion, no matter how wrong it may be."-JH

I can only assume you don't realise how rude that makes you sound.

"They do not know because no one taught them that, because there is so low a barrier to entry."-JH

That comment goes to the fundamental flaw in your thinking. Of course, the barrier to entry for the NYT is actually extremely high. For the thousands that are knocking on the door, only a select few ever shoot for them, and they are doing so DESPITE the low rates, not because they are the reaming few willing to accept them.

You paint a picture of the NYT getting the bottom of the barrel operators, on account of the fact they are paying poorly. For this to be true, you must also be suggesting that the NYT is telephoning lots of photographers, offering assignments, and only a very small number are calling them back on account of their low editorial pay rates. Of course we all know that to be silly talk - as we know many, many photographers do jump at the opportunity, and on account of that competition, a very high standard can be demanded.

This isn't wedding photography where you generally get what you pay for. Like so many newspapers and magazines, the NYT has its cache to trade on - and they do so. They get ALOT more than they ever pay for.

"To suggest I am "prejudiced" against people who undertake lowly-paid work is the same as saying I am prejudiced against someone who takes illicit drugs."-JH

This is not about underquoting for assignments. I am saying you're prejudiced against press photographers. Yes, press photography is fundamentally, economically unsustainable and I am not arguing about that point. What I am saying is that by even being in a position to receive an assignment offer from the NYT, a photographer is probably at the top of their game - not an unenlightened bottom feeder just starting out, who isn't yet skilled or experienced enough to comprehend the ethical dimensions of their trade.

And none of this bares any comparison at all with illicit drugs.

W.

Anonymous said...

For more background on Zack Canepari, you can visit his blog. The postings are a hodgepodge of stream of consciousness writing and supposedly "ironic" ego stroking. This particular post is strangely foreboding of the NYT controversy photo:

http://caneparidoesitbetter.com/2009/04/07/mirror-face-takes-steroids

Anonymous said...

John,

You tell other people their opinions are wrong, rather than just saying you disagree. That certainly comes across as simply being an asshole.

You have the audacity to publicly criticize a fellow pro photographer's work and judgement, yet admit haven't even bothered to talk with him or to find out the true story before publishing your faulty assumptions as fact (something you regularly criticize others for doing).

And, since you admitted that you haven't even spoken to Zack Canepari, I'm guessing you didn't even bother to get permission to publish his copyrighted image on your web site.

If you're wanting to identify photographers with bad judgement, perhaps you should look a bit more closely in your own mirror.

Anonymous said...

"You tell other people their opinions are wrong, rather than just saying you disagree. That certainly comes across as simply being an asshole."

I suppose a lot of us will agree with that. By "us" I mean photojournalists.
By the way, what makes John Harrington an authority on photojournalists' ethics?
The guy spends his life setting up portraits for clients. The fact that it is printed in magazines or trade publications doesn't qualify for the label photojournalist. Where's the journalism in that?!
He is a commercial photographer. So maybe he should talk about what he knows: how to get a bigger fee from the client, how to light a posed portrait, how to promote yourself, etc... etc...

T. C. Knight said...

Seems not a year goes by without a photographer or writer at the Times being revealed as a fake for setting up a photo or making up a story to fit the paper's opinion page.

And they wonder why they have problems?

tony said...

Everyone has there own problems and opinions...

Xmas said...

It sounds very interesting article .

Anonymous said...

Dear John: Thank you for your service to our country on this Memorial Day 2009. What you do is valuable work.

Anonymous said...

I love the fact that another new skool photojournalist got busted for setting up shit.

I just love it.

This is what happens when the publishers reduce pay and deal with people that they don't know well. You get what you fucking pay for now more than ever.

I guess that the rest of you dumb fucks thinks that this is OK; he's carving out his space in the business. He's a trailblazer.

The new photojournalism business model.

I just love it.

Anonymous said...

"Dear John: Thank you for your service to our country on this Memorial Day 2009. What you do is valuable work."

God dang! You forgot to write God bless you and the United States of America (Subtitle = and fuck the rest of the world...)

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