Steve McCurry has been in the news a lot these last weeks, and there’s no denying the controversy about the digital manipulation recently discovered in some of his photos. (Italian photographer Paolo Vigilione is reported to be the first to have spotted it.) A member of Magnum Photos, McCurry is one of the most famous photographers out there. Over the years, he’s won numerous prestigious awards like the Overseas Press Club of America’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for photographic reporting from abroad and awards from World Press Photo’s competition for visual journalism. His images are vibrant…incredible.
McCurry’s National Geographic bio says he works in the “documentary tradition,” so hearing about the possibility of manipulation could easily make us, as viewers, pause and wonder if we’ve been had. Were we wrong to trust the images to be “true”?
This particular situation underlines (yet again) the need for the larger photographic community to consider some important questions raised in recent years, like with World Press Photo’s own controversies about manipulation in 2013 and 2015, leading the organization to clearly describe its ethical standards, its definition of manipulation, and what is and isn’t acceptable in the World Press Photo contest.
How far is too far when it comes to photo editing? Can photojournalists also do personal work (that includes heavy editing) without indicating which images are “art” and which are “photojournalism”? Should there be some sort of designation system that could be embedded in the photos to indicate the amount of editing?
“True” or not, McCurry’s images have had a profound impact on photography over the years, and his work is now on view for the first time in Canada at Galerie Got Montréal from May 27 through June 30. If you’re in the Montreal area, you can go check out the images for yourself. Can one express a truth about life or humanity through something that isn’t necessarily completely true, like with mythology or theatre? Are these images photojournalism? Art? Both? Does it matter? Let us know what you think!