Steve McCurry really is in a sticky situation, as some of you will no doubt be aware. Blackadder would say that McCurry’s in the stickiest situation since Sticky the stick insect got caught on a sticky bun. It’s pretty bad.
This Petapixel.com article discusses the controversy neatly, so there is no need to repeat what it says. McCurry is a titan of photography, with a large support base (who care little about what I am going to discuss here), so he will undoubtedly continue to do very well. Sadly, however, I suspect the damage is wider than ‘Steve McCurry’ and that documentary, reportage, travel and street photography have had another chunk of concrete chipped from their foundations. It is very true that plenty of photographers have been caught with their pants down, but McCurry is one of the most famous photographers in the world. We needed him (and his ilk) to remain well above this sort of thing. Sadly he appears to have fallen off his cloud and to be covered in mud. This isn’t good for the most famous photographic agency in of all time, Magnum Photos, (which McCurry is a member of) and it is not good for photography as a whole.
Now onto what has happened, for those of you who may have missed it.
Spot the Difference
This is going to be easier than the ones Tony the Tiger (Kellogg’s cereal fame) used to tease us with as children. Aside from colour and contrast changes (no problem with that), there are two major content changes to the first photo and ten (!) alterations to the second. If you’d not really looked at the photos and considered this a bit of a storm in a teacup, you may feel differently when you’ve finished comparing these images. Bear in mind Steve McCurry billed himself as a photojournalist….
The changes are not subtle and they required not only extensive post processing, but also judgment decisions on what ‘needed’ to be removed. I’ll come back to this point later.
Steve McCurry & Photography Ethics
As many of you will know, I believe photography ethics are an important topic, because they ground you and your work (also see this article discussing the stripping of a World Press Photo award). Ethics define the interactions you have with your subjects and they contextualise your images when they are being viewed by others. Some photographers lie and misrepresent matters and may get away with it. However, this is one heck of a risk to take, even if you ignore the immorality of deceiving people. One could argue that for famous photographers, professional ethics are the threads that hold reputations and legacies together and shape the entire industry.
In Steve McCurry’s case, the allegations (which appear well-substantiated) seem to be:
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