history or his story?

At first glance the photo is history.  This is the moment in time that will forever be remembered.

For what most of what America saw in print, the images were completely false.   By now, most have heard the photo of POTUS announcing that Osama bin Laden had been killed was a re-enactment.  Still shooters were kept out of the room during the televised address to the nation.  Second passed, then President Obama walked right back in and fakes it for 30 seconds for the still photographers, who took turns essentially making the same boring photo over and over.  Boring.  I said it.  Important and historical?  Yes.  If it had been real.

I want to see the photo of a group of White House photojournalists standing outside the locked doors during the actual moment.  Photograph what you see, not what you are shown.  In essence, though, these photojournalists’ hands are tied, yet they make some insane photographs under the most difficult of situations.  I know what they’d rather be photographing.  You take these moments for that little slice of access where something real happens.

I know this is a long standing tradition in the White House as to not let the camera clicking interfere with the message.  It isn’t President Obama, and it dates back decades.  Unfortunately, the message that is being sent when the cameras are clicking is being interfered with.

That is no longer an acceptable answer in my mind.  It is falsifying history.  What if – and just imagine – what if something were to happen during the re-enactment?  Any slip of the tongue, a trip on the red carpet, a glance or subtle expression change all can dramatically alter what is real and what is news.  It is going to take that kind of moment to change all of this staging of events.  Essentially, the White House is determining what is history.  What we see.  What is real.

It is not history.  It is his story.

Major props to MSNBC, who just posted a link to this story and have made the bold move of never running re-enactments again.  They’ve pulled video stills and replaced them on their site.  Their full story:  here.

I think this is the first time I really, truly agree with abandoning the still photograph and going with a frame grab.  At least it is honest.

Now onto the other moment we all saw.

This isn’t as black-and-white.

I can understand why Pete Souza is allowed in the room.  It is his job to preserve history as it happens.  He is our eyes.  The visual messenger.  The photo says it all.  These are our leaders watching a major decision unfold in the war on terror.  This is news as it happens.  Not a re-enactment.

He is doing an amazing job…if you haven’t, check out the White House Flickr feed.  Amazing images.  It is quite possibly one of the only redeeming qualities of Flickr.

The document on the keyboard in front of Hillary Clinton was altered to prevent a classified document from being seen.  I can understand that.  As long as the White House acknowledges and make full disclosure that the image has been altered.  The responsibility lies in news organizations to run that information in captions.  The public needs to know when something has been changed – no matter how small.  I would really love to live in a perfect world where open-ness and transparency was the norm, but in cases like this, journalistic ethics and Photoshop rules no longer apply.  It is a matter of national security.

I get it.  I agree.  I feel a little sick saying it, but I understand.

I do find the instructions that are in the caption field a bit ironic:  ”The photograph may not be manipulated in any way.”

The press says it doesn’t have control in this situation and they are just taking what they are given.

Stop taking what we are given.  There will come a time when this will be a problem.  I hope that time is now as the public is becoming aware of photojournalism and what we do.   The long-standing tradition of manufacturing photo-ops and re-enactments need to end.  It clouds the water, it reduces what we do to visual paperwork and simply photocopying something.

We will no longer be journalists, but Xerox machines.

(Official White House Photos by Pete Souza)

9 comments

  1. This was a wonderful read. Thank you for taking a stand and voicing your opinion in such a lucid and informed way. I want to see the photo of the PJs waiting outside the room too!

  2. Well said Chip. It amazes me how many scenes are manufactured for the press, and not just at big events. This is pervasive on the local level as well. But I don’t blame the journalists. It would be great to take a stand, but I think for a lot of us, job security (lack of), doesn’t afford us the luxury to do so. I think the only real way for things to change would be for everyone put their foot down and to hold their ground. I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Tough situation for the photographers on deadline, but it should be the responsibility of the news organizations to stand up to the administration and refuse to cover such re-enactments.

  4. Bruce Gronbeck

    Ahh, once again the sacredness of photography, the mundanity of video. . . The historical video record is there. The taking of stills before or after events doesn’t make the pictures a-historical–rather, photographic opportunities simply extend those events. By now, we come to expect–and even to cherish–the photos of U.S. Open victors holding up their trophies after the matches, 4-H state champions showing us their ribbons after the judging is over, the accused hugging his or her attorney after the trial. All of that’s not a matter of falsification; they’re all social-professional conventions invented by photographers back when the photographic plate needed significant exposure to make a focused image. It’s your own practice, your own fault.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>