Faked photo from North Korea January 4, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV302 , trackback
With the recent passing of North Korea’s Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, a big state funeral was inevitable. As photos of the scene were transmitted, it seemed that one, produced by the North Korean Central News Agency, was retouched. It appears to have been taken from nearly the same vantage point as another photo distributed by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency, and perhaps only a second afterwards. Yet, a group of onlookers to the left of the frame has disappeared in the later photo. The group was replaced with an image of some snow cloned from another part of the image.
Why would the North Koreans bother with the manipulation? The article speculates that the North Korean editors want to keep up appearances:
North Korea, too, has a facade to maintain: that of a nationalistic people who are happier than their neighbors in the South.
Perhaps, although it is hard to see how the altered image increases the appearance of happiness. Besides, shouldn’t people look sad at the passing of their beloved tyrant? Another possibility is that doctoring photos is very easy with modern software and the North Korean press is quite used to touching up photos and other records and may simply have thought that the doctored image looked less cluttered.
Why should we care? It is not inherently immoral to alter an image. However, as the article explains, images made for journalistic purposes, and thus intended as historical documents, have a special purpose that calls for special care. Notes Bob Steele, a journalism ethics professor at DePauw University:
“We must recognize how easy it is to alter reality; when it comes to journalism and documentary photography, there must be an assumption that authenticity and truth are guiding principles. If we don’t have that, then we don’t have trust. And if we don’t have trust, we have a breakdown in communication within society.”
See also Scott’s discussion of “fauxtography”.
In this case, we seem to have a straightforward problem with authenticity, in the sense that the doctored photo is not genuine. That is, a segment of the image originated not at the funeral but subsequently in a computer application.
Yet, looking at the image raises other, more problematic issues of authenticity. On my monitor, at least, the North Korean Central Press Agency image appears brighter than the Kyodo image. That is, the snow seems whiter. Is that also a result of Photoshopping? Or could it be due to the use of different lenses or cameras?
Suppose that the North Koreans had not done any Photoshopping but had used a lens filter with the intention of making the snow more white and thus nicer looking. Their intention would thus be, perhaps, similar to the intention behind removing the untidy crowd on the left. Would the filtered but not-Photoshopped image be authentic? It would certainly be genuine, as every pixel would have originated at the original scene. Yet, its truthfulness could be questioned. Would it be appropriate to retract such a photo, as occurred with the Photoshopped version?