Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Well I should have known. For all the times I have used Picasa to make sure I come out looking a little less for wear in my pictures- and anyone who knows me knows I’m a picture fanatic- I should have know THIS would happen next. Did you hear? Reuters dropped a Lebanese photographer over doctored images. Apparently the man doctored the pictures of smoke over a bombed Beirut. He said something along the lines that the picture quality wasn’t clear and he fixed up. But when its news (and not a picture of me from some party) the result is completely different. The smoke can look blacker- damage can look more pronounced. Now the same man, Adnan Hajj, has been involved in something even stranger. The buzz over the blogs has been that after the destruction of the village of Qana (in south Lebanon) photographers such as Hajj allowed ‘Hezbollah media management’; which is to say that a man in a white shirt and a man in a green helmet stood around corpses waiting for photo-ops to present themselves as grieving. But (as the theory goes) if one were to put together all the pictures surrounding the incident you can make out that the men were not part of the rescue effort or relatives or people who were actually grieving but that their presence there was simply for the photographers. Well, we all know about uses of the media to manipulate people. But the reasons behind these two incidents can be because of the pressure photo journalists are under to snap that perfect picture.

So everyone has a camera phone now and pictures can reach news organizations from all sorts of sources now. Not just that, but with the mushrooming of news organizations, every photographer is probably trying to bend over backwards to get that poignant- and perfect- shot. Perhaps.

Whatever the reasons, we have entered into some murky territory. I’ve always held that visual images have huge impacts on us. In good ways, in not so good ways. The more images we see of war and poverty and hunger, the easier it becomes to live with these concepts. You start to accept it as a given. Every war looks the same once the bombs go off. But at the same time, pictures can take you into places you never could imagine. I love BBC’s section ‘In Pictures’ because you can go over the most interesting pictures of the week (both selected by BBC and a separate one from the readers). But to now consider the probability that it’s not some political regime trying to sell you an idea that does not exist, but individual people who may not have a sinister agenda at all, just one that allows them to save their own ass.

Have you seen a movie called Shattered Glass? Watch it. It’s a true story- and it’s a crazy movie about how a writer for TNR (The New Republic) made up these stories only to be found out by his editor later. Hayden Christenson stars (Anakin Skywalker of the newer Star Wars) along with a talented cast. Do see it. You know he’s going down but you feel so sorry and anxious for him the whole way through!

On a separate note, I was thinking about the whole ‘what you see is not always what you get’ when I spotted a familiar name in an interview- this Pakistani writer called Mohsin Hamid. Asma (of the previous blog entry) had actually given me a book by him called Moth Smoke that I only read in parts. Anyway, in his interview to Tehelka he talks about how India is probably more jingoistic than Pakistan. It made me realize that even after hours of talking about the situation with people of all shapes, sizes and ages, people from India, Pakistan and practically every other country in the world that cared, I still know NOTHING about the India/ Pakistan dynamic. I mean, seriously. I really cannot figure out what the hell is going on. The images I get from each point of information are different from the other. I know the sequence of events and what everyone says they think, but I can’t imagine how it will be even ten years from now.

And Adnan Hajj? Reuters withdrew all 920 pictures they had from him. This means it prevents their further sale. Moral of the story: Don’t make things up. Things are complicated anyway without you complicating it further.


Aye Davanita said...

This is a fascinating topic and clearly one can only scratch the surface in this short space.

There are so many things to consider here - for me, the foremost being the responsibility of the media. The responsibility of representatives of the media. Now we have live feeds of bombs being dropped on a country 1,000's of miles away. Newscasters line up on a silent night along a beach as Navy seals infiltrate a sovereign State in a "covert" mission.

War, death, bombings, carnage... all are at our fingertips. Here's where I mildly disagree with you - that a surplus of visual images renders us indifferent to these heinous events. Isn't it ironic, that a greater exposure to these atrocities leads to MORE indifference? Under normal circumstances, and in the most non-cynical way - one would assume the opposite. A cold hard truth that humankind is innately indifferent. Why else would there be a need to exemplify the good deeds of Volunteer workers, and the Mother Teresa's of the world? Because there are too few that care.

"Honor", "honesty" and "empathy" are old concepts... (sigh).. And I'm not even being my usual cynical self.

jerry said...

I read about it from the agencies. Yes, a very debatable topic when it concerns the media and its ethics. With the new-age gadgets its understandable to be corrupted. But yes there's a war waging, and ews will be spoiled fo it to sell.

Ksingh said...

its expected isnt it, when the 2nd war on iraq was on i kept thinking to my self why is CNN only showing these dark green images of what was happening, while on had to hang onto every word of the american reporter to know what was happening.
while a channel away on Al-jazeera there were clear images of actual hits being made by both sides.
it comes down how each side wants the story to be narrated, thats why im not very suprised hearing about these doctored picture.

Pirate of the Arabian said...

See.. this is why I work for a magazine where morphed pictures are appreciated..
Heck.. what's life without a laugh

jerry said...

True, very true man. It makes me think back at things.