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The seamy side of photojournalism

South Dakota Badlands, 1936. Photo by Arthur Rothstein.

Back on June 6 in a post titled “Truth in photography” I expressed my disappointment about a photographer staging his photo. As we discussed at the time, staging is a common practice which may or may not be acceptable to a publisher, an audience, or the judges in a contest.

This photo was one of many shot by Arthur Rothstein in 1936 depicting a severe drought in South Dakota. As it turns out, Rothstein simply toted a single cow skull around and shot it with various backgrounds and lighting. In a 1964 interview, long after the duplicity was discovered, Rothstein said he was using the skull for “exercises in photography,” experimenting with “the texture of the skull, the texture of the earth, the cracks in the soil, the lighting” and “how the lighting changed from the east to the west as the sun went down.” Makes one wonder who’s trying to fool whom.

Anyway, an interesting article on Slate — “These Altered Images Show Photojournalism at Its Worst” — features more photos known for liberties taken by the photographers. Some you’ll recognize; some I’d never seen. All are part of an exhibit, “Altered Images: 150 Years of Posed and Manipulated Documentary Photography,” currently on view at the Bronx Documentary Center. For the original descriptions of how some of the images were altered or staged, see BDC’s “Altered images: Is this real or faked?”

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