Stop the presses: this photograph is real
Are we becoming so jaded by Photographic forgeries that we now question every image?
“Amazing picture is the real deal-no porkies” this was the headline on the page 5 picture story in last Tuesday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph.
The news content in this story about a giant feral pig shot some years back in Western Australia was that it was indeed a genuine picture and not forged. It had been written off as an internet hoax and even the WA ‘s own Department of Environment and Conservation had dismissed it as a forgery.
How have we reached this point where it is now news when a picture is in fact genuine and does it matter?
I have become a little obsessed recently with photographic forgeries and why people make and distribute them, and the effect that these manipulations have on the way we view all imagery in the media.
Is this just a bit of harmless fun or is there a serious side to what happens out there in the Digital Badlands?
Photoshop has given the means and the internet provides the way to get forgeries out to millions and millions of internet users, the motivations for why they are produced are as varied as the forgeries.
At its simplest it can be just a bit of mischief like the “Shark attacks helicopter” that started to circulate in 2001. This was quite obviously a fake despite initial claims when that it was the “Geo photograph of the Year”.
At a level above the nonsense hoax comes the deliberate attempt to mislead.
This picture was a Defence Department image released in September 2004. The uniquely Australian content of kangaroos feeding while F111’s taxied prior to takeoff at Queensland’s Amberly RAAF base naturally attracted the international picture services and it was picked up by Reuters and sent out on their international feed.
Problem was that not all those kangaroos are real, the giveaway here is the multiple fields of focus. Just how many kangaroos were in the original picture is hard to say, the big kangaroo at the front is hovering above the grass which is quite clearly out of focus whilst he is sharp, the same kangaroo reversed and smaller is to the right of the picture.
When the hoax was exposed the photograph had to be withdrawn and an apology issued.
This is a big deal for the wires services their pictures are received by many hundreds of newspapers throughout the world and events like this harm their “trusted source” status. They hate being duped in this way.
This also uncovers a positive aspect of the internet, whilst it can be easy to distribute hoaxes and have them believed by many viewers, with so many expert eyes looking at this material it is only a matter of time before even the most elaborate deception is uncovered.
At a level above this sort of hoax comes propoganda at a state level which has the potential for far more serious consequences.
In July 2008, Sepah News the media arm of the Iran’s revolutionary guard released this picture of a missile test. The picture was snapped up by an insatiable media news cycle and picked up by the international wire services, many newspapers ran the photograph on their front pages including the LA Times and The Chicago Tribune, the photograph was also used extensively on news websites like The BBC and MSNBC.
Some time later it emerged that some of the missiles were not real when Sepah released an almost identical version with only 3 of the missiles heading skyward.
AFP withdrew the 4 missile version saying that the image was “apparently digitally altered” by Iranian state media. The fourth missile “has apparently been added in a digital retouch to cover a grounded missile that may have failed during the test.
Too late, the retraction would have been seen by few, Sepah had received enormous coverage by a media who eagerly received the first doctored image and ran with it. Everyone with a phone has now become a photojournalist, even a very basic understanding of photoshop puts this type of hoax within easy reach. On the flip side of this, even very sophisticated and professional forgeries will not stand up to more than 24 hours of world wide internet scrutiny.
I think it would be a great shame if we start to question all images like the big WA pig. So I guess this is a plea to keep the faith.
Photojournalism at its best can move and educate, bring down a government and shine a light into some of the darker places in this world. The great majority of photographers working around the world have very strict ethical codes and would not ever attempt to perpetrate a visual hoax. Anyone who does stray for whatever reason will be caught.
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