The New York Times has been caught up in a controversy over digital manipulation controversy that not only sullies its name, but really doesn’t make any sense why it was even done.
In the July 5 edition ofÂ The New York Times Magazine, a photo essay byÂ Edgar Martins was run entitledÂ ’Ruins of the Second Gilded Age’, and included the disclaimer saying that the photos were being runÂ ”without digital manipulation”. Â The problem was that they were indeed digitally manipulated, and rather obviously so.
The essay was a presentation of unfinished building projects and unsold homes due to the current housing market problems in the United States. Â It was rather powerful at first glance, showing construction sites that had been abandoned with all of the construction equipment left in place, leaves finding their way into unsold mansions and just a rather generally depressing climate of just how bad things are in the construction industry. Â Everything would have been fine, and probably gone without scrutiny, if it hadn’t been for a piece of lumber sitting at an odd angle.
Unixrat, aÂ user on MetaFilter, posted an animated GIF file to demonstrate how he felt one of the images of an unfinished home had been changed using a mirror effect to duplicate the left side of the house on to the right side. Â What caught the attention of Adam Gurno, the user’s real name as discovered by Simon Owens at Bloggasm, was an errant piece of wood in the framing that he felt was sitting at an odd angle. Â Mr. Gurno, a computer programmer by trade, and not a photography expert by his own admission, made an animated GIF file to demonstrate his theory, and posted it to MetaFilter.
As is want to happen with Internet forums, this caused other members to start perusing the images to see if they could find any other oddities, and find them they did. Â There was a room in an unsold mansion with an identical thermostat on two walls as repeating patterns in the leaves that had blown in, a construction site with identical fencing on either side of the shot, duplicate tree arrangements in the backyard of an unfinished home and so on. Â None of this may have even been considered all that important if The New York Times Magazine had just not run that “without digital manipulation” tagline.
After all of the issues began springing up online, the magazine opted to pull the online version of the essay, and then posted the following explanation:
Editors’ Note: July 8, 2009
A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an expanded slide show on NYTimes.com entitled “Ruins of the Second Gilded Age” showed large housing construction projects across the United States that came to a halt, often half-finished, when the housing market collapsed. The introduction said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, “creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation.”
A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from NYTimes.com.
Now comes the questions as to why no one at the magazine caught any of these issues. Â Do they not request to see the raw images? Â Do the photo editors not go over images with a fine tooth comb? Â True, the Internet provides more eyeballs than any magazine could ever hope to put on an image, but if you are going to proudly proclaim “without digital manipulation”, you would think they might take a bit of a closer look as it puts the magazine’s reputation at stake.
Somehow I imagine The New York Times as a whole is going to be a lot harder to sell photo essays to for a good long time.