Recent cases of news photo manipulation have editors and photo directors up in
arms over the dangers of digital technology. Photo manipulation, however, was
not born in the digital world D it is only nurtured there. Artists and
photographers have been altering and staging photos since the invention of
photography in the 19th century. And the period from 1910 to the 1930s,
immediately following the perfection of the halftone technique, was perhaps the
heyday for news photo manipulation. The author details the environment which led
to photo manipulation during the early twentieth century and in the concluding
section compares this historical environment to today's conditions. This
historical juxtaposition sheds light on some of the factors that influence photo
manipulation today. The role of technology in adding or decreasing news value in
photos is discussed, as are other factors, such as: the relative power of the
art department; the view of news photos as preconceived illustrations; and the
role of competition and deadline pressure. The author uses his seven years of
experience as a newspaper illustrator and page designer to help draw some of
PHOTO MANIPULATION AND THE SEARCH FOR NEWS VALUE
IN THE 1920S AND THE 1990S
One night shortly before deadline, in a hectic newsroom at the Louisville
Courier-Journal, three editors stare with concern at an image on a computer
screen. The image is slated to be the centerpiece photo for the next-day's
front-page report on Louisville's red-light district. The subject of the photo
is a strip dancer performing a high kick in front of a crowd of bar patrons D
and the strip dancer does not appear to be wearing underwear. There are no other
strong art possibilities D one other photo has been scanned, but it was not
considered to be centerpiece quality. The editors feel trapped between offending
readers with a risque photo and pursuing what they think is an unethical option
D digital photo manipulation. They choose the latter. The picture editor alters
the dancer's sweater to cover the offending area and transmits the photo. The
next morning senior editors find out about the photo manipulation, but no heads
roll. In fact the executive editor feels that, under the circumstances, the
right decision was made.
While this is a true story, it is not necessarily a unique one. There have been
documented cases of photo manipulation in the 1990s at such reputable
publications as National Geographic, Time, Newsday, The Detroit News and the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch. In the Dec. 2, 1997 issue of Newsweek, the crooked teeth
of septuplet parent Bobbi McCaughey were digitally straightened and whitened for
the cover shot. What is perhaps most alarming in the Louisville case is that
editors chose to visually lie to readers when other options were available. They
could have run the other photo, not run art at all, or even held the story D_but
they instead chose a quick technological fix. Altered photos arguably undercut
readers' trust even more than textual inaccuracies, because news photos convey a
Photo Manipulation and the Search for News Values in the 1920s and 1990s
concrete believability that words do not. As one editor says, "This
technology is dangerous. Readers think photos don't lie."
Although digital technology makes manipulation quicker, easier and more
difficult to detect than ever before, the technology did not create photo
manipulation. Photographers and artists have been manipulating photos since the
invention of photography by posing subjects and by using darkroom tricks. Some
examples: In 1840, French photographer Hippolyte Bayard faked his own death in a
photo; an 1864 photo of Abraham Lincoln was found to be an image of John C.
Calhoun on which Lincoln's head had been superimposed; and it was not uncommon
for Civil War photographers to move bodies of dead soldiers for dramatic
But perhaps no time period in the history of news photo manipulation can
compare with the early decades of the 20th century. Artists routinely painted
over photos, lab workers spliced together negatives and photographers fabricated
events through elaborate posing. Artists and photographers manipulated photos
for some of the same reasons editors at the Courier Journal manipulated the
stripper photo. They too felt the pressures of deadlines and competition. And
they too fell under the influence of technology (or sometimes the lack of it.)
Then, as now, technology influenced editorial and public perceptions of news
photography, thereby alternately encouraging and discouraging photo
manipulation. It is this period D from around 1910 to 1939 D which this paper
will explore in an effort to shed historical light on today's manipulation.
There has been little historical research on photo manipulation and none
that the author could find which uses historical research as a tool for
analyzing current photo manipulation. Most of the literature focuses on the
present ethical implications for news publications D what happens when readers
and viewers stop believing in news images? D and on surveying editors'
attitudes toward manipulation. Some researchers take the approach that all
news photos are "constructed reality," and that digital technology does not
alter photo reality any more than the photographer does when aiming the
The author makes extensive reference to Editor & Publisher, the major trade
journal of the newspaper industry, and Photo-Era, the major national magazine
for photography during the early 20th century. Articles in these journals best
display the predominant perceptions of news photography at that time D they show
what editors and photographers considered to be desirable photographic practice.
The paper's first part details the environment which led to photo manipulation
during the historical period, and the paper's concluding section compares the
historical environment to today's conditions. The author uses his seven years of
newspaper experience in creating digital photo illustrations to help draw some
of these conclusions.
BEFORE PROFESSIONALISM: THE ERA OF MANIPULATION FROM 1910 TO THE 1920S
The novelty of the halftone
Before the turn of the century, illustrated newspapers relied on their art
departments for news pictures. Photos were taken, but they were only used as
visual reference for engravings. Mass printing of photographs was impossible
because there was no way to reproduce continuous gray-tone prints on a printing
press. In the 1860s, a solution to this problem was found in the invention of
the halftone block. The New York Daily Graphic used this invention in 1880 to
publish a halftone photo for the first time in a newspaper. But it wasn't
until 1893 that Max and Louis Levy perfected the technique of exposing a photo
through a screen of tiny "holes" onto a light-sensitive plate. This is the
technique essentially used today D_although digital scanning is becoming
more and more prevalent.
This process sparked a dramatic rise in the number of newspaper photos. In
1900, all American newspapers printed around 100 photos per week, while in 1910,
the New York daily papers alone printed an average of 903 per week.
A Harper's Weekly editorial in 1911 stated that "we can't see the ideas for
illustration. Our world is simply flooded with them." The public was picture
crazy. The novelty of newspaper photos had caught the imagination, but readers
were more impressed by the fact that a photograph could finally be made to
appear in a newspaper than by the picture's content. The news editor also
failed to recognize the news value of photos D he "used [the photo] because he
believed it brightened or dressed up the newspaper...if it did not quite jibe
with the words in sense, why that was alright too." Halftone technology had
brought an entertaining novelty to the pages, and editors were eager to feed
Photos as illustrations
To editors, photos were illustrations, and their content was to be shaped
according to the expectations and preferences of the public. A 1912 article
relates an example of this editorial philosophy. The article describes
manipulated distortion from motion in photography and newspaper editors'
preference for this distortion. "The general public has come to recognize such
distortion as meaning "speed," ._._._One press photographer who snapped pictures
of races in which the cars were not distorted _._._._was told by his editor that
he must get distortion!"
The public demand for photos led to the creation of picture services. These
services hired photographers to shoot subjects of interest to readers and
offered these photos to news publications. Bert Underwood, president of the
largest picture service of the era, described what he looked for in news photos:
"Cheerfulness, personality, action and novelty_._._." There was no place for
photos which challenged or disturbed the reader: "The morbid, cynical, the
disillusioning, have an appeal only to the outnumbered few." The
photographer was not looking to reveal truth in these photos, nor even to
illustrate news stories. His job was to illustrate pre-conceived categories
which men like Underwood saw as interesting to the public: weddings, pretty
women, infants, pets, etc. Underwood said the perfect picture "is one showing a
good-looking society woman, a beautiful horse, and a pet or two D all in the
same scene." Charles Tebbs, art director for Hearst Newspapers in the early
1920s expressed a similar perception: "Pictures of pretty women and babies are
interesting. Pictures of new celebrities are interesting and new pictures of old
celebrities are interesting."
The editorial view of photos as crowd-pleasing illustrations led to
manipulation. Photographers routinely posed their subjects to create novelties:
photos of very tall people next to very short people; very fat people next to
very thin people; a line of men with eye patches. One author described an
example of this elaborating posing: a photographer "dressed up an old darkey as
town-crier, put a bell in his hand and photographed him in action. It was such a
remarkably interesting subject, that a score of papers printed it _._._._"
Altering photos to please the subjects was common as well. Underwood noted a
problem in photographing elderly women D "they frequently object to
'close-ups_._._.'" He suggests the photographer snap the picture from twenty
feet away or that the art department remove wrinkles during retouching.
The power of the art department
As mentioned earlier, until halftone technology took hold, newspapers portrayed
news events in engravings, and photos were used only as reference for the
artist. Artists had become accustomed to changing details of these engravings to
improve aesthetics or to make scenes more emotionally engaging. To the art
director, the reference photo had no artistic integrity (just as it had no
journalistic integrity to the editor). Why should halftone photos be any
different? Artists changed facial expressions, rearranged and removed
elements, and cut photos into odd shapes, giving them decorative frames.
They routinely created montages D photographed portraits were superimposed on
photographed or painted backgrounds. Such manipulation was also inspired by "art
concepts of picture making"
The spirit of job justification may have also inspired heavy-handed art
direction. As more newspapers switched over to photographs, engraved
illustrations became increasingly rare, and artists lost positions. The idea
of photographs moving straight from film to newsprint D and bypassing the art
department D was likely a frightening concept to increasingly insecure news
During this time, the nascent photographic community was engaged in a debate
over the issue of "straight" photography vs. "art" photography. Straight
photography was unretouched (or lightly retouched) by the artist's brush. In art
photography the photo was heavily painted D the original photo only served as a
base for a future painting. In a 1915 photography magazine, a straight
photographer discussed this debate and indicated that his view was in the
minority. "It has been my misfortune to run counter to the most eminent
pictorialists_._._._in insisting that the untouched negative and a contact print
therefrom may produce a work of art." Even this purist, however, held that
art photographers had raised the standing of photographers in the arts world:
"it was the radical advance of the re-worker who resorted to any method to make
his print great that has taken photography out of the class of the mechanical
arts and_._. ._maintained for it a place among the fine arts." The only road
to artistic acceptance, it seemed, was photo manipulation.
Get that picture: competition, hardship and manipulation
The public demand for photos led to a high level of competition between
photographers, pictures services and newspapers. Camera and photo-transmission
technology lagged behind printing technology, and this contributed to the
pressures that came from competition. The cameras of the day no longer required
tripods, but they were still large, intrusive and slow-lensed. As a result,
candid shots were extremely difficult to get. One of Bert Underwood's
photographers said, "_._._._the hardest thing about this game is not breaking
your neck climbing to places where you can get a picture or beating the other
boy to the office with the copy. No sir. It's getting people to stand for
it." The later invention of smaller, quicker cameras which could capture
candid shots increased the photographer's ability to get newsworthy photos.
Prior to these candid cameras, however, subjects tended to be posed, and
situations tended to be stale and manipulated. Photos had a "watch the birdie"
feel to them. Subjects would pose according to their profession: a comic would
grimace humorously, an actor would effect drama, singers would open mouths wide
as if singing a high note.
Early flash photography was also an obstacle to candid photos. Flammable flash
powder, which had been invented in 1887, eliminated the difficulty of indoor
exposures, but it was perhaps the most highly intrusive and obnoxious aspect of
the photographic process. The flash was responsible for many fires and
explosions and, needless to say, did not help to make the photographer an
accepted participant at public or private events. Many courtrooms forbade
photographers because of the flash. In a 1947 article, Basil Walters,
executive editor of Knight newspapers, cited flash powder as the primary reason
for earlier and continuing prejudice against newspaper photography.
Transporting the photo to the news publication was also difficult, especially
if the event was out of town. In the days before wirephoto, delivery by mail or
express company was agonizingly slow for photographers trying to scoop
competitors. Traveling photographers often did not have the proper equipment, as
one photographer explained: "There's where you're always up against it on the
road,D making dark rooms to develop or to change plates. I've used a hotel
bathroom twenty times and a hotel closet with my coat stuffed into the
Despite these obstacles, editors still demanded and fully expected interesting
shots D photos that would be more interesting than competitors' photos.
Photographers lived by the creed, "get the picture." As Wilson Hicks, former art
director for Life magazine, said, more important than the artistic or news value
of a photo was "the event itself, with stress on the fact of the photographer's
presence at that event."
Charles Tebbs, national art director for Hearst newspapers in the 1920s, said,
" A cameraman must never be stumped by anything. Don't come back without the
picture, is the most important rule of all. There are certain tricks that never
fail." Photo manipulation was among the tricks in Tebbs' bag, as illustrated
by an episode from his early days as a photographer. Tebbs' editor had sent him
to photograph a race track tout (a person who sells tips on race horses) who was
to be a witness in a court case. When Tebbs arrived, the man had passed out from
The chap was lying on his side in bed. 'Don't wake him up,' I was told.
doesn't want his picture taken.'
I took about four time exposures of the one side of his face that was
visible. A flash would have waked him. When I got to the office, I reversed
print on one side and put the two together. I had as good a full face view
could wish. Then I painted a pair of eyes over his closed lids, and
his rumpled hair. The result was a nicely posed picture.
There are other examples of manipulation spurred by desperation. New York
Journal photographer Harry Coleman admitted in his book, "Give Us a Little
Smile, Baby," that if he found himself without a photo of a deceased person, he
would find the body at the morgue, dress it in a shirt and tie, prop it up and
shoot it as a "life-like" portrait.
Famous New York crime photographer Arthur Fellig D more commonly known as
Weegee D explained how he used photo manipulation to beat the competition
financially: "If I had a picture of two handcuffed criminals being booked, I
would cut the picture in half and get 5 bucks for each."
In one of the most notorious examples of photo manipulation caused by the
philosophy of "getting the picture at any cost," the New York Daily Graphic in
1926 fabricated a courtroom scene through the technique of photo composites. The
judge had barred photographers from the courtroom during a divorce case, and so
the Daily Graphic created a fake courtroom scene by photographing a group of
reporters and superimposing head shots of jury members on the reporters' bodies.
Circulation jumped 100,000 papers, and over the next few years the Graphic
printed many more "composographs." This form of obvious manipulation was a
forerunner of digital composites seen in today's supermarket tabloids.
A good example of altering a photo for a "scoop" occurred in the late 1930s,
even as newspapers were beginning to pull away from extensive photo
manipulation. A photo of a winning catch in a local football game, taken
exclusively by a photographer at the Dayton (Ohio) Herald, was initially deemed
unusable because "the catch" was only a very small portion of the photo. The
quality of the enlarged photo was poor, so the art department heavily retouched
the photo . Actually, the artist completely painted over the photo, removing the
background and "working over the players." The result resembled an awkward
painting more than a photo. An Editor and Publisher article hailed the
Swashbuckling picture men
From 1910 to the 1920s news photography was far from being a respected
profession. The news photographer was seen as at worst a ruffian and at best a
swashbuckling romantic. A 1912 interview with several New York photographers (in
"The Swashbucklers of the Camera") depicts the photographer as a lovable
scoundrel who is sometimes just this side of the law.
The ordinary news photographer_._._._has in his life rough-and-ready
spare._._._[He is] a nuisance to public meetings, a thorn in the flesh of
delight to a gaping_._._._public and the blessing or bane of the city desk,
to whether or no he 'comes through with the copy'.
Photo-service president Bert Underwood said, "I often think that the news
photographer of today is trading on the last stamping grounds of romance._. . To
him the picture's the thing D not the danger he runs in getting it."
Yet for news photography to gain journalistic respect and for news photos to
gain integrity, editors and readers would need to see photographers as more than
daring thrill-seekers. Photographers would need to become journalists, and
readers and editors would need to recognize news value in photos. Improved
cameras, flashes, and perhaps most importantly, the arrival of wire photos,
contributed importantly to this metamorphosis. As improved technology made
photographer's work less difficult and less hair-raising, romance ebbed away and
professionalism flowed in.
TOWARD PROFESSIONALISM: THE TWENTIES AND THIRTIES
Over the late 1920s and 1930s, news photography first began to establish itself
as a profession. Slowly but surely, the news photo was becoming more than just
an entertaining novelty and more than just the visual evidence of a newspaper
scoop. It was becoming "news." This transformation began to infuse news photos
with integrity and photographers with professionalism. Photo manipulation would
not become obsolete, but photographers did begin to develop a higher sense of
purpose and ethical standards that were to make manipulation less acceptable.
A foothold on respectability
By the mid-1920s there was evidence that the perception of news photos was
changing. A Gallup survey revealed that newspaper readers had a great interest
in news pictures and an even greater interest in photos that ran in sequence to
tell a news story without text. Photographer Thurlow Weed Barnes declared,
"The readers of these papers [New York illustrated papers] can get the news by
pictures. They get at once a visual conception of what is going on in much less
time than would be required to wade through columns of printed space." Barnes
credited the photo's emerging news value to, in part, "the perfection of lenses,
film and cameras, and the improvements in the art of engraving and
reproduction_._._._" However, he does not believe news photographers to be
highly skilled, nor news photography to be an exclusive profession: "Anyone who
has a Graflex [camera] and is on the job when anything happens in his locality
can get his 'shot' accepted [by a newspaper]."
In a 1929 article, news photographer Thomas Phillips contradicted the idea that
anyone can shoot news photos. Recent accounts by free-lancers, said the author,
had created some erroneous beliefs: "They think that press-photography is
haphazard and is dependent solely on luck. I thought this same thing. I lasted
only sixty days on my first newspaper job." Phillips discussed news photography
in the same tone one would discuss a profession: "The essentials of good
press-photography [are] the combining of the simple fundamentals of newspaper
reporting with the technique of photography._._. You must have ability to see
and understand what has news-value." Phillips also details improved technology
and techniques in news photography.
Photographer Robert R. Miller, in a 1929 article, categorized types of
newspaper camera work by separating "news-photography" from "pictorial
journalism." The author described the pictorial journalist as producing "more
artistic press-photographs" for features and Sunday sections while the news
photographer shoots less-refined shots to accompany hard-news articles. This
specialization is another sign of news photography's budding professionalism.
Miller also promoted the "hand camera": "Practically all press photographers,
whether news or pictorial, use small cameras with fast, high-grade lenses,
making small, sharp negatives_._._." Some of the first technological changes
to improve the lot of photographers were in the area of camera development.
Camera development and "realness"
The Graflex was the most popular news camera from the turn of the century to
the 1920s, but it was largely replaced in the Twenties by the more durable Speed
Graphic camera, which also had the advantage of quicker and more flexible
focusing. Bellows connected the lens to the camera box and would expand or
contract during focusing. Like the Graflex, the Speed Graphic was large and
obtrusive. It was not until the development and sale of the small, hand-held
Leica camera in Germany in 1925 that photographers had a camera capable of
consistently producing candid shots. (American photographers only began to
use the Leica around 1932.) A 1938 ad for the Leica camera stated: "Unobtrusive,
small, simple and easy_._._._to operate, the Leica gets you the unposed, unaware
action shots that mean NEWS."
The Leica was not only small and unobtrusive, but used 35mm film which the
photographer could rapidly advance, capturing unfolding events in continual
exposures without having to reload. The first photographers to make use of these
cameras shot their photos for the budding German illustrated papers of the
Twenties and Thirties. The photos in these papers displayed an unprecedented
degree of candidness, and therefore realness, which made manipulation
unnecessary and even undesirable. Wilson Hicks said, "Events involving people
could be recorded just as they happened. To take a picture it was no longer
necessary to halt people in the course of life, depicting their personalities as
camera conscious or arranging themselves as they would like to appear, not as
they really appeared." German photographers like Erich Salomon and Alfred
Eisenstaedt gained a reputation D not as swashbuckling romantics D but as
serious visual documentarians.
Despite its obvious advantages, the hand-held camera was regarded by American
news photographers as a sort of toy and resisted its use in favor of cameras
like the Speed Graphic until the late Thirties and Forties. There was a bias
toward the larger, seemingly hardier Speed Graphic, and some photographers used
it even into the 1950s. Robert Boyd, a past president of the National Press
Photographers Association, was once asked what the Graphic could do that the
smaller 35mm cameras could not. Boyd put the big camera on the ground and sat on
There was also some resistance to the increasingly candid nature of the new
photographs. Public figures were embarrassed by published photos showing them in
mid-bite at a meal or with face contorted during a sneeze. H.L. Smith, former
news editor and professor at the Wisconsin University journalism school,
referred to the news photo as the "youngest and lustiest brat of the Fourth
Estate's large family of problem children." Despite this opposition, candid
cameras kept on clicking D and infusing news photos with a higher degree of
In short, the development of camera technology during the Twenties and Thirties
contributed to the acceptance of news photography as a journalistic profession
by adding candidness and realness to news photos. "Getting that shot" became
easier, and the shots themselves had more impact. There were fewer reasons for
photographers to pose or set up shots because candid shots were more interesting
to the reader and had more news value. There was also less reason to manipulate
photos because of an inability to get the shot D e.g., painting eyeballs on
sleeping men, dressing up corpses and superimposing jurors' heads on reporters'
bodies D because improved camera technology gave photographers a much better
chance of getting good shots. In 1935 wirephoto, yet another technological
advance, was to further contribute to the professionalism of news photography
and the integrity of the news photo.
Wirephoto: News photography comes of age
In the spring of 1925, tornados devastated regions of Southern Illinois,
Indiana and Missouri. In late March, after the devastation, the newspaper trade
journal Editor & Publisher reported in an inconspicuous paragraph: "The American
Telephone and Telegraph Company sent remarkable tornado pictures by wire from
Chicago to New York, March 19. The New York World_._._._received telegraph
pictures from St. Louis the same day." Photographs had begun to travel by
wire in the first decade of the century, but only in the mid-1920s was there any
kind of national distribution_D and this was limited and undependable. Also,
photo quality was often poor. Some photos were marred because the scanning lines
from the light beam which transmitted the picture were visible. One editor
told the Associated Society of Newspaper Editors, that wire photos "fail as yet
to register recognizable features_._._._[They have] traded sharp black and white
details for less detail, duller blacks and grayer whites." Many editors
ignored the fact that even a wire photo of poor quality could bring the reader
visual information from a distant place that could be obtained no other way.
Wire photos, like local photos, were seen as possessing little news value.
Then on midnight, January 1, 1935, the Associated Press sent a wire photo of a
plane crash in the Adirondack Mountains simultaneously to its 24 members who had
the technology. This was the birth of AP Wirephoto D and the most important
date yet in news photography's coming of age in the United States. By 1936, the
other three major news photo services D NEA-Acme, Inc. (Scripps-Howard), Wide
World Photos (New York Times) and International News Photos (Hearst) D had
started sending wire photos to subscribers on a regular basis. Also in 1936, AP
announced the availability of portable wirephoto transmitting machines, which
allowed photographers to send photos from the news scene itself. Most of the
machines in the late thirties transmitted 7 by 9 prints, and transmission of
each photo took about 15 minutes. In 1935 the AP sent an average of 40 photos
per day to subscribers.
In January, 1936, an Associated Press advertisement in Editor & Publisher
reflected on (and promoted) the first year of wirephoto.
Eighteen thousand pictures, travelling 180 million miles, made it possible
the news-hungry public to see, with the keen eyes of the camera that miss no
the what and how and why of everything that was news D while it was
result of a year of Wirephoto is a new kind of reporter, a newsman trained to
in terms of pictures which can be delivered an hour from now instead of
Photography seemed to be finally catching up with print. Now readers could view
an event from almost anywhere in the world just as quickly as they could read
about it. And because AP could send a photo from anywhere and have it printed
while the event or issue was still news, AP was more likely to put forth the
effort to get the picture. The wire photo's immediacy and omnipresence infused
the news photo with news value. A new-found respect for news photos
increased in the late 1930s, and there is little doubt that wirephoto played a
part. It is impossible to say that technological improvements like wirephoto led
directly to news photo integrity and therefore decreased manipulation. But it is
clear that wirephoto greatly increased editors' chances of getting photos that
were interesting because of their actual content and news value. Such photos
would please readers without posing or manipulation.
In 1935 Editor & Publisher started its first regular column devoted to news
photography. Former photographer Jack Price wrote the column, and in his first
effort, Price noted the changing attitude toward news photography: "The
snobbishness of the scribe towards the photographer is fast
disappearing_._._._Photography has a very definite place in modern
journalism_._. . "
Louis Ruppel, managing editor of the Chicago Daily Times in 1937, noted the
need for news photos in an increasingly competitive media environment.
Newspapers were being challenged by radio news, newsreels and picture magazines,
and television was around the corner. Papers needed wire photos and local news
photos to compete successfully. Ruppel said, "A story without a picture is like
a telephone conversation with someone you have never met face to face." He said
he believed that the public was no longer satisfied with reporting as usual but
instead demanded photographs for a complete report of the news.
Even newspaper art departments appeared to be gaining a new respect for the
integrity of photos. A 1939 textbook declared that fancy, ornamented cropping
should be discouraged: "A newspaper photo has a story to tell, a message to
convey. It should do so as simply as possible, and does not need a scalloped or
wave-line edge to add to its effectiveness." A 1938 article on retouching
techniques denounced heavy-handedness and emphasized retouching with care:
"Portraits will require the most lining and spotting work. This must be done
with discretion. Grotesque effects are ruinous. Slight changes in the eyes and
mouth can easily ruin expression." Another author laments the fact that too
much retouching work is "out of date" because artists using old techniques paint
over too much of the true character of the subject.
One publication that had a stated commitment to unretouched photography was the
new picture magazine, Life. Life magazine began publication in 1936, and its new
bold approach to photography made waves in the publishing world. Former Life
art director Wilson Hicks credits the magazine for the movement away from
retouching, silhouetting and intricately framing photos.
._._._most newspapers_._. . had carried retouching to a point where the
printed picture was a combination of photograph and hand 'art' work. Life
its strong conviction that if the photograph as information was to be
it should transmit the world of appearance to the reader in the purest form
There is no doubt that newspapers felt pressure from the popularity of these
publications. In 1937 Life established a new high for magazine circulation in
the United States, and the magazines hired away many of the newspapers' most
By the late Thirties, the news industry as a whole was giving the news
photograph more respect D and more newsprint space. A study by a Chicago
advertising firm showed that photo use among non-tabloid newspapers increased
40.8% from 1931 to 1937. Photos were also running larger. The same study found a
decrease in one-column photos from 1931 to 1937 (33.3% to 30.7%) and an increase
in three-column photos (10.7% to 15.7%). An Editor & Publisher survey of
U.S. and Canadian newspapers revealed that papers printed approximately 1.4
million photos and publishers spent more than $8 million on photography in 1937.
The arrival of wirephoto was the biggest factor involved in this upsurge D
almost half of the $8 million was spent on wirephoto services. Such figures
demonstrated a growing commitment to news photos. In a highly competitive media
environment, newspapers were devoting a great deal of space and money to
photography. Clearly the news value of these photos justified this new
Despite advances in the thirties, some scholars hold that it was during World
War II that newspaper photography truly grew up and transformed itself into the
full-fledged profession of photojournalism. This view is not unanimous,
however. Newspaper photography seemed to have missed an opportunity during the
war, according to some post-war journalists. Basil Waters said: "Steady progress
was made in pictorial reporting and editing until the second world war. But both
pictorial reporting and editing suffered a severe slump during the war. This was
due partly to man-power and paper shortages. Possibly it was due to the fact
that the younger newspaper men, who were picture-minded, were in the armed
There is no doubt, however, that in the late Twenties and Thirties news
photographers and editors laid the groundwork for the post-war emergence of
ethical guidelines and professional standards.
CONCLUSIONS: APPLYING HISTORICAL LESSONS TO TODAY
During the first decades of this century, newspaper editors used an increasing
number of news photos but had no ethical guidelines to prevent altering of these
photos. The result was rampant manipulation. News photography was not viewed as
a journalistic profession, and news photos were not viewed as "news." They were
seen as interesting novelty D or later in this period, as visual evidence of a
scoop over a competitor.
Today's surge in manipulated photos takes place in a much different news
environment. Photojournalism is a fully established and reputable branch of
journalism and has been recognized as such for about 50 years. Photojournalists
today follow ethical and legal guidelines, discuss such guidelines within
professional organizations and teach these guidelines in universities. How is it
possible then, that news publications are presently experiencing a second era of
rampant photo manipulation?
While the two periods are different, there are similarities. A number of the
conditions that led to manipulation in the earlier period resonate today.
1. Novelty and experimentation
The novelty of the halftone created a high level of public interest, and
editors experimented with different ways to feed this interest. They tested the
boundaries of the medium of photography by setting up outlandish poses, painting
over photos, splicing negatives together and distorting "speed" photos. In the
1990s, Editors and artists have also tested the boundaries of the new
technology. There is a "gee-whiz" allure to digital technology in the '1990s
as well as to halftone technology at the beginning of the century. Fascination
with new technology has led editors and artists astray in both eras.
Manipulation has also been carried out in both eras to please or entertain the
reader. Bert Underwood's advocation of heavy-handed retouching of elderly
ladies' photos exemplifies this trend in the 1920s. The manipulation of the
dancer's sweater in the Courier-Journal story is an example from the 1990s.
Another example is a 1994 fake created by Newsday. Artists superimposed separate
images of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding skating on an ice-skating rink. The
two had not yet practiced together, and the composite was created apparently to
feed on readers' interest in the tension between the two skaters. Perhaps
the most recent example of crowd-pleasing manipulation is Newsweek's whitening
and straightening of the septuplet mother's teeth. Did editors feel readers
would be turned off by crooked teeth?
2.Technology: Adding and removing news value
Technological improvements in the 1930s allowed photographers to snap candid
shots, thereby lending more realness to photos and infusing them with news
value. These photos were more likely to tell an authentic and fresh story.
Wirephoto had a similar effect. By allowing photos to arrive instantly from
anywhere in the world that news was happening, wirephoto strengthened the
ability of the photographer to report the news.
Digital technology used for manipulation decreases news value in photos. A
photo's news value lies in its realness D in its literal similarity to the
actual news event. Any digital change to the photo makes it less similar to the
news event and therefore removes news value. However, digital technology used
for photo transmission adds news value to photos for the same reasons that
wirephoto added news value. Digital transmission is quicker and more reliable
than the old analog transmission, thereby increasing the number of timely, high
quality news photos received by news publications.
3. The power of the art department
From 1910 to the 1930s, news artists gradually lost job positions to
photographers and the relevance of art departments within news organizations
diminished. However, the artist's position was still strong relative to the
photographer's because the photographer had not yet been accepted into the
journalistic profession. For decades newspapers had relied on painters and
engravers for art, and while "word men" might not have fully accepted them
either, at least artists were seen as possessing skill and talent. Photographers
were viewed as mere technicians. Art directors at newspapers were likely to have
been engravers or painters themselves, and they did not hesitate to add their
touch to the raw photo. Former Life magazine art director Wilson Hicks describes
The editor selected the picture and his art department 'tricked it up,' the
better to catch the reader's eye. It was in wholly sympathetic hands at last
reached the newspaper or magazine layout artist for the silhouette, cooky
decorative border treatment._. ._._The artist 'added' to the photograph;
there were no
bounds to the audacity of his efforts to 'improve' it.
The dynamics of the newsroom in the early 1990s were similar. The 1980s had
brought Macintosh computers into newsrooms, and newspapers, led by USA Today,
were suddenly alive with color, graphics and intricate layouts. This "design
revolution" led to the beefing up of news art departments and the hiring of
computer-savvy artists. Today many editors are putting an emphasis on
attractive pages that rivals the emphasis on news reporting. It is only natural
for artists in such an environment to use digital technology to improve the look
of pages, and this sometimes means altering photos to achieve this look. It is
common for artists to blur photo edges, extend edges of photos to change their
dimensions, "cut out" figures and merge them into single images, and create
photo montages. As in an earlier era, artists today are "tricking up"
pictures to catch the reader's eye.
4. Photos as illustrations
Prior to the late 1920s, editors were not interested in a photo telling a news
story. Photos were illustrations, and the photographer's job was to "illustrate
the story," as Hearst art director Charles Tebbs said. This emphasis on
illustrating led to photo manipulation through elaborate posing of subjects or
heavy photo retouching after the shot.
Today, with the new emphasis on page design, news art directors and editors are
increasingly viewing photos as illustrations. One author describes the
In today's posed photographs people are made to do things that they are not
to doing D a successful bank president might throw money into the air, for
pose clothed in gold. Photographs are manufactured rather than elicited, and
are made into powerful cartoon characters._. . Another tendency in editorial
photography is that of employing pre-existing images as simple-minded support
point of view of the more articulate text. If, for example, the text says
Bush has recently succeeded with certain initiatives, he will be shown
smiling at the
White House._. ._a photographer will not be asked to investigate Bush's true
his or her images will be used as stick figures to 'prove' the text's
Such use of photos as pre-conceived illustrations diminishes the integrity of
the photo. As was seen in the first few decades of this century, when news
photos have little news value, manipulation is a short step away.
5. Competition pressures
"Get that photo" was a rallying cry of early news photographer. Competition
between newspapers, magazines and photo services was strong, and papers would
even fake or alter a photo in order to best the competition.
With broadcast and cable television, radio, and the Internet, media competition
is stronger than ever for newspapers, and pressure from competition is intense.
Digital technology gives the print media a strong tool to use in competing
visually with other media, and photos are often altered to improve the look of
pages. This mandate for visually enticing pages can also cause editors to make
bad decisions about manipulation on deadline. In the Courier-Journal example,
editors said they felt backed into a corner D yet they did not even consider
running the weaker photo or not running art with the story. They felt that
having strong art was an unquestionable imperative.
What can be done then, to control digital photo manipulation? Most papers have
strict official policies banning manipulation of straight news photos, but
the problem continues. It is clear that there needs to be an understanding on a
level deeper than the policy memo. Editors, photo directors and art directors
who care about maintaining the integrity of news photos and putting a stop to
manipulation of these photos can take several lessons from history. They should
be aware of the influence that changing technology can have on the perception of
news value in photos. They should be conscious of the relative power of art
departments to photo departments and how this equilibrium may affect photo
integrity. They should be conscious of having preconceived ideas when assigning
news photos. And they should also be aware of the effect deadline and
competition pressures may have on decisions about photo manipulation. They key
is to respect the news value and integrity of the news photo. Otherwise the
battle won in the late 1930s over rampant manipulation may be lost again.
Andrews, E.J. "Retouching Newspaper Photos." Editor & Publisher (Sept. 17, 1938)
: III, XI.
"Authorities Take Issue as to Whether Candid Cameras are too Candid." 10
Newsweek (Nov. 8, 1937) : 29.
Barnes, Thurlow Weeds. "Seeing is Believing in News-Pictures." Photo-Era (March
1926) : 129- 130.
Bassett, Warren L. "Dailies Spend 8 Million Yearly to Cover News Pictorially."
Editor & Publisher (Feb. 19, 1938) : 5.
Blumann, Sigismund. "Is There a Place Left for Straight Photography?" Photo-Era
34 (January 1915) : 14-15.
Brandenburg, George A. "Huge Gain in Use of Pictures Shown in Survey of
Dailies." Editor & Publisher (Feb. 19, 1938) : 8.
Brecheen-Kirkton, Kent. "Visual Silences: How Photojournalism Covers Reality,"
American Journalism, (1991, Winter): 27-34.
Claudy, C.H. "Photographic Distortion: Real and 'Faked'." Scientific American
106 (April 6, 1912) : 309.
Clemow, Brice. "Picture Services Rushing into Field of Telephotograph
Transmission." Editor & Publisher (Feb. 29, 1936) : 3-4.
"Composographs." Life 28 (Jan. 2, 1950) : 94-95.
Erith, John. "75% of Negative Retouching is Out of Date." American Photography
33 (April 1939) 280-86.
Gladney, George and Erlich, Matthew C. "Cross-Media Response to Digital
Manipulation of Still and Moving Images," Journal of Broadcasting and
Electronic Media (1996, 40).496-508.
Goldberg, Vicki. "The News Photograph." In Communication in History, ed. David
Crowley and Paul Heyer, 214-17. White Plains, N.Y.: Longman Publishers USA,
Hall, Stuart. "The Determination of News Photographs." In The Manufacture of
News: Social Problems, Deviance and the Mass Media, ed. Stanley Cohen and Jock
Young, 226-43. London: Constable, 1981.
Harris, Christopher R. "Digitization and Manipulation of News Photographs."
Journal of Mass Media Ethics 6(3) (1991). 164-73.
Hicks, Wilson. "What is Photojournalism?" In Photographic Communication, ed. R.
Smith Schuneman, 19-56. New York: Hastings House, 1972.
Irwin, Will. "The Swashbucklers of the Camera." Collier's 48 (Feb. 3, 1912) :
Johnson, Bervin A. "Retoucher's Art Provides 'Scoop' on Winning Football Play."
Editor & Publisher (Nov. 12, 1938) : II.
Keller, Ulrich. "Early Photojournalism." In Communication in History, ed. David
Crowley and Paul Heyer, 193-200. White Plains, N.Y.: Longman Publishers USA,
Kobre, Kenneth. Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach. Boston: Focal
Leica advertisement, Editor & Publisher (Feb. 19, 1938): 37.
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Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991.
"Little Photoshop of Horrors: The Ethics of Manipulating Journalistic Imagery."
Print. 49(6) (November 1995) 24-48.
Messaris, Paul. "Visual Literacy vs. Visual Manipulation," Critical Studies in
Mass Communication, 11 (1994). 181-203.
Mich, Daniel D. "The Rise of Photojournalism in the United States." Journalism
Quarterly 24(3) (September 1947). 202-06.
Miller, Robert R. "News-Photography versus Pictorial Journalism." 63 Photo-Era
(Oct. 1929) : 182-93.
Nerone, John and Kevin G. Barnhurst. "Visual Mapping and Cultural Authority:
Design Changes in U.S. Newspapers, 1920-1940." Journal of Communication 45(2)
(Spring 1995) 9-43.
"'People are Picture Nuts' says Louis Ruppel of Chicago Times." Editor &
Publisher (April 24, 1937) : 86.
Phillips, Thomas. "Press-Photography and Newspaper Reporting." 62 Photo-Era
(June 1929) : 310-12.
Price, Jack. "Eyes of the Press." Editor & Publisher (Aug. 17, 1935) : 36.
Price, Jack. "Judges Need no Additional Laws to Maintain Dignity of Courts."
Editor & Publisher (Dec. 7, 1935) : 29.
Price, Jack "Press Pictures Have Come Far in Half a Century." Editor & Publisher
(Feb. 19, 1938) : 7, 37-38.
Reaves, Shiela. "What's Wrong with this Picture?" Newspaper Research Journal
13,14 (Fall 1992/Winter 1993). 131-55.
Ritchin, Frank. In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography. New
York: Aperture Foundation, Inc., 1990.
Schuyler, Philip. "Making a Picture Tell a News Story." Editor & Publisher
(April 25, 1925) : 108.
Steele, Robert M. "Video Ethics: The Dilemma of Value Balancing," Journal of
Mass Media Ethics (Spring/Summer 1987). 7-17.
Stepno, Bob. "Staged, faked and mostly naked: Photographic Innovation at the
Evening Graphic (1924-1932)." Unpublished paper (1996).
Tomlinson, Don. "Coalesce or Collide? Ethics, Technology, and TV Journalism
1991." Journal of Mass Media Ethics (Spring/Summer 1987). 21-31.
"Tornado Pictures by Wire." Editor & Publisher (March 21, 1925) : 12.
Underwood, Bert E. "Photographs You Like to See in the Newspapers." American
Magazine 92 (November, 1921) : 42-45, 96-100.
Vitray, Laura, John Mills, Jr., and Roscoe Ellard. Pictorial Journalism. New
York: Arno Press, 1939.
Walters, Basil L. "Pictures vs. Type Display in Reporting the News." Journalism
Quarterly 24(3) (September 1947). 193-96.
White, Edgar. "Photography for the Fourth Estate." Photo-Era 53 (September,
1924) : 150-51.
"Wirephoto Made Newspaper History in 1935." Advertisement in Editor & Publisher
(Jan. 18, 1936) : 29-31.
Woodburn, Bert W. "Reader Interest in Newspaper Pictures." Journalism Quarterly
24(3) (September 1947). 197-201.
Zelizer, Barbara. "Journalism's 'Last' Stand: Wirephoto and the Discourse of
Resistance" Journal of Communication 45(2) (Spring 1995). 78- 92.
 This incident took place in September 1996 and was reported on the Poynter
Institute website in a story by Robert King. http://www.poynter.org.
 See Fred Ritchin, In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography
(New York: Aperture Foundation, Inc., 1990)
Panel debate. "Little Photoshop of Horrors: The Ethics of Manipulating
Journalistic Imagery." Print, 49(6) (November 1995) : 24-47.
 "Light of the Dark," The Atlanta Journal, 26 November 1997, D2.
 Christopher R. Harris, "Digitization and Manipulation of News
Photography," Journal of Mass Media Ethics 6(3) (1991): 164-165.
 Shiela Reaves, "What's Wrong with this Picture? Daily Newspaper Photo
Editors' Attitudes and their Tolerance toward Digital Manipulation," Newspaper
Research Journal 13,14 (Fall 1992/Winter 1993): 133.
 Paul Lester, Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach (Hillsdale, New Jersey:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991) 91-92.
 Ibid., 95-96.
 Lester, 90-105.
Bob Stepno, "Staged, faked and mostly naked: Photographs at the Evening Graphic
(1924-1932)," Unpublished paper (1996).
 See Fred Ritchin, In Our own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography.
Don Tomlinson, "Coalesce or Collide? Ethics, Technology, and TV Journalism
1991," Journal of Mass Media Ethics 2(2) (1987): 21-31.
Robert M. Steele, "Video Ethics: The Dilemma of Value Balancing," Journal of
Mass Media Ethics 2(2) (1987): 7-17.
 Reaves, 131-55.
George Albert Gladney and Matthew C. Erlich, "Cross-Media Response to Digital
Manipulation of Still and Moving Images," Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic
Media 40 (1996): 496-508.
 Kent Brecheen-Kirkton, "Visual Silences: How Photojournalism Covers
Reality with the Facts," American Journalism, (Winter 1991): 27-34.
Paul Messaris, "Visual Literacy vs. Visual Manipulation," Critical Studies in
Mass Communication 11 (1994): 180-203.
Stuart Hall, "The Determination of News Photographs," in The Manufacture of
News: Social Problems, Deviance and the Mass Media, ed. Stanley Cohen and Jock
Young (London: Constable, 1981), 226-43.
 Kenneth Kobre, Photojournalism: The Professional's Approach (Boston:
Focal Press, 1980), 8.
 Kobre, 7
Laura Vitray, John Mills, Jr., and Roscoe Ellard, Pictorial Journalism (New
York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1939), 163-164.
 Daniel D. Mich, "The Rise of Photojournalism in the United States,"
Journalism Quarterly, 24(3) (September, 1947) : 204.a
 Ulrich Keller, "Early Photojournalism," in Communication in History, ed.
David Crowley and Paul Heyer (White Plains, N.Y.: Longman Publisher USA, 1995),
 Lester, 99.
 Wilson Hicks, "What is Photojournalism?" in Photographic Communication,
ed. R. Smith Schuneman (New York: Hastings House, 1972), 37-38.
 C.H. Claudy, "Photographic Distortion: Real and 'Faked'," Scientific
American 106 (April 6, 1912), 309.
 Bert E. Underwood, "Photographs You Like to See in the Newspapers,"
American Magazine 92 (November, 1921) : 42.
 Ibid, 44.
 Ibid, 97.
 Philip Schuyler, "Making a Picture Tell a News Story," Editor & Publisher
(April 25, 1925) : 108.
 Edgar White, "Photography for the Fourth Estate," Photo-Era 53
(September, 1924) : 151.
 Underwood, 45.
 Lester, 100.
 Hicks, 55.
 John Nerone and Kevin G. Barnhurst, "Visual Mapping and Cultural
Authority: Design Changes in U.S. Newspapers, 1920-1940," Journal of
Communications 45(2) (Spring 1995) : 34.
 Keller, 196.
 Sigismund Blumann, "Is There a Place Left for Straight Photography?"
Photo-Era 34 (January 1915) : 14.
 Blumann, 15.
 Hicks, 38.
 Will Irwin, "The Swashbucklers of the Camera," Collier's 48 (Feb. 3,
1912) : 13.
 Tim N. Gidal, Modern Photojournalism: Origin and Evolution, 1910-1933
(New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973), 11.
 Gidal, 8-9.
 Jack Price, "Judges Need no Additional Laws to Maintain Dignity of
Courts," Editor & Publisher (December 7, 1935) : 29.
 Basil L. Walters, "Pictures vs. Type Display in Reporting the News,"
Journalism Quarterly 24(3) (September 1947): 195.
 Ibid, 12.
 Hicks, 38.
 Schuyler, 108.
 Lester, 104.
 Kobre, 19.
 "Composographs," Life 28 (Jan. 2, 1950) : 95.
 Johnson, Bervin A. "Retoucher's Art Provides 'Scoop' on Winning Football
Play," Editor & Publisher (Nov. 12, 1938). II.
 Irwin, 11.
 Underwood, 98.
 Mich, 205.
 Thurlow Weed Barnes, "Seeing is Believing in News-Pictures," Photo-Era 56
(March 1926) : 129.
 Thomas Phillips, "Press-Photography and Newspaper Reporting," Photo-Era
62 (June, 1929) : 310-311.
 Robert R. Miller, "News-Photography versus Pictorial Journalism,"
Photo-Era 63 (October 1929) : 182.
 Ibid, 189-190.
 Kobre, 23.
 Jack Price, "Press Pictures Have Come Far in Half a Century," Editor &
Publisher (Feb. 19, 1938) : 38.
 Editor & Publisher (Feb. 19, 1938) : 37.
 Hicks, 42.
 Gidal, 16-17.
 Kobre, 24.
 "Authorities Take Issue as to Whether Candid Cameras are too Candid,"
Newsweek 10(19) (Nov. 8, 1937) : 29.
 "Tornado Pictures by Wire," Editor & Publisher (March 21, 1925) : 12.
 Vicki Goldberg, "The News Photograph," in Communication in History, ed.
David Crowley and Paul Heyer (White Plains, N.Y. : Longman Press USA, 1995),
 Vitray, 22.
 Barbara Zelizer, "Journalism's Last Stand: Wirephoto and the Discourse of
Resistance," Journal of Communication 45(2) (Spring 1995) : 84.
 Ibid, 80.
 Bice Clemow, "Picture Services Rushing into Field of Telephotograph
Transmission," Editor & Publisher (Feb. 29, 1936) : 3.
 Vitray, 19-20.
 Clemow, 3.
 Editor & Publisher (Jan. 18, 1936) : 29.
 Vitray, 7-8.
 Jack Price, "Eyes of the Press," Editor & Publisher (Aug. 17, 1935) : 36.
 "'People are Picture Nuts' says Louis Ruppel of Chicago Times," Editor &
Publisher (April 24, 1937) : 86.
 Vitray, 143.
 E.J. Andrews, "Retouching Newspaper Photos," Editor & Publisher (Sept.
17, 1938) : III.
 John Erith, "75% of Negative Retouching is out of Date!" American
Photography 33 (April 1939) : 280-83.
This article raises another interesting point. The author says that the recent
explosion in camera-use by amateurs had conditioned people to the look of
non-retouched photos. The author of this article specifically addresses
studio-portrait photography, but it is reasonable to extend this idea to news
photography. Amateur photographers might have helped pave the way for straight
photography in news publications.
 Price, "Press Pictures have Come Far," 38.
 Hicks, 54-55.
 Price, "Press Pictures have Come Far," 38.
 George A. Brandenburg, "Huge Gain in Use of Pictures Shown in Survey of
Dailies," Editor & Publisher (Feb. 19, 1938): 8.
 Warren L. Bassett, "Dailies Spend 8 Million Yearly To Cover News
Pictorially," Editor & Publisher (Feb. 19, 1938): 5.
 Zelizer, 82.
 Walters, 193.
 From the author's experience as an art director and photo illustrator.
 "Little Photoshop of Horrors," 29.
 Hicks, 38.
 From Tony Deferia interview and author's experience.
Also see "Little Photoshop of Horrors."
 From author's experience. Also see Reaves.
 Ritchin, 46-48.
 King, Poynter Institute website.