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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Positions and Practice – Week 5 Reflection

The topic of ethical use of photographs has really got me thinking this week. We all know the age-old saying ‘a photo is worth a thousand words’.  This week has shown me that in a world where news images shape our understanding of the world, we are now unable to trust the images we see before us.  We have been and are exposed to manipulated and misrepresented images.

Reading around the subject lead me to Steve McCurry.  Steve McCurry is one of the most iconic photographers in the world.  He is best known for the photograph of the Afghan Girl, which was featured on the cover of National Geographic’s June 1985 issue.  He started his career around 40 years ago as a photojournalist, working in an environment where image manipulation or alteration is a career ender. However, more recently he has been accused of photoshopping and manipulating some of his images.  

Over the past few months since the accusations came to light, McCurry’s work has been analysed and scrutinised. With the discovery of images that have been manipulated beyond the standard colour processing, McCurry has been forced to redefine himself.  He told TIME magazine in May 2016 “I’ve always let my pictures do the talking, but now I understand that people want me to describe the category into which I would put myself, and so I would say that today I am a visual storyteller. The years of covering conflict zones are in the distant past.”[1]


Figure 1: Steve McCurry 

By distancing himself from the photojournalism photography of his past, Steve McCurry is working hard to justify his use of digital manipulation to tell his story.

When this news first came onto my radar, I was shocked.  I had always believed that McCurry had produced beautiful, unaltered ethical images.  I began to realise that even the most respected photojournalists could have, at some time, manipulated any of their images.  This has been quite a revelation to me.  I always knew that the media used images to tell the story they wanted us to hear, but I hadn’t associated any alterations of images with some of the very people we are asked to trust.

Do I manipulate my images? Yes, but I do not claim to portray real life situations in those images.  I produce fantasy images that are presented as art, not reality.

This week has taught me to look beneath the surface at the images I am being presented with.  I will be certainly taking less things on face value now.


[1]  Laurent, Olivier (2016) Steve McCurry: I’m a Visual Storyteller Not a Photojournalist. [online] Tampa, Florida: TIME. Available from [Accessed 22 October 2016]

Figure 1: McCurry, S. From Anon 2016 [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 October 2016]

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