Is cropping a photo lying? SEP 17 2009
David Hume Kennerly took a photo of Dick Cheney and his family cooking a meal. Cheney is in the foreground on the right side of the frame, cutting some meat while some other family members chat and bustle in the background. Newsweek used the photo in their magazine, only they cropped out the family and just showed the former VP stabbing a bloody piece of meat with a knife to illustrate a Cheney quote about CIA interrogation methods. Kennerly cried foul.
The meat on the cutting board wasn't the only thing butchered. In fact, Newsweek chose to crop out two-thirds of the original photograph, which showed Mrs. Cheney, both of their daughters, and one of their grandchildren, who were also in the kitchen, getting ready for a simple family dinner.
However, Newsweek's objective in running the cropped version was to illustrate its editorial point of view, which could only have been done by shifting the content of the image so that readers just saw what the editors wanted them to see. This radical alteration is photo fakery. Newsweek's choice to run my picture as a political cartoon not only embarrassed and humiliated me and ridiculed the subject of the picture, but it ultimately denigrated my profession.
This is hardly photo fakery. Crops aren't lies. Full-frame photos aren't the truth. Kennerley himself could have easily taken that exact picture in the moment. A spokesman for Newsweek defended the magazine's action:
Yes, the picture has been cropped, an accepted practice of photographers, editors and designers since the invention of the medium. We cropped the photograph using editorial judgment to show the most interesting part of it. Is it a picture of the former vice president cutting meat? Yes, it is. Has it been altered? No. Did we use the image to make an editorial point -- in this case, about the former vice president's red-blooded, steak-eating, full-throated defense of his views and values? Yes, we did.
Given Cheney's reputation, the cropped photo of him is not an outlandish or biased depiction of the man...in fact, it's a pretty good visual metaphor of the former VP. If there's one thing that both Cheney's supporters and detractors can agree on, it's that he's a "red-blooded, steak-eating, full-throated [defender] of his views and values".
I wonder what Errol Morris and Ricky Jay would make of this?
Update: Or maybe it is. (thx, frank)