It was fascinating to read Errol Morris’ series of posts on the ethics of photojournalism in reference to FSA photographers. Morris looked at Arthur Rothstein’s and Walker Evans’ most controversial photos from nearly as many angles as Edward Steichen photographed his cups and saucers.
Morris engaged the photos and photographers in an attempt to get at their core ethics and answer the question: what does photographic evidence mean? This article contrasted interestingly with the spirit behind the Lynda.com tutorials on digital photo editing. Morris admits that photoshopping images is only one of the newest forms in a long line of techniques to use photography for political purposes. Interestingly, the Lynda.com tutorials, especially the tutorial on photo restoration, are not trying to allow an editor to change a photo for their own purposes, but to present what the original photographer would have wanted to convey. By stripping the damage that time has done to a photograph, the editor can extract the essence of the original.
Morris’ series also impressed on me, how important a sense of ethics around web images is to any historical website I create. Rothstein and Evans were trying to tell particular stories, though felt they presented their subjects fairly. Many in America strongly disagreed and as a result, Rothstein, in particular, was discredited. As Morris concludes: “It should not be lost on any of us that these controversies are still with us.” It’s an important lesson for all historians on the web.