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Here are some comments taken from NPPA-L, the National Press Photographers Association e-mail list server, and from messages posted to the above address.

There has been some heated back-and-forth discussion on the net concerning an allegedly manipulated image in the May 1995 issue of LIFE magazine (John Filo's Kent State Pullitzer-winning picture). The original photo shows a fence post appearing behind the head of protestor Mary Ann Vecchio; the photo in the May issue of LIFE does not. As LIFE's director of photography, I wanted to respond directly, clearly and put the matter to rest. LIFE did not and does not manipulate news photos. The photo we published was supplied to us by our photo library, the Time-Life Picture Collection, the second largest such repository of catalogued images. Amazingly, the fence post had been airbrushed out by someone, now anonymous, in a darkroom sometime in the early 1970s. The picture had run numerous times, without the fencepost, and without anyone taking notice: in TIME (Nov. 6, 1972, p. 23) PEOPLE (May 2, 1977, p. 37), TIME (Jan. 7, 1980, p. 45), PEOPLE (April 30, 1990, p. 117), to name just a few publications. On deadline, while closing our May issue, the LIFE photo department contacted photographer John Filo, hoping to secure a repro quality print, as is customary at LIFE. Since we could not obtain a print from him directly in time to make our run, we went with the photo we had, not realizing a pole had been removed. One can only wonder why the missing pole hasn't been noticed the previous times it has appeared, even though literally millions of people have seen the fence-post-less photo in publications dating back 23 years. At no time would LIFE's photo, art or production department intentionally alter a news photograph.
>David Friend
>Director of Photography
>LIFE Magazine

The following letter is a response posted on that same bulltetin board on the Internet:

I'm astonished that no one noticed this from 1972 until now, until Muskegon Chronicle staff photographer Ken Stevens pointed it out to me. Apparently Ken Stevens has attention to detail beyond millions of people who have seen the image over time, or has cared enough to notice it and been outraged enough to mention it and inspire this entire discussion. First question: How does an altered photo get into the Time-Life Picture Collection? The Associated Press has transmitted and re-transmitted the "real" version many times. We have it in the Muskegon Chronicle print and digital archives in its original version.

Second question: If this was a traditional print how is it possible that the retouching wasn't noticed? The reproduction of the image in LIFE indicates a "bad" job of the removal of the fence post. Even at 72dpi on the Michigan Press Photographers Association World Wide Web site you can see how poorly it was done. Should this have raised eyebrows, especially when the article was dedicated to the capturing of 4 historical moments that "altered the way we thought and felt about ourselves." Digital images are very easy to alter. Our readers know that this can happen, so why should they believe what they see? They should be ABLE to believe that what they see is indeed a "photographic record" of what was actually there, because of the credibility of the SOURCE of the information. The photographer, therefore, has a huge burden of responsibility to maintain the credibility of his images, and the employer (publisher) in turn has a burden or responsibility to the photographer as well as the reader to do the same. Readers should be able to believe our product because of the SOURCE. We need to achieve our own level of excellence and, personally, be leaders to maintain the credibility of our profession. This must be done by each individual. Once the SOURCE cannot be believed, photojournalism is dead.

Brian Masck
Technology Coordinator, Muskegon Chronicle
Michigan Press Photographers Association


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