What's in your food? Magic Gummy Bears?

by Will Clarkson in ,

A couple of rehashed stories have caught my attention in the past week. At first glance they are totally different but there is one stark similarity.

The first is the age-old question of what is acceptable in photo-manipulation and editing, written here. The language used in the article is strong (forgery/faked/tricked), and apparently softened a little since it was first posted. Briefly, it is another shock horror story about the world press winning photograph by Paul Hansen being manipulated and "faked". Using a forensic image analyst Sebastian Anthony claimed that the image was not real and subsequently the winner was not viable and he should be locked up and not allowed to work in photography and publicly flayed for lying. Not quite, obviously, but you get the impression. Sadly it has directed a lot of traffic to that site for the wrong reasons. 

The second story is another one of these recurring Facebook trends that seem to never really end. It bobs up to the surface now and again when it trends or when a friend of mine likes it or something. The image shows a pile of bones and carcasses in a factory being shoveled by a truck. The caption runs "DID YOU KNOW?? Gummies or jelly based sweets are gelatin-based chewy candy which is made by prolonged boiling of skin, cartilage and bones from animals". Yes, most people knew. Cue, though, shock horror from Facebook users commenting that they will never eat it again etc etc. 

What really surprises me in both cases is does no one ever ask what was in what they consumed? Where does everyone think gelatin comes from? Similarly, Paul Hansen's image is consumed by us all, did no one else just make the assumption immediately that it was heavily changed? Do we care if it was if the message and event is exactly the same? Why is the first reaction outrage? It hasn't been faked; it has been altered to look better in a photograph. Most essential of all it has not undermined the actual cause of what the image represents. I don’t know at what point we need to draw the line, it is just the reaction and the extremely strong language that I object to.

In fairness, the image does look like there is "magic" two-directional sunlight, and it is clearly altered, but the fact it contains is powerful and unchanged from the original. Why do people still think that photojournalism is an objective exercise? That's like making a Gummy Bear using sunshine and flowers and fairy dust. 

There is a process to everything. We should all be eager to question it, but we shouldn't be offended that something gets ‘made’ rather than ‘taken’, more we should interrogate how it was made and be prepared to change it if it genuinely offends in terms of journalistic integrity. Sensationalist revelations will not help. 

This belated and shocked reaction to Paul Hansen's image (there was a first immediate reaction as well, I refer to this new one) shows a lacking in visual literacy. Images are increasingly essential in the dissemination of news stories, so the viewing world needs to be aware that a photograph is never the absolute truth. It is the photographer's truth, and should be trusted as such and interrogated instinctively.