Time cover featuring photo taken by Narciso Contreras. Photo courtesy Narciso Contreras on Facebook.
Time cover featuring photo taken by Narciso Contreras. Photo courtesy Narciso Contreras on Facebook.

According to The Guardian, Narcisco, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, recently told AP editors that he digitally manipulated a photograph taken in Syria. The photo, published by AP in 2012, shows a Syrian rebel crouching in the brush with an automatic gun. Narciso admitted using Photoshop to remove his colleague’s video camera in the lower left corner of the frame, presumably to eliminate visual distraction from the subject.

Narciso, a long time and lauded photojournalist, said in an interview on January 22 that he regrets manipulating the image — and maintains that it was an isolated incident. “I took the wrong decision when I removed the camera … I feel ashamed about that,” Narciso said. “You can go through my archives and you can find that this is a single case that happened probably at one very stressed moment, at one very difficult situation.” After an extensive review of all 494 photos taken by Narciso during his tenure, AP confirmed this was the only instance an image had been altered.

The Associated Press Code of Ethics outlines clear guidelines for Photoshop usage, stating, “AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way,” adding that “minor adjustments” like cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into gray-scale, and normal toning and color adjustments are allowed, so long as they are “limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction,” and that “restore the authentic nature of the photograph.” Of note: removing “red eye” is seen as an act that compromises the authenticity of an image, and is therefore not permitted.

Narciso Contreras in Thailand. Photo courtesy Narciso Contreras on Facebook.
Narciso Contreras in Thailand. Photo courtesy Narciso Contreras on Facebook.

AP’s decision to fire Narciso, one of their most respected and frequently-published photographers, highlights the news industry’s strict stance on photo manipulation — a stance that has been rapidly eliminated, if not wholly reversed, in other photography genres. Underscoring the philosophy shared by news reporters and photojournalists, The National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics states, “Visual journalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand. As visual journalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its history through images.”

In the eyes of The Associated Press, Reuters, the NPAA, and even Narciso himself, by removing even the most mundane, nonessential shape in a photo, Narciso compromised the truth of the photograph. Critics of Narciso’s firing argue that he did nothing to compromise the truth or integrity of the story the photograph tells — arguing that the video camera had nothing to do with, and even distracted from, the true subject: the Syrian rebel fighter.

Sources: The Guardian, Nieman Journalism Lab, The Associated Press Code of Ethics, National Press Photographers Association