Trying to Keep Some Truthful Records: Photojournalism’s Photoshop & Captions Questioned

Ben Curtis/Associated Press

January 3, 2010, 9:30 pm

It Was All Started by a Mouse (Part 1)


Questioning behind whether or not this mouse stuffed animal was placed in the middle of the street by the photographer or whether it was found there or even ‘photoshopped’ in is the first point of discussion in this article.  Then the captioning of journalistic images is challenged.


ERROL MORRIS: There is a selection process. And where there’s war, there’s controversy. I’m sorry to say that it was through your Mickey photograph that I first became familiar with your name.

BEN CURTIS: Here, I just looked up my photo of the Mickey Mouse on the archive and the caption reads:

A child’s toy lies amidst broken glass from the shattered windows of an apartment block near those that were demolished by Israeli air strikes in Tyre, Southern Lebanon, Monday, August 7th, 2006.

Which I stand by. The toy was there when I arrived. My caption doesn’t imply what happened, whose the toy was, whether there were children killed. Keep it neutral. Keep it neutral, and only say what you know and that you can verify. And I can happily stand by that caption. I can say every element of that caption was true, and I know it to be true.

ERROL MORRIS: One question that immediately comes to mind: Was your photograph the first of the published toy photographs? Did other photographers say, “Ah, he sold that photograph. Let me see if I can produce a similar one?”

BEN CURTIS: I don’t know when those other photographs were taken. When you’re covering destruction, you’re always going to focus in on details, rather than general views of destroyed buildings. You see similar pictures during a conflict like Lebanon; you see similar pictures over and over. When you come across an interesting detail in a scene . . . . But I didn’t say in my caption that children were in that apartment when it was bombed, that children were killed. I don’t know that, so I don’t say it. But if you look at my picture without the toy, you don’t know what those buildings are. It could be an office block. It could be anything. So, the inclusion of the Mickey Mouse in the picture adds an element of humanity to it. You get a feel of what was going on, what type of area it is, and that gives you a bit of a context to the fact that there have been recent air strikes in that area.


One response to “Trying to Keep Some Truthful Records: Photojournalism’s Photoshop & Captions Questioned

  • Al

    The brilliant cartoonist and humorist Quino illustrates the power of captions here, giving completely different meanings to the very same “picture.” The last panel goes full circle and gives the opposite meaning given in the first panel.

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