In light of recent events, Rotters, along with other picture agencies, has been reviewing contentious material held in our archives. The revelation that some of the images by Rotters contributor Roger Fenton of the recent Crimean War may have been ‘staged’ has led to a wide ranging internal investigation into the veracity or otherwise of our historical collection. In the course of this enquiry a number of other contributors’ work has been found to fall short of the standards which Rotters sets.
It is now clear that many, if not all, of Mr Fenton’s Crimean pictures were posed. There are also a number of serious captioning inaccuracies: in particular the photograph ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ is not in fact the valley in which the Light Brigade made their famous and ill-fated charge. Additionally the captions did not make clear that Mr Fenton was unable to move freely and unhindered, but was in fact escorted by a group of armed men known as the British Army.
We have also learned that Mathew Brady’s photographs of American Civil War battle scenes are misleading. Some of his pictures of live soldiers and officers have clearly been posed, yet this is not indicated. Furthermore we have discovered that in some post battle pictures, corpses have been moved and repositioned so as to give the image greater impact and stress the horror of the scene. This is a clear breach of Rotters’ commitment to neutrality.
Doubts have been raised before concerning Robert Capa’s Spanish Civil War photograph of a dying soldier. However there are also questions concerning his pictures of the 1944 D-Day landings: the darkness, lack of shadow detail and extreme blurring caused by unorthodox darkroom techniques are contrary to Rotters guidelines. In addition, Capa’s assertion that ‘if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough’ is a blatant endorsement of the use of wide-angle lenses, now banned by Rotters.
There are several versions of Yevgeny Khaldei’s image of Soviet soldiers raising a flag on the Reichstag in 1945, leading us to believe this image was staged. This belief is supported by the discovery that Mr Khaldei had the flag made to order from a restaurant tablecloth and photographed it on several previous occasions. Questions have also been raised concerning Mr Khaldei’s use of Photoshop in a number of images, in particular his picture of Soviet aircraft over Berlin, usually referred to as ‘Last Assault on the Reichstag’.
O. Winston Link’s documentary pictures of steam trains from the 1950s are not, as previously supposed, a series of remarkable decisive moments, but were in fact heavily contrived, with entire trains on occasion being stopped, reversed and shunted into position for the photograph. In addition to the inconvenience caused to passengers, this is a clear breach of Rotters rules on the staging of pictures; his extensive use of flash is also contrary to Rotters’ revised contributor guidelines.
W. Eugene Smith’s work has been found to fail Rotters standards on numerous counts. His posing of subjects is in contravention of our rules on ‘staging’. Likewise, his frequent adjustments in the darkroom are a breach of the rule that there may be no additions or deletions to the subject matter of the original image. And lastly his emphasis on humanism, in particular in his photographs from Minamata, is a clear breach of Rotters standards of neutrality.
Donald McCullin’s work from Vietnam, Northern Ireland and elsewhere is almost universally dark. The lack of shadow detail, generally depressing tone and constant stress on the alleged horror of war is clearly one-sided and fails Rotters guidelines on impartiality.
As a result of these discoveries Rotters has immediately terminated our relationship with these photographers, and all their work has been removed from our archives and destroyed. Some may call these steps extreme, but Rotters has no doubt that where corporate credibility is at stake the visual record of history must take second place, particularly if that record leads reliable blogs of record to cast doubt on the company’s editorial reputation.
Looking to the future Rotters has revised and strengthened our guides for contributors to ensure such errors do not happen again.
The use of non-standard lenses, in other words anything other than 50mm, is now banned. As has been observed elsewhere, the use of wide angle lenses often places the photographer in close proximity to the subject, with the possibility that he or she may influence events: this is unacceptable.
Long distance, or telephoto, lenses are also banned. Whilst they enable the photographer to remain distant and therefore unlikely to influence events, the flattening of perspective and shallow depth of focus isolates some details at the expense of others, which can be deceptive.
Additionally the 50mm lens may only be used fully stopped down to ensure that the entire frame is in focus and no single element is given undue prominence. For the future Rotters is working with camera manufacturers to develop a 50 mm lens that has a single aperture setting of F64 to ensure this standard is strictly adhered to.
The restriction to only 50mm lenses in itself raises a number of problems, especially in sports coverage. However Rotters is working closely with professional sports organisations worldwide to arrange on-pitch facilities for our photographers to provide authentic and unrivalled sports coverage.
Flashguns and artificial lighting will also no longer be used by Rotters photographers since their use inherently alters the appearance of any situation, and may also cause the subject to react to the camera’s presence.
Rotters will no longer use Photoshop software for image adjustment. Instead all work will be conducted in Microsoft Paint, the limited functionality of which will help prevent any adjustment that contravenes Rotters standards.
Rotters photographers may no longer communicate with their subjects in any way, verbal or otherwise, since that could influence events. In particular the previous practise of shouting phrases such as ‘Over here, Mr Blair’, ‘Good morning Mrs Ritchie’ and ‘Has he popped the question yet Kate?’ will now cease. To ensure this most Rotters photographers will henceforth wear a speech impairment device known as the Rotters Gag. The only exceptions will be senior Rotters photographers who need to be able to communicate with the office, for example to request toilet breaks.
All captions must now contain model and property releases. These will serve to confirm the veracity of the subject matter and also aid in financial exploitation of any photographs. Specific releases will be provided for different situations, but they all follow a standard format approved by the Stock Artists Alliance. A sample version of each follows.
Sample model release:
‘I, Al Kayeda, confirm that I am the suicide bomber photographed by Rotters Photographer Joe Monkey, in the city of Bombed Flat on 23/02/2007. I hereby grant Rotters Inc a worldwide, exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and resell these images of me in connection with Rotters [and its successor’s] business, in connection with, but not limited to, your War of Terror, and during any future military operations whether or not there has been any formal declaration of war.’
Sample property release:
‘I, Betty Windsor, confirm that I am the resident of No 1 Buckingham Palace Road, photographed by Rotters Photographer the Earl of Smudgefield, in the city of London on 23/02/2007. I hereby grant Rotters Inc a worldwide, exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and resell these images of Buckingham Palace in connection with Rotters [and its successor’s] business, on postcards, posters, coasters, t-shirts, mugs and every other form of tourist tat already known or invented in the future, whether in my empire or any empire yet to be discovered.’
Rotters remains dedicated to providing a comprehensive and unbiased photo service. We recognise that there is often extreme pressure on our professional contributors to supply usable material that has on occasion led to unfortunate errors of judgement. While we remain committed to working with our professional contributors, we believe that our increasing use of so-called citizen journalists for image gathering will help to maintain our company standards. Since we do not pay for CJ content the providers will be under no pressure to ‘deliver the goods’ just so they can feed their families. This will have the dual benefit of helping to maintain our principles while simultaneously increasing the profitability of the company.