Maybe purity isn’t the right goal? I just listened to a Frank Deford commentary on performance enhancing drugs in sport and how they harm the purity of the experience. Now, I’m not one to argue with Frank, his weekly commentary on NPR is a must-hear for me, and in this case I’m not sure I disagree so much as wonder if I can apply his thinking closer to home.
Does the influence of steroids and HGH in sport hold any bearing closer to my life, the world of photojournalism? Is there any equivalency between the sporting world’s ongoing battle with enhancing the human body for greater recognition and the photographic world’s continuing struggle with the various enhancements of photos for basically the same reason?
If you’re not happy with your performance in the playing field there is a drug or treatment that will boost your output and give you an edge. If you’re not happy with your photos, they’re not winning contests or the raves of your colleagues, then just alter them to meet those higher expectations?
In the end Deford’s thesis is that absent the purity of un-enhanced athletic performance, sport becomes nothing but entertainment on par with special effects driven movies. Absent the ethical “purity” of un-altered photos is photojournalism any different?
I could take the pragmatic approach of many sports fans who believe that everyone is “juiced” and still stay loyal to their teams and games. Should I care that given the ease of manipulating photos today anyone and everyone just might be “juiced” in my field as well?
That is not where I care to be. I’ve heard a lot of apologists who are comfortable saying that we cannot attain for purity and therefore it is pointless to even strive for it. I beg to differ. As Deford said, it is in the quest for athletic excellence without enhancement that we are all inspired. It is in the quest for making connections within and between communities by means of honest and factual visual communication that we are all inspired.
I will continue to be deeply saddened by every athlete who feels the need to cheat and I will forever decry the photographer who cannot communicate their vision without playing with the facts.