Brian Walski was born in Illinois, USA, in 1958. He grew up in Chicago and studied Journalism at Northern Illinois University. He has worked as a photographer since 1980 starting his career at the Albuquerque Journal, Patriot-Ledger in Quincy, MA, and the Boston Herald. He spent 12 years on staff at the Herald until he joined the Los Angeles Times in September, 1998. During his career he has covered everything from local news to the Gulf War, famine in Africa, Northern Ireland, the conflict in Kashmir and the crisis in the Balkans. (Wikipedia, Brian Walski) Walski was awarded the California Press Photographers Association’s 2001  Photographer of the Year.

Brian Walski was in early 2003 working in Basra on the coverage of the Iraq War on behalf of the Los Angeles Times newspaper. On the 31st of March that year, the newspaper, along with other papers from the Tribune News Corporation, published the striking photograph that Walski had provided from southern Iraq the previous day. After publication, an Iraqi member of staff at the Hartford Courant (from the same company as the LA Times) noticed, while searching the photo for relatives, that some faces in the background were duplicated. The picture had in fact been altered. The staffer notified the editors of the newspaper who immediately contacted Walski’s superiors at the LA Times. After admitting that the picture was a creation from two separate photographs, Brian Walski was dismissed from the paper, as digital composites and distortion of original photographs are considered strongly unethical within news organizations.

This brings up a few of questions: Where is the line drawn between ethical and unethical? Is there a code of ethics within the photojournalism industry? How radically were the pictures altered for the reaction to be so strong?

 

Walski’s biography was sourced from Wikipedia (quotes in italics):

Wikipedia (last modified on 9 February 2009 at 18:30). Brian Walski. [online] Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Available from: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Walski> [Accessed 22 October 2009].

The Wikipedia material was complemented with information from the following website (first few paragraphs):

Irby, Kenneth (2 April 2003 at 12:00 am). L.A. Times Photographer Fired Over Altered Image. [online] Poynter Online. Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. Available from: <http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=28082> [Accessed on 28 October 2009].

More information from this website will be used in future posts.

Walski, Brian (2003). Front Page Image, Los Angeles Times – March 31st 2003 (original caption unknown)

Walski, Brian (2003). Front Page Image, Los Angeles Times - March 31st 2003 (original caption unknown)

Sourced from: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/photo/chi-080710-photo-fakes-photogallery,0,4231467.photogallery?index=chi-fake_walski20080710142803

This photograph was taken by Brian Walski in 2003, and published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times on the 31st of March 2003.

This particular photo was taken from the Chicago Tribune website and, according to the URL, from a page dealing with fake photographs. We will look into that at a later point.

To start off, let us analyse this picture directly. In the foreground we can see a white British soldier in an active position, holding a rifle in his right hand and stretching his left hand out in a directive manner. He seems to be saying or shouting something. This person is the center of attention. His head is seemingly turned towards a group of civilians of Semitic origin, more specifically towards a man in the center, the only civilian standing up in the picture. Our focus now shifts to this man. He seems to be in his thirties or forties and is holding a child in his arms. He is slightly hunched as if being afraid or in discomfort, and is  looking at, and walking towards, the soldier imploringly. The rest of the picture is composed of a crowd of seated people, a sandy ground and a grey overcast sky.

Judging from this photograph, we can assume that the scene takes place in a Middle-Eastern country and that the photo was taken in the context of a war. The soldier seems to be gesturing at the man with the child, telling him to sit down.

This question now arises: Where and in what context was this photograph taken?

The photograph certainly looks genuine, but if we now take a closer look we can notice one major fault: some faces in the background seem to appear twice (on either side of the soldier’s legs). Furthermore, we can take into consideration the fact the soldier’s line of vision doesn’t appear to be perfectly aimed at the man in the center. He might not in fact be talking to that specific person.

We can raise a few key questions: Is this picture a fake? If so, what was the photographer’s motive for creating it? What would the consequences of such an action be?