The reasons behind the doctored photograph

November 3, 2009

Brian Walski was working under some tough circumstances. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to be in the middle of a battlefield, only those who have experienced it can relate to Walski in this instance. The photographer discussed the events in an interview with Photo District News senior editor David Walker, in which he states:

“We were in Iraq at that point for six days. We were sleeping in our car. It was the most intense kind of–we didn’t have any place to stay. There was no safe haven of any kind where you could kind of relax and get a good night’s sleep. It was constant tension.” (Walker, 2003)

 

Walski’s friend and former co-worker Don Bartletti recalls seeing his colleague a few days after the scandal flared up. He mentions the encounter in a phone interview with Poynter Online:

“When I saw him [Walski], I really did not recognize him. He was sunburned, had not eaten in days, nor slept in 36 hours, his clothes were filthy, his beard — all over the place. And he smelled like a goat.” (Irby, 2003)

 

New York Times photographer Vincent LaForet (at the time embedded with the US military onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf) sympathises with Walski’s situation:

“I know about sleep deprivation. I can speculate that he has been working day in and day out and may have experienced mental exhaustion, and this may have been just a lapse of judgment.” (Ibid.)

 

Talking about the day he doctored the picture, Walski says: “It was a 14 hour day and I was tired. It was probably ten at night.” (Walker, 2003)

 

However, Walski does not make any excuses for what he did:

“When I put the pictures together, I knew what I was doing. It looked good. It looked better than what I had, and I said ‘wow.’ Things happened so fast.” He continues: “There was no reason to do [what I did]. I was playing around a little bit. I said, ‘that looks good.’ I worked it and sent it.” (Ibid.)

 

When asked about the justification for his actions, Walski says:

“I think it’s just that I wanted a better image. Then when I did it, I didn’t even think about it. […] I accepted full responsibility as soon as they called me on it. […] Would I have done it again? I don’t know. Maybe I would have.” (Ibid.)

 

Brian Walski thus does not give any specific reason for changing the picture, other than the fact that he wanted to make it look better, “to show a soldier’s face rather than his back” (Gelzinis, 2003) as he mentions in an apologetic e-mail to his friends and colleagues.

 

Does this explain his lapse of judgement? Maybe did the stress and tiredness affect him after all? Could there have been a subconscious reason for his actions? How did people react when the truth about the picture was divulged? And quite importantly, did Walski’s doctoring of the photograph justify his dismissal from the company?

 

 

Walker, David (7 May 2003). Brian Walski Discusses his Doctored Photo, Photo District News. [online] AllBusiness.com, Inc. Available from: <http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4450879-1.html> [Accessed on 28 October 2009]

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].

Gelzinis, Peter (2003). WAR IN IRAQ; Trying to understand a former colleague’s lapse in judgment. Boston Herald, 3 April. [online] Boston Herald Library, Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. Available from: <http://global.factiva.com/aa/?ref=bhld000020030404dz4300023&pp=1&fcpil=en&napc=p&sa_from=>

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