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If you Mac it, mark it - like this...

Exactly how should manipulated photos be marked?

The NUJ's Digital Media Working Group in 1994 proposed three categories: genuine photos; re-touched photos; and composites.

Then we discovered the group chaired by Prof. Fred Ritchin of the School of Photography at New York University. They started with twelve categories, including for example photo-opportunities as instances of manipulation of the photographer rather than of the image.

After thinking hard about life as it is lived on picture desks, they've settled on just two: genuine photos, which may for example be colour-balanced; and the rest, which should be marked where there's any trace of ambiguity about their status. Their proposal has attracted considerable theoretical interest, including an article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

They propose a "not-a-camera" symbol to be included in manipulated photographs: the visual equivalent of "quotation" of text. Their symbol is an icon for a camera (a circle inscribed in a square), crossed out.

The converse "is-a-camera" symbol may be used by photographers to assert that their images are unmanipulated.

There is a problem -- and it probably says several things about the lifestyles of freelance journalists and union activists that it was half a year before it was pointed out to any of us. In Europe, the "not manipulated" symbol already means "It's OK to dry-clean this garment".

There is a problem the Ritchin symbol: at the resolution of photos on the Web, it needs to be fairly large. If it's too small, the "corners" disappear. Alternative manipulated-photo symbol The Freelance has exerimented witn an alternative: This looked promising until it was pointed out that its opposite was the CBS News logo...

60 x 58 pixels Click for
600 x 580 pixels

You are encouraged to download and use these graphics. If you produce improved, crisper versions, please send us copies.

Tip: In Netscape and most Mosaics for Windows, put your mouse pointer over the picture, click the right button and select "Save this Image as..." or something close. On a Mac, press and hold the button until the menu of options appears. If you use the "genuine photo" symbol on a manipulated photo, we will arrange dreadful retribution.

Technical note: these image files are all 16-colour transparent .GIFs. This means that if you incorporate them into a Web page with a black background, they'll disappear. The easiest way to convert them into non-transparent .GIFs is to load them into a graphics program which doesn't understand transparent .GIFs, then save them. Or, if you have a program like the shareware LView Pro, set one of the 14 unused colours to be the background colour.

AND... As if to deliberately to reinforce journalists' image as scruffy oiks... it actually means "it's OK to tumble-dry this garment".

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Last modified: 09 Nov 1997
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