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February 23, 2013

BagNews, Paolo Pellegrin and Reading the Pictures

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Examining the tiniest, seemingly mundane details of an image to extract its power, its meaning, and its message, the [BagNews] Notes blog (part of a larger site featuring original photography and live interactive discussions) fulfills its mission of “reading the pictures” by starting provocative conversations about how the media illustrate the biggest stories of the day.

– 2011 Photo Blog awards

There are art critics, film critics and television critics. Well, I’m a hybrid born out of media and political criticism: I’m an analyst and critic of news photographs.

–The Creation and Reception of Political Imagery. Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Conference. St. Louis. August 2011 (opening sentence, panel presentation)

Yesterday morning, the BagNews Notes section published a post about the accuracy of a photo by Magnum’s Paolo Pellegrin as it appeared on two award sites, World Press Photo and the Picture of the Year. Our critique of those published images was based on the account of a then-RIT photo student who was the subject of the photo. (You can see our post here.)

Besides the wide hearing of our analysis, the other notable effect from yesterday’s critique was the counter-critique that BagNews “failed to contact” Mr. Pellegrin in advance or “give him the chance to reply.” I welcome the chance to speak to that, and to clarify a fundamental misperception people make about the role and practice of BagNews relative to news photography.

What is essential to understand about our role is that we are critics, not reporters. That may be confusing to some because there are not a lot of  practicing visual news or, especially, news photo critics around. But our role and what we do — deemed essential by esteemed colleagues from visual media to academia — is no different from what art critics or television critics or theater critics or film critics do. (I should add, when a film critic perceives a flaw or an inconsistency, he or she doesn’t call up the writer or director for an explanation or an opportunity for rebuttal, he or she deconstructs the content as meticulously and conscientiously as he or she can.) What I, and my contributors do, just like other critics covering other forms of media, is analyze the manifest representation of something expressive, often social or political in nature just like news photography, and we critique it for context, for its informational value and veracity, and for what it purports to do versus what it actually does.

To that extent, what we’re concerned with at BagNews is not the integrity of a person but the integrity of the image and as well as the titles, captions and any other attendent information presented in the elaboration or justification of that imagery. Because Mr. Pellegrin did gain the opportunity to speak to the accuracy of his imagery and the supporting captions and titles, and today’s a new day, we’re interested now in how multiple photo news sites, including NPPA, PDN and NYT Lens blog, generated a fresh collection of imagery and supportive text yesterday in response to our critique.

Using the same method of analysis we employ everyday — and have applied now in over 5000 posts over the past eight years (not to mention numerous conference and seminar presentations, such as “The State of the News Photo” presentation at Photoville in Brooklyn last June, or “The Methodology of BagNewsNotes” super session panel at the elite Rhetoric Society of America Conference in Philadelphia last May)  – you can judge for yourself how Mr. Pellegrin’s comments generated in print yesterday  stack up in comparison to the controversial visual and accompanying descriptive text on the award sites.

PP Post Suburbs

In this first example, we’re looking at the award photo, title and caption against screen grab quotes from yesterday’s NPPA article and interview by Donald Winslow.

One of our core critiques of Mr. Pellegrin is that he photographed Shane Keller at his apartment in the suburbs but attributed the location in his award submissions to “The Crescent,” a notorious drug and crime riddled part of urban Rochester.  As is our standard methodology, we elaborate how Mr. Pellegrin, not just through his photo, title and caption, but through his interview comments, tries to differentiate the information in his title from what he’s written in his caption, finally offering an admission of culpability for the misrepresentation.

PP Post Sniper

In this analysis, we examine the award photo, title and caption against screen grab quotes from the Magnum statement he gave to PDN as well as the comments (in black) he made to the NYT Lens blog yesterday. Another key point of our critique involved Pellegrin’s characterization of Shane Keller (inferred as residing in or at least frequenting the Crescent) as a former military sniper when Keller was never more than a military photographer. As you can see, Pellegrin misrepresents his recollection as “firm” to the NPPA but then admits to the limit of his recollection to the NYT.

PP Post Lifted copy

In this last set of visuals and accompanying text, we see the World Press award page along with associated copy from the Lens interview.  In our critique yesterday, we discussed how Pellegrin had plagiarized ten year old copy from the NY Times which World Press and POY, in turn, used as extended caption and background description on the Crescent.  The analysis is self-explanatory.

If the mission of our site was traditional news reporting or investigative journalism, we would surely have been remiss for not offering Mr. Pellegrin a platform to respond to our image critique.  As it turns out, however, he was afforded thorough access by those leading organizations that actually do specialize in the reporting of photo news. As we wrote yesterday, we take no pleasure in casting shadows or causing upset to a distinguished and renowned photographer, a truly legendary photo agency as well as the two premier grantors of photojournalism awards (especially as we were a recipient of a POY award for a multimedia piece produced for a different section of our site a few years back).  At the same time, our concern for the visual literacy of the media consumer and the integrity of the news image is something we don’t take lightly in practicing the art of critique and we look forward to reading the pictures along with our committed readers for many years to come.

  • Jim Johnson

    Michael, This is right on point. Thanks. Jim

  • William Reeves

    I am not sure if this post is worse than yesterday’s, but it certainly comes close. Your original post was poorly reported (yes, I see you do not call yourself a reporter, but the article was presented as such), Pellegrin’s response was aggressive, and you respond with more aggression and more poor reporting?

    Let’s begin with the question of whether or not you are a reporter. You say quite clearly in this post that you are not, and that you therefore had no responsibility to offer Pellegrin an opportunity to respond. However the very first line of your About page states “BagNews analyzes and reports news and media images”. Further, your list of awards includes one for excellence in Journalism and one for excellence in issue reporting. If you are indeed not a reporter than it appears that you are equally as guilty of misrepresentation. After all, how does one report without being a reporter, and how does one win journalism awards without being a journalist? I am new to this site, as I am sure much of your traffic over the past few days is, and when looking into what this site is about, the way yesterday’s article was written/presented, and the ongoing commentary, I certainly came away with the impression that there was at least some reporting going on here. It is not confusing because there are so few news photo critics around, it is confusing because you present yourself as something you are not.

    Secondly, your comment about a critic not needing to contact a director when noting an inconsistency is actually quite absurd. A critic noting an inconsistency in a film/play/etc. is only in the rarest of cases risking permanent damage to that director’s career. Your post directly challenged the most hallowed asset any journalist has, his credibility. Comments that followed included people stating that they would now question every image he ever took. Given your background and the type of imagery you cover, you know this. Today you claim that you do not question the integrity of people, only images. For a photojournalist, there is no difference. The integrity of their image IS their integrity, and given your background, you SHOULD know this. If you did not know that your post would call into question Mr. Pellegrin’s integrity and create this type of controversy, then to be blunt you have no business doing this as you lack a fundamental understanding of what you are criticizing/reporting.

    I also find your critique of Pellegrin’s comments to be misleading as well. To begin with is the title of the series. In your first “critique”, you point out that he is differentiating between the title and the caption to explain the inconsistencies, which he is, and which is not uncommon in my experience. In the second “critique”, you state that Pellegrin claims he never said the photo was taken in the Crescent and highlighted the title of the series, NOT the caption. His entire point was that while the series was titled The Crescent, that image was captioned Rochester. Is it confusing? Probably, but not this massive violation of ethics that has been pushed forward.

    You also point out that at one point he firmly recalled Keller being a sniper (telling the NPPA, and just as a point of fact he did not speak nor was he interviewed by the NPPA, that was a press release posted by the NPPA, small detail, but they sure do add up don’t they?), and then telling the Times he did not remember Keller’s name. He also said in his statement that he may have misunderstood, that Keller may have misspoken, or the term sniper been used in a way not meant to imply formal status as a sniper. In the Times he states that he didn’t remember Keller’s NAME, but that he did remember he was a solider. I don’t see how this contradicts his recollection when he initially admitted there may have been confusion? At this point I seriously feel you are reading more into this than is actually there. Why in the world do people find it so odd that Pellegrin did not need Keller’s information at the moment of the photograph when Keller was a friend of Pellegrin’s fixer? Would it take more than a 2 second email to get that information? Why did he need to be worried about his name at that moment, and in the end he did get the name correct did he not?

    One quick point concerning your notation of Keller living 6-9 miles from the Crescent. The student (Carlsen) who assisted Pellegrin has stated that he could see where Pellegrin could be confused as Keller does live in a suburb, but that it was only a couple of minutes away from where they were originally. He also saw no ethical problem with the image according to his PDN statements. (Another quick note, it seems many are claiming Keller was Pellegrin’s assistant, which he was not, Carlsen was)

    Lastly, your critique of the “lifted” info is incomplete. In the NPPA article he clearly spells out how background information is often provided with these types of stories to publications considering using the images, and is not intended for publication. He clearly did not intend for that information to be published, or even seen by the public. Reading that text seems to support his statement as it is a series of short, factual statements about the area, and does not appear to be written for publication. This is something that again is fairly common practice in my experience. Yet again this site seems willing to omit very key pieces of his response in order to fit the original accusations. Which again speaks to the problem that I and many other visitors yesterday have with these posts. There seems to be little interest in presenting two sides of the story here, but rather advancing the site/author’s interpretation. Yes, a CRITIC has a right to interpret the photos in any way he or she chooses without consulting the photographer, but when the interpretation is accompanied by accusations (either explicitly or implicitly) that have the potential to ruin a man’s career do you not feel as though the other side of the story is warranted?

    I honestly wonder if the closeness of some of the people involved in the publication of this post is not at least somewhat coloring the responses of this blog. There is certainly nothing resembling fairness occurring here. Pellegrin in multiple instances at least acknowledged that he could have misunderstood something, or that something was just flat out a mistake. This blog on the other hand seems incapable of recognizing that their interpretation of events is not the only possible explanation, and that they could just be wrong about some things.

    Even if you do not consider yourself to be a reporter/journalist, as a human being you have an obligation to present this story fairly given the consequences of its content. Otherwise it is simply reckless and irresponsible.

    • Stan B.

      “… which is not uncommon in my experience.”

      Mr. Reeves, you make quite the point of attacking the alleged lack or professional
      responsibility on Mr. Shaw’s part (to the point of citing his credentials), and yet we are supposed to accept your rather definitive interpretation of events when you neglect to even disclose your curriculum vitae.

      And nowhere in your rather lengthy response do you address Pellegrin’s role and direction in the setting up of the photograph in question.

    • Majorie K

      Michael Shaw’s tone is exactly correct. Pellegrin misidentified a photojournalism student as a former sniper, blamed the student for his screw up, then gave a different story to the New York Times. He located the student in The Crescent in the POYi contest. His descriptions for both the POYi and WPP said the photos came from the Crescent, when they didn’t. The POYi caption does directly say “The Crescent.”. The student’s home was in a suburb more than 6 miles from a violent inner city neighborhood. Worse, Pellegrin made the student look like he was part of the story of the violence when, in fact, he was not.

      Pellegrin wholly plagiarized a 10 year old NYT article for his entry description and his excuse was, essentially, “I didn’t think anyone would read it.” The man has won these contests before and knows they use the photographer’s written description. It was a lame explanation from a great photographer who got lazy and was deflecting.

      You don’t seem to understand the difference between analysis/critique and reporting. Perhaps that explains the problems with your answer.

    • Loret Steinberg

      Pellegrin’s assistant misrepresents a number of things — he doesn’t see a “problem” with the photograph or the way Shane was depicted but that doesn’t mean he understands the ethics of photojournalism (even though he was one of my students). When will someone talk seriously about the unfairness to Shane?

      I suggest reading all three articles with Pellegrin’s responses – NPPA, PDN and NYT Lens Blog.

      There is no “bashing” here, there is no “expose” but questions about the nature of photojournalism and documentary photography. I haven’t heard many people discussing the fairness to the subject in the photograph. These issues would be important no matter who the photographer was in the situation. I’m especially saddened that the photographer was Pellegrin, with his experience, passion and eye.

      As I describe in our Ethics and Photojournalism course, people tend to believe what they want to believe — our relationship with a public audience is fragile. The way we work should always be examined, reexamined and discussed if we’re to remain stewards of our own profession. We have a responsibility of authenticity in reporting stories — whether the story is about The Crescent or a small town in Iowa or a war zone in Syria.

      Pellegrin has Carlsen’s contact information and could have fact-checked anything. He could have looked at a map of Rochester and “the Crescent” on wikipedia. In his heart, he knew that Shane had utterly no connection to the issues he wanted to document in the Crescent.

      Everyone should be discussing the real issues here — misleading context, using a subject (and I highlight the word “using”) unethically, backstepping about lifting text that was not attributed to the NYT 2003 piece (which we know could have and should have been done if it was only for background), describing Shane as a sniper (Shane was very specific about answering Pellegrin’s question in detail but we didn’t put that in the original story because it would seem that mislabeling someone was bad enough) and then plopping this photograph into a series of twelve with Pellegrin’s specific text stating that all of these photographs were made in The Crescent.

      Where is the fairness to Shane, to the people who live in The Crescent, to the city of Rochester or to any subject caught in a photographer’s wish to tell a story he/she sees but may not actually be there?

  • black_dog_barking

    Responding solely to the image I see only threats and confusion rising from this man with his gun. I’m not sure what time of day it is, what light source is shining so brightly over my left shoulder, or even if we’re indoors or out. It would be outdoors with a ceiling or indoors with really unusual flooring.

    Peeking at the caption I’m not surprised to see the word ‘Marine’. That makes sense in the “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for I’m the meanest motherfucker in the valley” sense of the word ‘marine’. Put the proffered caption onto what I see in the image and I conclude that this Crescent place must be some wild wild venue where marine snipers calmly and openly carry shotguns out into the night. With enough ammo slung around his neck to wipe a movie theater full of Batman fans if that’s his wish. Holy shit, is this what happens when Kodak shutters its doors? Someone apparently wants me to think so.

    Now, a slightly different caption, something along the lines of “A college student poses with one of his guns in front of his apartment in a ZIP code near the Crescent area of Rochester NY”, elicits a completely different reaction. Now I just think, wtf? The second caption is at least as descriptive as the first, certainly easier to defend to any critics, certainly less controversial and arguably less appealing.

  • Hariman

    William: I think the reporter/critic distinction is not as neat as Michael implied, but it’s not as clear as you suggest, either: “how does one report without being a reporter, and how does one win journalism awards without being a journalist?” Well, scientists, business people, consultants, and citizens, among others, report all the time without being employed as reporters. Likewise, journalism awards have been won by people who don’t self-identify as journalists. Blogging blurs genres and occupational categories alike, and we all need to keep trying to sort things out, which is why discussions like this one are important. And, by the way, if you consider that Michael (et al.) was writing as a citizen in the public square, there is no ethical obligation to have his speech vetted in advance; instead, we rely on frank speech and open access to bring everyone along to a place where full and informed judgments can be made. To push the point, when the little boy says that the king isn’t wearing any clothes, we don’t ask whether he checked with the king first. All you have to do it look and see for yourself.

    Which is another reason this claim about at lack of professional ethics at the BAG is suspect: it distracts readers from the substantive claim. Let’s look at the evidence regarding one of the claims that was made: did the Pellegrin plagiarize? (Yes, he did.) Does his public reply deny that he did? (No, it does not.) Where I come from, there is no moral equivalence between plagiarism and being a bit less than completely comprehensive in researching a story.

    In addition, one might ask what difference it would have made to ask Pellegrin to comment on the charge being raised. What if he had said, “yes, I did, and I’m sorry,” or “yes, I did, but didn’t think it was plagiarism,” or “yes, but that isn’t important here”? Even so, it would still be important to identity the mistake and the award committees’ vulnerability to the practice. And what if he had said, “no, I didn’t”? Or what if he had responded as he did subsequently, which you describe as “aggressive” and which I would describe as blowing smoke? Would any of these responses have provided any reason to not report what occurred, and which has been documented for all to see and judge as they wish? Perhaps the tone might have been a bit different, and we don’t want to rule out the chance for inspired collaborations on difficult and admittedly embarrassing issues, and I certainly don’t want to abandon standards of due diligence in research, but I don’t see how the real story here should be poor reporting.

    • William Reeves

      I can agree with the assertion that the distinction is not entirely clear, which was precisely my point. While bloggers and your other examples can offer commentary, my problem in this case is that Mr. Shaw wished to abdicate any responsibility under the pretense of being a critic. This does not entirely mesh with the way this site is presented, and felt that should be pointed out. In terms of the king with no clothes example, this case is more akin to the boy saying he had no clothes and then not allowing us to see the king. We had to go to another town to see what the king had on.

      I actually feel the plagiarism charge is not so clear either. Did he plagiarize? Information was published in a contest that was lifted from another source without credit, so yes. However I do see a moral difference in someone intentionally putting someone else’s thoughts out there as my own and doing so unintentionally (and via a staff member if I read correctly). Did he have more of a responsibility to look over his entries and verify their accuracy before they were sent out? Absolutely. However that is still quite different in my opinion and I find it amazing that human error is being equated with a lack of integrity. I have made mistakes in my life, many in fact, and I would hope that a career of 20+ years would not be endangered by something such as that.

      I also do feel the BAG presentation is a substantial issue because again we are discussing a human being’s future. These types of allegations could destroy a journalist, and that alone makes it worth the discussion in my opinion. Had he been given the option to rebut, we the readers would have at least be afforded the opportunity to make an educated decision as to the veracity of these claims. Instead we were offered a narrow perspective of an issue that was not so clear as initially presented.

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  • dereck

    I am with William Reeves except to say that today’s post is in fact worst than yesterdays. Talk about digging yourself in deeper… (love the scrawling red pen, really helps brings out your integrity)

    • Hariman

      Yeah, blue would have been so much better. And apparently when the New York Times uses illustrations and cartoons for critical effect–which they do regularly–that is a sure sign of their lack of integrity. I recognize the impulse to blame the messenger, but could we avoid new lows in triviality?

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  • Scarabus

    There’s the name for the thing, and then there’s the thing itself. And that’s one thing too many.

    When a discussion devolves to the point where participants are arguing about the name for the thing rather than the thing itself, then that discussion ceases to be constructive. When it devolves still further, to the ad hominem level, it becomes downright destructive.

    Time to let this rest for a while.

  • Stifledgenius

    Man, this is kind of becoming it’s own thing now, irrespective of Pellegrin.

    Firstly, Michael (and team), I hope you know I love the site. I’ve applauded you a few times over the last few weeks for bringing interesting subjects and pictures into my life.

    Second, I have to agree with William’s comment that yesterdays piece came off journalistic. The piece didn’t so much comment on Pellegrin’s story, as it seemed an attempt to tell the story for the first time and present evidence showing its truthfulness. It didn’t read as your opinion about plagiarism, so much as proving that Pellegrin plagiarized. I don’t have a problem with the way it came across, my only comment being I wished you had contacted him about it since the post came across that way.

    Thirdly, I’d say this post kind of dug you deeper. I understand the feeling of wanting to defend ones work, but you’re reading our critiques. If enough people are giving you the same crititque, it’s a pretty good indicator that the tone you were going for didn’t across that way to others. Outside of William’s comment, most people weren’t critiquing you or the site, just wishing they had more info so they could fully make a fully informed decision on how to view Pellegrin. It’s the second mishap in a week, the other being A Photo Editor’s post here:

    That post created a shit storm because the photographer the post is about made ludicrously stupid statements and then tried to defend himself by saying he’s not a writer and doesn’t need to be held to high standards as one. I’ll reply to you the same way I did to the sites editor. Your site carries weight, if you don’t like it, then simply stop posting. You have a responsibility to the truth, if you don’t like it, then simply stop posting.

    I hope you DON’T stop posting.

    • Majorie K

      I don’t get why you think this site hasn’t put forth the truth. Shaw et al. are lying about the plagiarism? Made up the “sniper” issue and the fact that Pellegrin changed his story? Lied about where the photo was shot and how it was captioned? This site carries weight because it’s always maintained its integrity. Continues to do so.

  • Peter Pickle

    It’s a funny old one – technically did Pellegrin do a bit of a dodgy one – well, he kind of used clear captions/titles and it was all a little fudged but at the end of it all, he was unclear enough and has enough wiggle room that he wont lose his awards and it probably will just end up being a bit of a bad episode that will fade away.

    For me, as a rank novice, no photo or journalistic experience, it’s just that it FEELS a bit off. With all his experience and so forth would he really have made sucha lot of rookie errors and been so vague unless he was trying to make the photo seem like more than it was? It all FEELS off and I think that’s why people’s hackles are up. Sure, he can explain away most of it but you’re still left with that unpleasant taste in your mouth.

    He’s like a guy who comes in late, smelling of beer and cheap perfume and he has a perfectly reasonable explanation with a really good and plausible story but it all just feels a bit weird and his belt buckle is fastened on the wrong hole and while it all could be innocent it just seems a little weird.

    Still, not like it’s going to come to anything. Let’s all just move on with our lives and forget it.

  • David Hume Kennerly

    I think many of the comments here miss the main point. Mr. Pellegrin felt he needed a white guy with a gun to cap off his incredibly biased piece on the Crescent in Rochester, took a picture of one who was 100% unrelated to the tale that he was spinning, and who on top of that was miles away from the scene of his interest. He then used that dramatic photo, (well, all his photos are dramatic), as part of his now award-winning picture story. Where I come from, and the business I’ve spent almost 50 years pursuing, doesn’t allow for that kind of thing, and it wouldn’t cross my mind to do it. Mr. Pellegrin is also trying to shoot the messenger, (you), by attacking your thesis by obfuscating to the max. He’s also laying off the blame for lifting the NY Times text that was used without attribution to accompany his photos, on his agency. The use of that text alone should disqualify his entry, and it should be nullified. In summation, I think you have done an excellent job of writing about this issue. I do agree with the comment that the use of your red marker was a bit over the top!

    . . . dhk

    • Davin Ellicson

      also find it kind of funny that the cover of David Alan Harvey’s book
      on Rio is his assistant. Candy was also on the cover of NatGeo Brazil.
      Candy is not from Brazil and was not just some passerby either. She
      works for Harvey.

    • Martin Ranger

      I could not agree more!

    • Stan B.

      For the record, thank you for making that first point, Mr. Kennerly. If any of us (who have been pointing out the obvious along such lines in the past) had made such an observation, we would would have been scorned, lambasted, and ridiculed outta town…

    • Mickey

      “…needed a white guy”
      “…incredibly biased”
      “…all his photos are dramatic”
      “…trying to shoot the messenger”

      WOW! Regardless of your stature, what a bummer. There are about 1000 better ways to disagree with Pellegrin without coming off as a hater.

    • William Reeves

      Mr. Kennerly,

      You are indeed a legend in this industry, and I highly value your input. (Complete side note, but meeting you at EAW a few years back was a highlight for me).

      Gushing aside, I find this post a bit harsh and quite inflammatory. I have no idea where you determined that he “needed a white guy” for his story, as I see no one mentioning race here. I also find the use of terms “biased”, “spinning”, and “dramatic” as coming across as a “hater”, to quote Mickey. At least you are clear in that you do not enjoy his work!

      Otherwise I feel I should know my role and leave this all alone. As mentioned before, I am not certain that anything more can be said on either said without being either repetitive or just damn annoying…

  • Michael Shaw

    I just wanted to share a few thoughts. Specifically, I appreciate the comments (and the curiosity in our mission) from William Reeves. No Stifled, I’m not going anywhere. ( In fact, over the next few months, we’ve got some new and exciting developments in store.) And of course, I’m honored to see David Hume Kennerly weigh in just below.
    I just wanted to say to William, I would be the first one to acknowledge that the post on Friday was not typical for Bag. I also have no trouble acknowledging that this post was a little heavy on the penmanship … matched by a heightened sensitivity from blowback from Friday. One thing I’ve repeatedly emphasized over the years is that Bag is something of a laboratory, In that spirit, this week has generated a lot of raw material to process about our scope and the mechanics of our visual critique.

  • Davin Ellicson
  • Davin Ellicson
  • Tom H

    I’ll go out on a limb here for Mr. Pellegrin as to the ‘Marine Sniper’ caption. Occasionally, former military exaggerate their service, or make claims to have been something they are not. Though rare, it does happen. This may be the case. What this whole mess should do, is emphasize the need for photojournalists to take better notes at the time the photographs are taken. Digital recorders (or good old pencil and notebook) are cheap, and prevent the ‘I don’t remember exactly’ moments when trying to put the whole story together. Should questions arise much later, the backup of notes is invaluable.

    As to the staged versus posed, I think we run into a grey area. Catching the action when it happens is sometimes difficult. Having a person pose in context of the story is not unusual provided it is something they normally do. Having the person setup in a dramatic pose, doing something they normally do not perform (staged), is misleading at best. Does Mr. Keller typically come out of his apartment with a shotgun and ammo slung over his shoulder? Is he going to, from, adjacent (as in a block or 2 not 6 miles) or in the Crescent? If the answer is no to either of these, then indeed they should not be associated with the the story about the Crescent. Mr. Pellegrin should know the answer in his notes.

  • Davin Ellicson
  • Max

    It is clearly unethical. No argument. I’m actually surprised Paolo responded in the way he did. Very difficult to defend oneself against the indefensible.

    I admire all of Paolo’s work a great deal and the series that this image is from is very good in terms of lighting and composition but how much truth is there in any of the other images. As images they are excellent. As journalism they are suspect.

    A great photographer’s reputation is very badly tarnished in my view.

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  • Viktor Nagornyy

    All Pellegrin had to do is take responsibility for a mistake. We’re human, we make mistakes. Responsibility is our salvation.

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  • jarediorio

    So, hypothetical. If I was doing a story about South Los Angeles, am i allowed to take a picture of the Westside power base in downtown or Santa Monica. They drive the zoning laws, public school decisions, health care, gentrification etc… Could I include them in a photo story about South LA? If I captioned that picture “Los Angeles,” but the title of the collection was South LA, would that be egregious?

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  • Katie Currid

    I disagree with the core part of your argument about not contacting Pellegrin — that you are a site of critics, not a news reporting website. That’s fine, and I accept that.

    However, most critics critique and pick apart the quality of something — a mostly subjective look at whether something is good or bad. Thumbs up, or thumbs down.

    However, you critiqued and called into question the ethics of this photographer and criticized factually inaccuracies in his reporting. If I were to critique a painting, I wouldn’t say, “Wow, that doesn’t really look like the building that it’s depicting. This is painting is a lie!” because that wouldn’t make sense.

    What I’m saying is there’s a fine line between being a critic and reporting when it comes to critiquing journalism. Because at its core, we’re going to be critical of ethical decisions and inaccuracies, in addition to lighting, composition, subject matter, etc. I don’t think many other forms of media, except for perhaps documentaries, have that line to walk.

    I see your argument, but I don’t think you can just brush it off by saying you’re critics and this is what critics do all the time. Because critics in other forms of media don’t have the chance to destroy the ability of trust, which is essential in journalism.

  • jeff

    Commenting as someone familiar with the geography of the area being discussed, it’s very hard to believe that the photographer was actually confused about whether Shane’s basement might have been part of “The Cresent,” or even whether it was vaguely nearby. It is, in fact, quite physically distant, and with even the most cursory observation, it would be immediately obvious that it’s not vaguely culturally or economically connected to the areas where he’d been photographing. Mr. Pellegrin says he knew it wasn’t the same area, so he captioned it Rochester, not The Crescent, but then hedges, saying that there’s “no firm agreement about what constitutes the “Crescent.” But there’s no real ambiguity: where the photo was taken is NOT part of the Crescent. Mr. Pellegrin can’t possibly have been confused about that, and if somehow he was, simply looking around a little, or asking someone, would have cleared it up. To imply that there’s some chance that the location of that portrait was connected in any way to the “Crescent” is disingenuous at best. Simply including this portrait with the other photos implies connection.

    Also, there’s been plenty of debate about whether the description and statistics lifted from the NYTimes were meant to be published, or merely background, but either way, since when is grabbing ten-year-old information from someone else’s story considered valid, even just as background? Using very specific crime stats from a decade ago? Isn’t it safe to assume that those numbers have changed? Perhaps they reflect an even more dire situation, but why would you describe a neighborhood, a situation, a conflict, using data from a decade earlier, even if only to set the scene?

    Sure, they’re well-made images, but if they purport to tell a story, it’s sloppy journalism at best.

  • Davin Ellicson

    Everyone criticizing Paolo Pellegrin should watch this short video:

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  • superduckz

    For crying out loud. The guy was sloppy, lazy and unprofessional and he got busted for it hard. He should just admit it and move on. Say “my bad, I effed up, won’t happen again, sorry” and keep his head down for a few months. This is like watching a slow motion evisceration.

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  • Wolfenotes

    I love your work – rigorous search for truth. Thank you.

  • JtotheL

    nice phito but i think pelligrin got it right

  • William Reeves

    First of all let me say that I did not intend for my interpretation to be deemed definitive, which is why I stated “in my experience”. That has been my experience, although I can acknowledge others may be different. I invite them to disagree with me. I was also a bit more irritable when posting this morning and therefore could have come across more authoritative than intended.

    As for my CV, I apologize as I did not realize it was common practice to post one’s CV when commenting on a blog. As there is no easy way to post a pdf here I can summarize by saying that I am a doctoral student (in an unrelated field) at the University of Texas. In terms of photography, I have assisted and fixed for a number of national (US) and international photographers for publications ranging from National Geographic to Wired. Some of my duties for these assignments included providing some of the information of the type in question here. I personally have also shot for publications here in the US (Local and national), and have some of my documentary work in museums in the US, and have exhibited as well. My CV is not on par with Mr. Pellegrin’s, but I do feel it is extensive enough to warrant an opinion. Even so, I feel as though people visiting this site are entitled to an opinion (whether it differs with me or not) regardless of experience.

    My citation of Mr. Shaw’s credentials was simply utilizing his own method of deconstruction to illustrate how an issue that may be clear to one can be less than clear to another. Truth be known I actually quite like the mission of this blog, as I agree that visual literacy is lacking (especially in the US). However I also disagree with how this particular issue has been handled.

    I never addressed Pellegrin’s role in the direction of the photograph because he made no denial of it, staged portraits are typically accepted as a part of a documentary, and in my comments on the previous post I stated at least once that I felt that Pellegrin’s approach and its success could be argued, but I took issue with the attack on his credibility.

  • Stan B.

    On the issue of credentials, no it certainly isn’t customary to present
    them when simply commenting- but one does open that door when
    questioning and attacking someone else’s.

    Perhaps we need some clarification of what constitutes a
    portrait, as opposed to what a “staged” photograph is. Photojournalism
    has a long record of the of the former, certainly no problem (or
    argument) there. “Staged” portraits (ie- staged photographs) as you stated, are a horse
    of a different color; and that is exactly what the picture in question is, as per the dictionary (and common sense) definition- artificial, unreal, contrived. It is a theatrical rendering of the photographer’s personal vision and assumptions done at his request- not reality as played out before him. Yes, I know journalists have been getting away with it for ages, that still does not make it right, or ethical.

    Mr. Pellegrin could have used and labeled the photograph as black_dog_barking suggests below, that would have been the ethical, honest, factual thing to do- instead of leaving it purposely suggestive and muddled. We need journalists who will go that extra mile- as has Mr. Pellegrin many times before. In this case he got lazy, took shortcuts- and got called for it. Rightly so.

  • dereck

    Wow. Right over your head.

  • stifledgenius

    I’m sorry Marjorie, but you don’t KNOW any of that. All you had was one side of a story and you ran with it. What if Pellegrin had an assistant who wrote those comments? What if he truly did forget some facts, or lost his notes and “winged” it. Maybe he didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Maybe he really didn’t realize the relationship between the suburbs and the Crescent. And maybe he’s a lying scum bag who’s lazy and likes to lie. YOU don’t KNOW because you weren’t there, you only had one side of the story, and didn’t make any attempt to find out if that one side of the story was even accurate. Did you interview Keller or Carlson? Or are you just reporting other people’s facts. At no point in the original article did you even hint that Pellegrin could be innocent of these accusations or that it could have been a clerical error or a misrepresentation of the facts as Keller and Carlson saw them. You immediately immediately focused on Pellegrin’s guilt. And instead of addressing your reader’s concerns when aired, your colleagues are lashing out at the sites readers, making excuses when we demand a higher standard.

    Readers here “seem” more upset that this site is focusing it’s resources on what seems like a personal attack on a photographer, as to focusing on the more important question of what constitutes PJ and whether it may be evolving. Or maybe discussing whether plagiarism is detrimental to PJ like doping is to cycling.

    Just my take. I probably won’t be reading the site much anymore because of the sites responses to its readers versus the articles written.

  • Majorie K

    Here’s the thing, stifledgenius, I know these things because of what Pellegrin said. If you read the links in the story, you’d know them, too:

    On the plagiarism: Pellegrin told the NPAA,

    “The background text, which traditionally would be for internal uses, and not for the public, is something I gathered from various sources in Rochester and from the internet, including the New York Times.”

    He told the NYT:

    “He said the information for the description for the series that was
    taken from The Times was never meant to be published, but had been provided as background information.”

    Quoting Pellegrin, he said “I gathered….” the text. Of course he didn’t say “I wrote” because it was shown the information was almost word for word from the old NYT article. Seriously, read it yourself. His defense is that he didn’t think it mattered. Yet he’s won these awards before. He’s gone through the process before. “I winged it” and copied the article or “I don’t think it’s a big deal” aren’t defenses, they are excuses. A defense would be “wow, it’s just a coincidence” or “an assistant wrote it, not me.” He doesn’t say either of those things but rather admits he “gathered” the information.

    On the location, reddit has a more complete discussion of that, but a simple trip to Google maps will clear it up for you: several miles apart from each other, one a leafy suburb, the other a clearly inner city neighborhood. It’s just not credible that he didn’t know he wasn’t in the same neighborhood as The Crescent.

    On the “sniper” issue. He told the NPAA that the student told him he was a sniper. He told the NYT “What I remember was that he was a former soldier.” Those are Pellegrin’s words.

    On using the photo, I could leave that to the experts that have commented on this at the NYT, here, and other places, the heavy inference is that use of the photo of a photojournalism student, miles away from the action, who has nothing to do with the topic is inappropriate.

    So, you are right, I wasn’t an eye witness to events and haven’t interviewed anyone. But I have come to a conclusion based on what I read here and Pellegrin’s response in published articles.

  • John Robert Fulton Jr.

    Dave Harvey has said recently that he is or wants to be an “art photographer”. His book is suppose to be art. No comment on NatGeoMag/Brazil.

  • Michael Kircher

    Davin Ellicson, how did your name come to be replaced with “Guest”? Was that you or BagNews making the change? Just seems odd in a discussion about ethics, honesty, truthfulness, etc.

  • stifledgenius

    Sorry Majorie, it’s really hard to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t get what the conversation is about. You don’t get it, and nothing I’m saying seems to be getting through to you.

    I’ve been talking about the first article this whole time, yet you continuously try to change the conversation away from that to serve your own views of Pellegrin. At this point your just talking in circles and it’s not worth my time trying to get you to focus on the main point.

  • John Robert Fulton Jr

    I misspoke. I believe David said something more to the effect that he wants his photography to be art ( as opposed to photojournalism). I am not clear on the intentions in regards to the book but it’s execution is far from photojournalism. I know his book won something in POYi but I don’t know the parameters of that book category.
    Interesting discussion. David Hume Kennerly is one of our most respected photojournalists and as such his opinion is a powerful one. It’s good to see him weigh in.

  • John Robert Fulton Jr.

    The picture is unfair to Mr. Shane. When I first viewed it I assumed he was an armed gun nut ready to clean the streets. He appears ready to head out on neighborhood patrol. I believe that is the effect it has on the story and its inclusion was no mistake. In the context of the actual caption Mr. Shane sounds like a really nice guy just trying to help the photographer (by posing for him).

  • William Reeves

    With regards to Carlsen misrepresenting a number of things, why am I to give less credence to his statements than Keller? The fact of the matter is this now makes this entire thing a “he said/he said” issue. You may have indeed taught both of these gentleman, and may be able to say that one was a better student than the other, or that one is more honest than the other, but I do not know either of them, and it is unlikely I ever will. How am I to know that it is not Keller who is misrepresenting? If he saw the pictures and felt uncomfortable with how he was portrayed he may decide to have his story presented in a way that is more agreeable to how he prefers to be perceived. Do we know he did not state he sniped, or that he was a sniper? No, we can only assume he did not because he said so. Given that I do not know either I will not disregard either’s statement. Nor do I think it is fair for you to expect us to.

    In terms of fairness to Shane I will say that I do feel bad that he was portrayed in a way that he was uncomfortable with. I did not feel he was illustrated as viciously as others, however I see where it could happen and I do wish Pellegrin had been more clear with Keller as to what was going on.

    Where I do not believe there is unfairness to Shane is in this idea that he had “utterly no connection to the issues”. I personally feel very strongly that gun owners, legal, law-abiding, gun owners, absolutely are connected to the crime and violence in question here. I feel it is important to note that this image was part of a series submitted to “Issue reporting”, not news reporting. If Pellegrin felt the issue was gun violence in this area, and also that gun owners and access to guns are a part of this issue, then the portrait absolutely has merit in the context of this story. I am honestly quite surprised that some people find this incomprehensible.

    That said, I still have a difficult time labeling this as misleading, and unethically using a subject. The fact that Keller does not agree that he is not a part of the problem/story does not make it true. There are a good deal of us who do.

    In terms of the sniper issue, I refer to my above statements. Keller telling you he never said he was a sniper does not mean he never told Pellegrin that he was. I have had many an ex-military claim things while alone and then grow shy in front of his buddies. I’m not saying either one is lying, just that I find it silly to accept either one’s statement as fact given that we were not there.

    The plagiarism is something I’ve addressed a few times here. In summary, he screwed that up a bit, was probably a bit lazy (or someone at Magnum was), and should have double checked. I don’t think he was intentionally trying to present that work as his own.

    Your last statement is something I can empathize with, but cannot fully get behind. While I feel for those who feel unfairly portrayed, I believe that sometimes (not always), the story is actually there, only the subjects do not want to see it.

  • Tom Leininger

    What about the fairness to ethical journalism and call Pellegrin and ask him those questions instead of airing this in public? Most tenured journalism professors I have encountered would have checked it out. What bothers me most about this is that there are two sides with agendas here. I am sure the truth is in the middle. The first side (RIT student, graduate and faculty member), colored my reading of the story by participating in a one-sided story. Their actions clearly painted Pellegrin as the offender. When that happens I lose all sympathy for the student, who agreed to pose for an image, and may not like how it turned out. How is it ethical to come up with an inflammatory blog post without contacting the photographer first? Where are the ethics there?

  • Melissa

    Wait, seriously? I am sorry Mr. Steinberg but this whole thing was wrong. If you couldn’t have anticipated the consequences of this posting you are both ignorant and naive.

    Shane should have taken this up with Pellegrin from the start. Not hide behind your blog.

    I personally find it strange that Shane has disappeared entirely from this discussion publicly. I do feel bad that he feels misrepresented but I don’t think he’s stupid.

    Easy to start something. Uneasy to see it getting out of control.

  • Hariman

    Dereck: OK, our both being sarcastic isn’t moving this conversation forward one bit, so let me try again without the snark. It seems to me that saying you don’t like the scrawling red pen is like saying that you don’t like it because it is red: that is, both statements are merely judgments of taste, and not of integrity. And one reason I think that the pen is not a matter of integrity is that the use of illustration and other graphic media instead of text is a common feature of the paper of record in American journalism. In fact, the Times often makes comic or otherwise cheeky use of those media to both provoke and argue. I don’t see why the Bag can’t do the same.

    But even so I may have missed your point: I’m guessing here, but I’ll bet you meant to say that the sloppy look of the pen was indicative of sloppy reportage in the previous article. Could be, but the two things could be completely unrelated, and in any case pointing to the sign is not as good as pointing to the thing itself. If Michael is being sloppy in his work, say how. instead of just saying it’s like the graphics, say what’s wrong with it. If nothing else, some of us (not all, but probably a lot of readers of this blog) don’t think the pen is a problem in the first place. And in any case, I’ll bet we can both agree that the important thing is what is being said.

  • William Reeves

    Obviously I will be disagreeing with your response (anyone here surprised?), although at this point I think this issue has been beat to death and I will probably remove myself from the conversation shortly.

    To begin with, I am quite clear as to the distinction between analysis/critique and reporting. Part of my issue here is that I feel that this has been presented as reporting here, and not as analysis/critique. I think my points as to why such a distinction is not clear are valid and I stand by them. While you may be a regular visitor to this blog/site, this controversy is the first time I have noticed the site. If you are unable to see how these posts and the way the “About” section could be misunderstood as “reporting” then I simply cannot help you.

    Other disagreements (I will be brief as I am getting the reputation of a long-winded poster): 1. Pellegrin did not misidentify a photojournalism student as a former sniper, he misidentified a former soldier (who also happened to be a former student) as a former sniper. 2. He located the student in the caption in Rochester, not the Crescent. The title of the series was Crescent, and yes could lead to confusion, but the caption itself was not incorrect in the location. 3. I have already pointed out that his assistant, and the subjects FRIEND, agree with Pellegrin that the location was close enough to be misunderstood. As there were only 3 people physically there and 2 believe it could be easily confused, I would not just dismiss this. The city I live in has “nicer” areas within blocks of the not so nice. 4. I and many others believe the student is a part of the story on the violence. The current debate on gun regulation in this country very much includes “law-abiding” gun owners and their role in the debate. 5. The plagiarism was not excused as “I didn’t think anyone would read it.”, it was stated that it was never intended to be published in any context, and was included when it shouldn’t have. Lazy, yes. He should have checked it over. Plagarism, yes. Intentionally done? Not in my opinion. The man has been doing this for a very long time, and has never been accused of anything similar. Mistake made, but does he deserve the public lynching some are calling for? Again, not in my opinion.

  • Janet Siney

    Pellegrin blamed the student for his screw up? when and where? And what was the different story to the NYT? I think you’re wrong here. and now you’re putting quotes on something he really didn’t say (“I didn’t think anyone would read it”)… HE DIDN’T SAY THAT – YOU DID.
    Well if this was an analysis, it was a terrible one.

  • William Reeves

    Damn…still long winded!

  • Davin Ellicson

    I meant about the NatGeo cover. I guess anything is fair game and you can put your assistant on the cover of NatGeo as well. . .

  • davidhumekennerly

    You’re right, I think I was too harsh–Paolo has done some great work over the years, but I think his entry on The Crescent went over the line. You can look at my Lens Blog posting for a more moderated version of this. I still think he used the former Marine to his own devices, no retraction there, and the guy was white, and I’ll absolutely stick with what I said there. What I do hate is what is happening to the credibility of the business today, not any individual, for sure, hence my frustration. I probably shouldn’t have used “biased and spinning,” I don’t know that for a fact, and should have kept my suspicions to myself! As far as dramatic? There’s nothing wrong with that, they are very dramatic, as is his work in general.

  • davidhumekennerly

    I agree, read above . . .

  • William Reeves

    Mr. Kennerly,

    I appreciate the response, and do not at all disagree with your frustration concerning the credibility of the business. The business seems to face this type of crisis on a regular basis (W. Eugene Smith manipulated more than a handful of his images, Nat Geo moving pyramids, newspaper photographers removing an object here or there), and the business always seems to come through just fine.

    I personally believe that the reason it does always come through is the deep commitment of its practitioners not only to the craft, but to their subjects. That is yet another reason why I feel it is important to not jump so quickly to conclusions about another individuals motives, particularly one who has a highly esteemed career with no integrity questions to this point (or at least none that I am aware of).

    Mistakes were certainly made on his part, but I am not yet ready to assail this man’s character, when it seems clear to me that these could simply be mistakes and not outright deceptive practice.

    Yes, they are dramatic (part of the reason I like his work I suppose), and maybe I was reading too much into based on the other comments.

    Appreciate your participation in this…

  • Melissa

    Mr. Kennerly, there’s a big problem with your LensBlog post as well. You talk about a baseball cap on his head, imply that he set it all up, even to the clothes he wore? You are assuming Pellegrin did this all for an award? I don’t think he comes from an Missouri journalism school background. He (and many of his Magnum and European colleagues) tends to interpret and find symbolism in situations. Many photographers I know – mostly European actually – do this. I’ve been there when it has happened with other photographers that are just as well-known as him.

    And going over all of this again, the responses, the posts, I don’t think he meant to make a portrait of Shane as Shane, but a portrait of his own take on guns in America. To him, a situation unfolded that represented how he felt about it. Europe is very different with gun control. Whether it was a stretch to put this in the series with the Crescent, yes maybe. But I don’t think he is as bad as you have described on the LensBlog. Your suspicions are still out there. You might have retracted it here, but not there.

  • Karen Donley

    I don’t see him id’d as a guest (just by name), though some who don’t register with Disqus can use their names along with “guest.” Disqus sometimes seems to reload the order of comments, but that’s the most I’ve seen from the program. That being said, unless a comment is offensive (overtly salacious or racist, for example) or spam, we don’t edit or delete them. Bag believes in full open discussion — our readers really add to the analysis. K. D.

  • michael kircher

    Yesterday I saw his name. Today I see “guest” not his name. Is this a browser issue? Are you seeing “Davin Ellicson” right now? I do not.

  • karen donley

    yeah, i do: 3 comments in a row w/video links. Maybe it has to do with whether one is signed into Disqus. Don’t want to belabor this, but wanted you to know we don’t mess w/comments.

  • Tom H

    The photojournalist failed to take good notes…digital recorders are cheap…I don’t know a journalist or photojournalist that doesn’t have one, plus the back up of pencil and paper. I don’t recall is a bad excuse….for a photojournalist…it’s an epic failure. 6 miles is massive in a city…from the Crescent… is a whole other world. Not having situational awareness for published works? Nope. Sorry. NPPA should be all over this guy with questions…if not, I’m canceling my membership. Ethics and accuracy separates us from the general public…if not, we shouldn’t get paid.

  • michael kircher

    Sorry. Those are not the comments I’m talking about. I’m talking about the comment above that’s a response to David Hume Kennerly, talks about David Alan Harvey’s Rio book. That was under his name two days ago. Now it says ‘guest’. Maybe Disquis is changing randomly? Though I haven’t noticed it elsewhere.

  • michael kircher

    Oh and I’m also sorry for suggesting you change comments. I know and trust you don’t. Is it possible, however, for the commenter him or herself to change their name, their info, after it has been posted?

  • Karen D

    okay, I see what you are talking about. I don’t know why that happens, except it could be that you don’t have to log in with the same user name and/email every time you comment. For example, I could be Karen D or just Karen and the Disqus system won’t demand consistency. Maybe he did that or Disqus changed it. I really don’t know.

  • MK

    actually, if you read the NPAA interview, the photographer said “My firm recollection is that Shane described himself that day as a sniper.” He’s saying the misidentification is the student’s fault. The link is in the above story. In the NYT article he said: “What I remember was that he was a former soldier.”

  • michael kircher

    OK, thanks for taking the time, Karen. Appreciate it.

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