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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Daily Mirror: Manipulation always Matters

This picture appeared in the Daily Mirror last week. It's a picture illustrating a campaign on food banks and the rising tide of food poverty in the UK. Food poverty is when people go hungry. It's a step above malnutrition. It affects how people live and work, it affects their relationships, their education and prevents them from moving out of whatever hole they find themself in for whatever reason. It's real, it's tragic and it's relevant. And it brings a level of hopelessness and despair that goes beyond a transitory hunger that is imagined in wealthy reactionary circles.

It's a serious issue in other words.

The problem is the Mirror (which I have a little nostalgia for) used a picture of a crying American girl for the story.

You can see the original picture and a few out takes and read the story of why the girl is crying here at  Lauren's Flickr page.

we went to the park and anne found an earthworm.

she promptly named it "flower", the most beautiful name in the world (da most bootifull name in da wold).

i convinced her to let me babysit flower, while she played. we then decided to put flower in the grass, so she could have a nap, and then when it was time to go we would find flower and bring her home, to live in our garden.

only flower didn't nap, she scootched away, and anne cried for the next 25 minutes.

Does it matter? I think so. It trivialises the issue and fails those it is supposed to serve. Surprisingly I've read various excuses for the picture; it'spropaganda, it's a campaign picture, the source of the picture doesn't have an impact on Christian values extolled in the piece, the Mirror has poor journalism so we shouldn't complain about it, it's snobby to criciticise the redtops, all kids crying look the same so what does it matter where the child is from and, English kids are not emotional enough with their tears so of course you go with the American!

So maybe I'm mistaken. But still, I do think that the sourcing of the picture affects the credibility of the campaign/story, the Mirror's dubious track record on front covers notwithstanding. And it's an important story and one over which the British press if fighting a little propaganda war on behalf of their ideological paymasters. This story from the Daily Mail is only one example of this. Of course, you'd expect nothing less from the Mail, but still, I despise them for their campaign of misinformation. But if the Mirror are leading from the other side with a picture that stinks of misinformation, how much better are they? This picture gives people a stick to beat them with, and as you beat the Mirror so you beat down the very idea that there is such a thing as food poverty in this country. Sniff around the internet and you'll hit the comments contrasting the food poor all have tummy tucks, Sky subscriptions and 60 inch TVs. They're poor because they're fat, stupid, lazy and dishonest because actually they're not poor at all - part of the classic Deserving/Undeserving poor division.

Anyway, based on some of those arguments, questions on the authenticity of pictures such as the strangely organised Syrian bomb factory don't matter; it's Syria after all and what do you expect but misinformation.

Or how about this illustration of Osama Bin Laden's hideout in the Tora Bora Mountains; a version was shown by Colin Powell at the UN and I remember choking on my cornflakes when I saw it in the Sunday Times way back when  But the Sunday Times! Come on, we all know about the Sunday Times.

And so you could go on and on and on. In fact just about every falsification or manipulation of images could be excused for one reason or another. Just as every questionable act could be excused. What do you expect? It's Terry.  But it doesn't mean we should excuse them or we should stop questioning. What's the purpose of that? We should always question images and lay bare their lies, falsehoods and manipulations - in news, in advertising, in fashion, in politics, in business. Because that's all part of the fun of photography and that way we learn how visual language develops and operates in world around us, even when it's a picture that lies.

I wondered about where manipulation doesn't matter and because David Moyes, manager of Manchester United, was sacked yesterday, I thought of the weird manipulated card of a younger Moyes that ran around social media a few years back.

Does it matter or is it just a bit of mean fun? I'll say it does matter even if it is a bit of mean-spirited fun that is entirely believable to gullible people like myself. It chips away at the idea that you can trust what you see (and we do, on the whole trust what we see - even people who say they don't).

The picture is also part of our obsession with appearance, something which we are bombarded with on a daily, hourly or minute-by-minute basis.

How about this before and after retouching of Madonna from 5 years ago? This one has been retouched and serves its particular purpose. Does it matter? I'll say yes even though we all know it happens and why it happens and maybe some of us do it, but yes of course it matters. The above images are part of a vast reservoir of before and after pictures (here are a few Madonna ones) where what exactly is happening is not as clear cut as might be imagined.

These kinds of pictures, and our bombardment are all to do with conformity to expectations, to aging, to body shape, to skin form. And the showing of the unretouched one matters because once you get the retouched version, the untouched version becomes part of the oppressive ideology (and it is an ideology) that led to the retouched representation in the first place. The ways in which pictures are made, edited and shown are not neutral, they are laden with value.

And here's one that definitely matters. It all matters!


Stan B. said...

Yes, it all matters, every large and little bit of it, over and over and over again, which is why, now- it hardly seems to matter at all...

but it does.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Stan - over and over again is how it all works. And when one thing stops mattering, then what's the point of any of it.