Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Art or Photojournalism?

President Obama, pre- and post-Photoshop

When is it justifiable to modify a real-life image?

The Economist photoshopped its most recent cover of President Obama, emphasizing his formidable challenge with BP and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In the original photo, Obama is shown with Commander Thad Allen and the president of Lafourche Parish, Charlotte Randolph, as they briefed him on response efforts. In the Economist‘s cover, however, Obama is shown hunched, alone, seemingly deep in thought about the environmental disaster–to great visual effect.

Issues of copyright infringement aside (we have to assume the Economist editors ok’d the change with Reuters, the copyright owner–unlike Shepard Fairey, whose iconic reproduction of an AP-owned Obama image led to a well-publicized court case), the cover is most definitely more compelling without the pesky bureaucrats in conversation with the President.

Emma Duncan, deputy editor of the magazine, provides this clarification:

Yes, Charlotte Randolph was edited out of the image (Admiral Allen was removed by the crop). We removed her not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers…I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story. “The damage beyond the spill” referred to on the cover, and examined in the cover leader, was the damage not to Mr. Obama, but to business in America.

I agree that it’s the right of the magazine staff to crop or modify graphics for the visual impact, the sake of the story. Somehow, though, the fact that this image is so close to the actual photograph seems disingenuous.

If you saw this cover on the newsstand, would you assume it was a mocked-up design or a photograph?

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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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