Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ethics in Photojournalism - Roman Vishniac

Roman Vishniac is a photographer most famously known for his book "A Vanishing World." It consisted of pictures of pre-war Eastern European Jewish life. Up until recently these images were believed to be a true represtation of the region.
This caption reads: "The father is hiding from the Endecy. His son signals him that they are approaching. Warsaw, 1938."
It almost certainly never happened. These pictures and many others he published together came from different rolls of film. The subjects probably didn't even know each other.
A curator named Maya Benton uncovered the truth. She noticed he had obviously chosen the images that advanced the impression that only poor, pious, embattled Jews populated the shtetl. He furthered these views by aggressive cropping of images and completely fabricated captions. She investigated further and with the help of Vishniac's daughter was able to look at work that had not been published.
She found this image which she recognized a familiar face of a smiling girl with shoes
It was Sara from this image where Vishniac claimed she stayed in bed because her parents couldn't afford shoes
He had distorted the view of the region he photographed by editing and publishing choices as well as his completely made-up captions.

Today visual journalists follow the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics.


solomon bukaretzky said...

HA, Very disturbing, I am a collector and big fan of him.
I looked for a close up, and indeed its Sarah, with the same dress,
In other words, these 2 Photo might been taken minuets apart. I will have to make some more Research,.

David Siff said...

Still happens. I have seen the exact same dynamic in a NYT piece on the pilgrimage to Uman: only chassidic jews with long peyoses & coats, completely misrepresenting the incredibly rich tapestry of people who come making it look like a 19th century shtetl of the photojournalist's imagination.