Steve McCurry is, perhaps, one of the most iconic names in the National Geographic pantheon. A travel photography giant, his vibrant images have inspired millions, but he’s recently come under fire over Photoshop use after a botched print at a show in Italy was found to have a serious issue.
The print in question was spotted first by photographer Paolo Viglione, who went to the show in Italy and posted about what he saw on his blog. His intent was not to start a full-scale witch hunt, but in many ways that’s what happened when he posted the picture below showing a closeup of the botched street photograph from Cuba:
Viglione says he, “had no intention to attack [Steve McCurry],” he simply wanted to show something “‘strange’, even a little ‘fun’” that he had seen. He even removed the post after it took off, but the damage was done.
While the original photo was soon removed from Mr. McCurry’s website, people and publications across the Web quickly began digging to see what other McCurry images they could find that had been seriously altered. They did not seem to come up empty handed.
The two versions of an image below were found on Mr. McCurry’s website itself (the photos are linked to their sources), and our anonymous tipster told us the shot has been removed from the Magnum website. Notice the missing player in the second image:
And an astute Facebook user found another two images that allegedly show cloning at work. Two people, two carts, and a light pole seem to have been removed:
After receiving all of these links through various reader tips and parsing through the various Italian articles that have gone up online, we decided the only way to be sure we got the whole story was to reach out to Mr. McCurry himself.
After a polite back and forth with his team (Mr. McCurry is currently traveling), we received the following statement from McCurry himself. We’re reprinting it in full below:
My career started almost forty years ago when I left home to travel and photograph throughout South Asia. I went into Afghanistan with a group of Mujahideen in 1979, and thus became a photojournalist when news magazines and newspapers picked up my pictures, published them around the world, and gave me assignments to provide more images of the war.
Later on, I covered other wars and civil conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and produced photo essays for magazines, but like other artists, my career has gone through many stages.
Today I would define my work as visual storytelling, because the pictures have been shot in many places, for many reasons, and in many situations. Much of my recent work has been shot for my own enjoyment in places I wanted to visit to satisfy my curiosity about the people and the culture. For example, my Cuba work was taken during four personal trips.
My photography is my art, and it’s gratifying when people enjoy and appreciate it. I have been fortunate to be able to share my work with people around the world.
I try to be as involved as much as I can in reviewing and supervising the printing of my work, but many times the prints are printed and shipped when I am away. That is what happened in this case. It goes without saying that what happened with this image was a mistake for which I have to take responsibility.
I have taken steps to change procedures at my studio which will prevent something like this from happening again.
The statement tracks with much of what we read in two Italian interviews with Mr. McCurry about the incident. He said the issue in the Cuba image was, “a change that I would have never authorized,” and “the lab technician who made the mistake does not work with me anymore.”
What we haven’t yet hear back about are the other photographs above. Mr. McCurry mentions in the same interview that using contrast and tones adjustments to alter a section of a photo that is distracting is okay, but that the change shouldn’t be done by “moving elements.” He does allow himself much more leeway when shooting personal projects like the Cuba images (as opposed to some of the photojournalistic work he was known for early on), but it seems the major changes shown above would also qualify as things he would “never authorize.”
We’ve followed up with Mr. McCurry’s team and are still waiting to hear back about the second and third sets of images above. We will update this post as soon as we have an official response.