July 20, 2014

On That Over-Processed Times Cover Photo of MA17 Crash Site

You may have seen this Times cover of the commercial plane shot down by Russian separatists in the Ukraine with the over-processed image that has many photo people shaking their heads. The original version is below.

Of course the printed version goes way too far, fundamentally misrepresenting reality. If something happened at night, you can’t turn it into day. It’s the kind of  factual misrepresentation — in terms of orienting an event in time — that opens Pandora’s Box. (You’ll notice, by the way, how the alteration also makes the colors freaky — like you’re looking at the scene through a kaleidoscope.)

There is another qualitative shift, however, which, if well intentioned perhaps, also changes everything. The darkness (including the foreground figure seeming to passively watch over things) conveys the quality of quiet, of finality, of destiny.  When you bath the whole scene in light, however, you not only catalyze every detail but the light immediately activates the situation, ascribing immediate purpose to every figure. I can imagine The Times editors over-processing the photo because the quality of darkness fundamentally mutes the swirling controversy surrounding this field and the fact it’s actively teeming with evidence.

Turning night into day, however, also corrupts whatever symbolism and allusion that the true version suggests. Just one thing it negates, for example, is the sense that there are facts and players in this nefarious event that cling to the shadows.

(photo: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP. caption: People walk amongst the debris, at the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine, Thursday, July 17, 2014. A Ukrainian official said a passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down Thursday as it flew over the country and plumes of black smoke rose up near a rebel-held village in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines tweeted that it lost contact with one of its flights as it was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur over Ukrainian airspace.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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