Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Photoshopping a Tragedy

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

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The human interest story that’s headlining the news this morning is a nightclub fire in Santa Maria, Brazil. Several hundred persons are dead.

Whenever there is a tragedy of this magnitude it is the sad but necessary duty of journalism to converge on a single photo to illustrate the event. In this event the media quickly anointed a picture with iconic status (attribution: Germano Rorato/Agencia RBS, via European Pressphoto Agency (EPA); AP; and Reuters).

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It is a photo taken on the street outside the club, showing fire trucks and rescue workers and other people milling about. The night sky is hazy, and we correctly read this not as mist but as smoke from the nearby fire. Here is how the photo is presented on the website of the Daily Mail.

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The same picture, but this time in a cropped version, can be seen on the website of The New York Times.

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Someone, presumably an editor at the NYT, chose to zoom in on the central tableau, cropping the photo’s left side, eliminating our view of the sidewalk and pedestrians, setting aside the direct glare of the overhead street light, and also trimming the remaining three borders. The reason for this is not hard to understand and appreciate. The focus of the scene, and what must have caught the photographer’s eye, is an anguished man carrying the prostrate body of a victim. Their vertical and horizontal forms create a cross, the pose of a Pieta. Although it is important for the record — for context, for history — to note that this picture is a detail of a slightly broader perspective captured by the photographer, Germano Rorato, I don’t think anyone can argue against this being a legitimate editorial choice. The fact that the picture’s composition arguably has been improved is not as important as this key observation: the reality of the moment remains undisturbed.

Other media outlets covering the tragedy apparently felt the original photo, in its entirety or cropped to its central focus, was not quite — how to put this? — not quite hellish enough. And so, at some stage in the chain of custody the photo was altered. There was some person or persons associated with the profession of journalism who made a decision to pump up the horror and pass their altered version off on the public at large. How? Easy.

Pretend you’re the lighting director at the Grand Guignol. Throw some switches and wash the scene with lurid red. There, that does the trick.

Here’s how the photo appeared this morning on the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, and the Washington Post.

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There’s a phrase used in the media to advise against imitating a dangerous activity: “Don’t try this at home!” Yet on this occasion, in this heyday of digital manipulation, the keys to altered reality are not in the exclusive possession of the media. You can try this at home, under safe conditions. Just fire up your favorite photoshopping tool and, after just a few adjustments — Voilà! — you’ve successfully followed the lead of journalists into Hades.

In the example below, I started with the photo as cropped by The New York Times. I color-adjusted it in the crudest way possible on three scales: I increased Saturation to 100 from 50, raised the Temperature to 100 from zero, and shifted Tint all the way left to red.

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UPDATE 02-03-2013

An artificially pumped-up hellish version of the photo (an expert’s manipulation finer than my effort) has become the officially archived memento of the event in The Daily Beast‘s gallery slideshow of “Deadly Nightclub Fires“:

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Oh, what the hell, let me try to match it, once again using as a starting point the cropped original photo that appeared in the NYT, then playing with Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, and Reduce Noise. How about this?

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The Manifesto We Deserve?

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

MANIFESTO: “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives or views of its issuer.” (From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, online here)

The anonymous, post-modernist hacker collective, LulzSec, would probably disagree, but I believe one can view group’s interim and final missives to the world as Manifestos for today. If every era coughs up the material it deserves, our day commands a manifesto mixing high and low, coherent and incoherent, rational and irrational. LulzSec sees the man in the mirror:

For the past 50 days we’ve been disrupting and exposing corporations, governments, often the general population itself, and quite possibly everything in between, just because we could. All to selflessly entertain others – vanity, fame, recognition, all of these things are shadowed by our desire for that which we all love. The raw, uninterrupted, chaotic thrill of entertainment and anarchy. It’s what we all crave, even the seemingly lifeless politicians and emotionless, middle-aged self-titled failures. You are not failures. You have not blown away. You can get what you want and you are worth having it. Believe in yourself.

The pull of the Sirens’ call is undeniable:

[B]ehind the insanity and mayhem, we truly believe in the AntiSec movement. (…) We hope, wish, even beg, that the movement manifests itself into a revolution that can continue on without us. (…) Please don’t stop. Together, united, we can stomp down our common oppressors and imbue ourselves with the power and freedom we deserve.

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(A review of my previous favorite manifesto, that of Thompson Hotels, is found here.)

A Bumper-Sticker That Nevers Goes Out of Style

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

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Portrait of the Artist

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

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This is a screen shot from the video of Steve Jobs’ Keynote Address on Wednesday, March 2 (video available here). It captures the moment when Jobs reveals to the audience the look of his newest creation, the iPad 2. He gazes upon it, as if looking into a mirror, while sharing these thoughts:

“One of the most startling things about the iPad 2 is that it is dramatically thinner. Not a little bit thinner; a third thinner. (…) It’s dramatic.”

After looking at this object as something envisioned by Jobs, a design and a piece of abstract sculpture — is it too far-fetched for me to see this also as his self-portrait?

December 19, 2009 Snow Storm

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

It snowed in Washington, DC, on Saturday, December 19, 2009. About 16 inches blanketed my neighborhood. For kids and dogs it was time for play and tail-wagging:

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Here comes a decade-long, Big Five-O party

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

A collective shrug of “Uh, who cares?” greeted the recent spate of 40th anniversary celebrations. Woodstock? Yawn. The moon landing? Snooze. The birth (arguably) of the Internet?  Feh.

But while these fortieth birthday parties fizzled, that won’t stop promoters exploiting all of the upcoming big Five-O shindigs.

In just a few weeks the calendar will flip to the year 2010.  As with any year, 2010 is an abstraction. Right now 2010 is content-free, sans emotional resonance, non-seductive. Yet our culture is at the mercy of a base-10 numbering system. The media, needing to fill time and space, will grab at mathematics: 2,010 is the sum of 1,960 plus the very marketable, “Hey, it’s been 50 years, so let’s get a party on!”  With box cutter knives in hand, the whole exploitive band of writers, commentators, filmmakers, sordid hangers-on, are all poised to attack the packed  boxes labeled “the ’60s.” Unpacked, their contents will be spilled across every available screen.

If I were asked to set the agenda for this non-stop orgy of baby-boomer nostalgia, I’d first remind my staff that the distinction of the 1960s was not so much its general calamities amidst general progress. That can be said of every decade in recent world history. What the ’60s was more “about” was something in the realm of feeling: a relentless pow! pow! pow! of special tragedies and triumphs of an intensely personal kind. To set up this theme, I suggest the festival begin on January 4 with a somber program devoted to Albert Camus. An odd choice? Perhaps; but hear me out:  It was on January 4, 1960, that the 46-year-old Camus, then at the height of his creative powers, a man immersed in the struggle for individual freedom in an absurd universe, met a violent death in a car crash. Surely this was a lesson for us, a warning to prepare for a decade-long reminder of an inescapable truth: Everything that grows holds in perfection but a little moment.

Which, on a happier note, will also set the stage for a 2017 program devoted to Twiggy.

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UPDATE (11-23-2009): Today, the New York Times reports that, to mark the 50th anniversary of Camus’ death, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to transfer the writer’s remains to the Pantheon in Paris, one of the most hallowed burial places in France.

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009) – An Appreciation

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Everyone watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. 

To read the name of that essential program, to recall the announcer’s voice that introduced it (“THIS IS the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite”), is to realize how fitting those few words were.  In the 1960′s and 70′s the news came to us with, and through, Walter Cronkite.  And because of who he was, an essential civic function was carried out in a manner at once graceful, authoritative, and mature.  Cronkite will never be duplicated by any other broadcaster. 

I remember him, in his early retirement years, serving as Master of Ceremonies for the initial Kennedy Center Honors programs celebrating outstanding achievement in the Performing Arts.  And, let’s be frank, who among us didn’t wish, every time we saw him in those years, for him to lead a Restoration, to return to the news anchor desk and restore class and professionalism to the field.  Who can deny that, post-Cronkite, TV journalism has been on a downhill slide that continues to this day.  

I remember the Kennedy assassination broadcast in 1963.  I remember the magnetic pull of our black and white TV, those three terrible dark days.  It was another twenty-five year before I next saw those minutes of Cronkite’s choked announcement, a man pulling off his glasses to look up at a clock so he could add reportorial precision, factness, to devastating emotion.  Twenty-five years later I was visiting the museum at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.  The exhibition space leads visitors in a meandering path until you hear Cronkite’s broadcasting voice, which draws you to turn a corner and see, on a monitor, him delivering the fatal news.  As I expected, this brought the adult me to tears (while on screen Cronkite regained his composure), and I felt embarrassed, surrounded as I was by a class of high school kids on a field trip, for whom this all meant next to nothing.

In 1967, as a faithful nightly viewer, I remember Cronkite announcing each week the casualty figures of the Vietnam War, and how those numbers climbed steadily into the hundreds, week after week, until the repetitive and cumulative effect of death’s ostinato wore all of us down.  Then one evening came the pricking of the boil:  Cronkite, out-of-character, pronounced the war simply not winnable.  In that extraordinary and necessary departure from routine, he shocked us awake, and changed history. 

Most of all I remember his hosting live daytime News Specials on the occasion of the launching of each Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo mission.  He played with model capsules along with his guest astronaut pals.  He demonstrated docking maneuvers.  He deftly took the role of the nation’s educator, called on Wernher von Braun to explain why a certain plan was being followed  rather than some other.  Then, after years in the making, this careful series of steps culminated in his ultimate joy, a joy sweetly child-like coming from a man with a serious senior body and beautiful Midwestern voice.  The triumph of the 1969 lunar landing.  At that moment, as at other moments, his was the breathing and his was the voice, of America.

Cronkite was the embodiment of the  principle that if you chart and follow a course that is steady, constant, and controlled, you are likely to achieve success.

For some reason I remember one other out-of-character event — the time he addressed us in the TV audience upon his return to the anchor desk after a summer vacation spent sailing.  If I recall this correctly, he actually was into his third or fourth broadcast of the week of his return to the air.  I’m talking about the time he revealed to us why his hair looked different; it had turned reddish from the sun, he explained.  Though my memory may be faulty, I don’t think I’m making this up.  The reason I remember this is, of course, because like millions of others, I had come to think of Cronkite as a member of the family, a substitute father, or as he was commonly known, Uncle Walter.  That was a rare moment when he thought he owed us something more than simply being, night after night, the epitome of professionalism. 

We now know it is all of us who owe him so much.

The Money Is Flowing

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Saw this sign earlier today at the entrance to Delacarlia Parkway, a one-mile stretch of concrete roadway in Northwest DC, badly in need of repair.

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Two additional views on what blogs can/should be

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

This morning the Washington Post  rejects the “initial report” style of blogging (see my first post immediately below) and instead blesses something called “slow blogging” — labeling it the “in” mode for the new year.  This judgment appears in the Post’s  ”What’s In, What’s Out” feature, the newspaper’s annual throw-away piece destined to be forgotten in about, oh, 24 hours.

For a more durable take on blog writing, check out “Why I Blog” by Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Atlantic,  here.