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|| News Item: Posted 2003-07-31

Leading Off: The Dream
By Robert Hanashiro

Photo by Emma Hanashiro

Photo by Emma Hanashiro

Robert Hanashiro has a dream- or is it a nightmare...and it involves Barry Bonds Jr.!
I have this reoccurring dream.

It seems to take place in the near future but with a sort of retro feel: "Blade Runner" meets "The Natural".

I appear to be employed by a syndicate that puts out a daily sports magazine. One scene replays over and over again, like a bad Chris Berman segment on ESPN.

After covering a WLB game (that's World League Baseball) between the San Francisco Giants and the Seoul, Korea Dragon Slayers, I'm on a iChat video conference call with my editor and a DIS (Digital imaging Specialist) who looks remarkably like the wild, weird Jim Carrey character from "The Cable Guy":

Bert: "What's wrong with that Barry Bonds, Jr. photo of his 892nd homer?"

Editor: "It's f**ked up! Ball's a millimeter off the bat!"

DIS: "That can be fixed."

Bert: "You guys all know my feeling about doing a Walski on photos."

DIS: "Dude, you're soooo provincial. That's like livin' in the dark ages. That kind of thinking went out with the CCD camera!"

Editor: "Bert, what's the deal? SHIT (Streaming High - def Internet Transmission) TV does it all the time."

DIS: "Hang on a sec. I got a call coming in from the advertising placement department."

DIS (To the ad placement department): "Yeah. No, it's not too late. Sure, fine … you want a 4 by 7 Drunk Mule Brewery ad behind Bonds in the sports front photo? No problem-o. You owe me dude. Yup, the usual, 12-pack of Drunk Mule tall boys."

Editor: Look Bert, we know you're from another time and another place and this is your dream. But we got deadlines if we want to make the rack deliveries for the moon colonies. We just wanted to know if you have another frame with the ball right on the bat … at 58 frames a second, you gotta have it, right? You know we only want perfect images in this publication."

Bert: "That's as close as I got guys. Reality is going to have to do this time I think."

Editor: "Well, we're going to move the ball just a tad. It's not like we're doing a 2- Puck-For-Sure thing! We're not ADDING anything for God's sake!

Bert: "How about we at least label the thing. Call it a photo illustration or something in the byline. My dad always told me honesty is the best policy."

Editor: "No-can-do. We'll have to come up with a policy on that before we can change our bylines. You know that. It takes years before we can change something like a byline!"

Bert: "OK, you've gotta do what you gotta do. I just wanted to voice my concerns."

Editor: "Bert, it's great talking to you."

DIS: "Oh yeah … I forgot to tell you. Sports Illustrious is the owner of the Giants man, we're going to have to Photoshop out their corporate name off Bonds' uni. We don't want to promote a competitor in an image do we!"

This is where I usual wake up, sheets knotted up around my legs and I'm drenched in sweat.

While this dream is all made up, I use it to make a point (for the record, the publication I do work for, USA TODAY has a very strict rule regarding digitally manipulating photographs).

It is so easy to "Walski" a photograph and a recent incident involving a sports image hit the nail on the head.

While the Brian Walski incident made front pages and stirred up journalism think tanks, earlier this month the North County Times Photoshop-ed an image of a youth softball player to take out the name of the team's sponsor, the San Diego Union Tribune.

It was not the photographer's decision to take out the words "Union-Tribune" from the uniform of a 10-year-old player but it was done "during the production stage."

In an apology to it's readers, the Union-Trib and the photographer (!!!), the North County Times said "…but we believed that it would not be in our paper's best interest to provide a "front page plug" in our own paper for our competitors."

In "our paper's best interest" the North County Times decided to alter reality. Plain and simple, they decided that rather than promote a competitor, they would use technology to change a photograph and mortgage our profession's creditability.

Like the LA Times in the unfortunate Walski incident, the NC Times came clean quickly and published its public apology, saying: "We promise not only to continue to do our absolute best in that regard, but to work even harder to maintain and build integrity and credibility with our readers."

But unlike the LA Times incident, no huge ruckus was made other than a note on the Poynter "News Gossip" site.

As I say in my reoccurring dream, "honesty is the best policy" and sometimes that will extract us from sticky situations.

Recently a photographer displayed several wonderful athlete portraits in his Member Gallery that eventually raised the ire of many. To the eyes of a few of us, the highly stylized images were obviously "Photoshop-ed" (when did that word become a verb and cease to be just a noun?) … adding a blur and soft-focus effect. Evidently when they were published, they were not labeled as illustrations or that they had been altered.

What is our responsibility to our readers in labeling altered images?

We all have heard about National Geographic moving a pyramid in a photograph to better fit its cover and Redbook recently combining two different images of Julia Roberts for a cover so it would have an "exclusive."

And what SI has been doing with covers … I don't even want to touch!

Are exclusivity and the thought that magazine covers are the provinces of marketing rather than editorial valid?

Most of us, as well as the publications we work for, have guidelines and obviously tolerances concerning digitally manipulating photographs. Many of us have used the age-old axiom that if you can "do it in the darkroom it's ok to do it in Photoshop."

At this year's Grammy Awards, an image went out over the AFP wire that caused editors at USA TODAY to ask some questions. A similar photo by our staffer covering the event (as well as a photo moved by Reuters) showed a red glowing exit behind Simon and Garfunkel…the AFP version did not.

Several calls discovered that the offending exit signed was digitally "burned down" in the AFP image.

Obviously this could have been down in the darkroom in the old days. But does that make it right?

We used to joke about a photographer we knew while in college that had a little 3 x 5 index box with different sized balls from various sports cut out and filed away. If he had a shot from a game that wasn't just right, the story went, he'd send the print up to the art department with a ball paper clipped to it where he wanted it airbrushed in.

After my buddy Barry Wong and I heard that story, we never could look at a photo by that photographer without a questioning thought in our minds.


Maybe what I am having is not a reoccurring dream … but a nightmare.

* * *

I hate to use the word "legendary," but I will anyway with regards to the subject of our first feature this month. Walter Iooss Jr. has been synonymous with the words "sports shooter" for over 30 years and this month we have a fabulous profile of the legendary photographer contributed by Matt Ginella.

A trip to the Playboy Mansion is a guy's biggest dream and Getty Images' Don Miralle gives us a behind the scenes look and dispels some myths. Vincent Laforet reviews some cool products, The Photodude tells message board posters to go back to their rooms and Brad Mangin gives us a peek in his camera bag.

So sit back, adjust the contrast on your monitor, turn down the Ahn Trio's "Riders on the Storm and enjoy Sports Shooter v. 57!

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