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|| News Item: Posted 2007-04-17

Gray Matters: 'What I did was wrong, and I apologize.'
Former Toledo Blade photographer Allan Detrich tells his side of the story.

By Jim Merithew, San Francisco Chronicle

Photo by

Allan Detrich
Allan Detrich is apologizing, yet again. The apology comes on the heels of a Toledo Blade investigation over a series of doctored images found to have been submitted to the newspaper for publication by the former staff photographer.

Blade editors compared raw takes with published images and found numerous examples of altered photographs. The investigation was prompted when a photograph of the Bluffton University baseball team praying over the loss of teammates revealed that Detrich had removed a pair of legs from the outfield.

After agonizing over whether to address this situation directly I decided to contact Allan via email. Allan and I have been friends since we attended the Missouri Photo Workshop years ago. I purposely steered clear of the news of the day, but after Sundays edition of the Blade I felt compelled to get Allan's side of the story. Because of the fallout Allan was reluctant to go into detail, but he says that he feels overly vilified because he believes there are others in our field, who in setting up photographs, are more egregious violators of our code of ethics.

"What I did was wrong, and I apologize," Detrich said to me in an email. "My actions have hurt me, my friends and family, and I regret that. Hopefully my error may help others in the future, so they don't fall over the same cliff I did."

And like I said in my first column I am going to focus on the ethical dilemmas that transpire before and during the act of taking photographs. I feel like this is the place where I can have the most impact in relation to ethics in photojournalism. I specifically wanted to know if Allan had setup any of the photographs that he had worked in Photoshop. I want to say that I don't condone what Allan did and I don't approve of any answer anyone might give as to why this happened or how it happened or when it happened or any of damn 5 W's for that matter. It was wrong. If you are fixing or making your files better in Photoshop, stop. Go make a better picture.

Anyway, Allan tells me that he has never setup a photograph, other than portraits. That most of what he did was confined to cleaning up backgrounds and that he was good at capturing moments, but hated distracting backgrounds.

The revelation here is not that he used Photoshop in ways that forced him to resign from his job and brought on all of this unwanted attention. The revelation is that he was doing this to real photographs. Real photographs that should and in most cases did have the power to stand on their own without the unnecessary and unwarranted "help". Now granted, adding a basketball to a photograph that did not have one already certainly would make it easier to turn a non-photograph into a fine photograph, but it was one of eight or nine photographs that he had sent the paper and did not even make the paper or its' Internet site. So what gives? Why would he even bother changing what was an outtake? If you read between the lines of what he has been saying he was just trying to make perfect what was not. And because it went unchecked for so long it just became part of his workflow.

So my friends, here is the lesson to be learned. It is not our jobs to make perfect photographs, it is our job to record the events in front of us in as honest and thoughtful a way as is possible with the tools at our disposal. And with journalism, especially newspapers, in such precarious times it is our job to retake our credibility one reader at a time. I know what I would do. Do you?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of his employer, co-workers, friends or family.

(Jim Merithew is a picture editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Jim invites you to direct your questions and comments about this column and other issues involving photojournalism ethics to him through his member page:

Related Links:
Merithew's member page
Gray Matters: What is real?

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