This Pulitzer Prize winning photo by John Filo shows Mary Ann Vecchio screaming as she kneels over the body of student Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. National Guardsmen had fired in to a crowd of demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine.

(left) - Copyright 1970 Valley Daily News (right) - As appears in Life Magazine, May 1995
Comments? Click here

Return to MPPA Home Page


Here are some comments taken from NPPA-L, the National Press Photographers Association email listserver, and from messages posted to the above address:
>From: xxxxxxx@life.timeinc.com
>Date: Fri, 2 Jun 1995 18:01:52 -0400
>To: kfoss@itis.com
>Subject: Missing pole, Filo photo
>
>MYSTERY OF THE MISSING POLE--SOLVED!
>There has been a some heated back-and-forth discussion on the net
>concerning an allegedly manipulated image in the May 1995 issue of LIFE
>magazine (John Filo's Kent State Pulitzer-winning picture). The original
>photo shows a fence post appearing behind the head of protestor Mary Ann
>Vecchio; the photo in the May issue of LIFE does not. As LIFE's director of
>photography, I wanted to respond directly, clearly and put the matter to
>rest. LIFE did not and does not manipulate news photos. The photo we
>published was supplied to us by our photo library--the Time-Life Picture
>Collection, the second largest such repository of catalogued images.
>Amazingly, the fence post had been airbrushed out by someone, now
>anonymous, in a darkroom sometime in the early 1970s. The picture had run
>numerous times--without the fencepost, and without anyone taking notice--in
>TIME (Nov. 6, 1972, p. 23) PEOPLE (May 2, 1977, p. 37), TIME (Jan. 7, 1980,
>p. 45), PEOPLE (April 30, 1990, p. 117), to name just a few publications.
>On deadline, while closing our May issue, the LIFE photo department
>contacted photographer John Filo, hoping to secure a repro quality print,
>as is customary at LIFE. Since we could not obtain a print from him
>directly in time to make our run, we went with the photo we had, not
>realizing a pole had been removed. One can only wonder why the missing pole
>hasn't been noticed the previous times it has appeared, even though
>literally millions of people have seen the fence-post-less photo in
>publications dating back 23 years. At no time would LIFE's photo, art or
>production department intentionally alter a news photograph.
>
>David Friend
>Director of Photography
>LIFE Magazine

I'm astonished that no one noticed this from 1972 until now--until Muskegon
Chronicle staff photographer Ken Stevens pointed it out to me.  Appearently
Ken Stevens has attention to detail beyond millions of people who have seen
the image over time--or has cared enough to notice it and been outraged
enough to mention it and inspire this entire discussion.

First question:  How does an altered photo get into the Time-Life Picture
Collection?  The Associated Press has transmitted and re-transmitted the
"real" version many times.  We have it in the Muskegon Chronicle print and
digital archives in its original version.

Second Question: If this was a traditional print how is it possible that the
retouching wasn't noticed?  The reproduction of the image in LIFE 
indicates a
"bad" job of the removal of the fence post.  Even at 72dpi on the Michigan
Press Photographers Association World Wide Web site
 you can see how poorly it was done.  Should
this have raised eyebrows especially when the article was dedicated to the
capturing of 4 historical moments that "altered the way we thought and felt
about ourselves."

Digital images are very easy to alter. Our readers know that this can happen
so why should they believe what they see? They should be ABLE to believe that
what they see (is indeed a "photographic record" of what was actually there)
because of the credibility of the SOURCE of the information. The
photographer, therefore, has a huge burden of responsibility to maintain the
credibility of his images and the employer (publisher) in turn has a burden
or responsibility to the photographer as well as the reader to do the same.
Readers should be able to believe our product because of the SOURCE.

We need to achieve our own level of excellence and, personally, be 
leaders to
maintain the credibility of our profession. This must be done by each
individual. Once the SOURCE cannot be believed, photojournalism is dead.

Brian Masck
Technology Coordinator, Muskegon Chronicle
Michigan Press Photographers Association

At 11:11 AM 6/1/95, MICHAEL BONFIGLI wrote:
>I am a documentary photojournalist, so altering images at least
>electronically is not something I agree with.  ...stuff deleted ...

        May I ask why you would consider *electronic* alteration different,
as the above seems to imply? Just curious ... you're not alone in that
attitude, but I have never understood how one makes such a distinction
based on the tool rather than on the principle of accuracy. Is there a
difference in your mind that in the "old-fashioned" way it was the
photographer who could make the alterations (crooping, len selection,
angle, etc), whereas now that final editing control in many cases may shift
to others?

Regards ~ Kurt Foss


in response to why traditional photographic manipulations haven't been
part of the discussion: 

Ordinary printing "manipulations" such as dodging, burning and cropping to
heighten photographic impact or to place emphasis on a particular part of
an image have been accepted for some time. Framing, vantage point and
perspective have also been accepted for some time.... and are generally
understood to be photographic devices that can be used to express an idea
clearly.  All are (or should be) discussed in educational programs;
professionals need to understand the power of the tools they have to
express more clearly or to lie. 

As photographers, we know that simply putting a camera in front of a
situation doesn't necessarily guarantee the "truth" of anything.....  lack
of control over materials, lighting and equipment can distort an event
which actually occurred in front of the lens. Although the general public
is less likely to be aware of it, photography has always been a bit like
writing in that the message or content can be greatly changed according to
the photographer's intention and control over his/her medium. The
irresponsible photographer can distort the truth as surely as the
dishonest one. This, perhaps, is the area that is least discussed.... and
which you would point to? 

I can't remember who said it, but photography has always lied in some way,
by the simple use of photographic techniques to report on the real
world.... the real measure of ethics is whether the lie is small or great. 

This is the reason why the discussion has changed.... electronic imaging
takes us beyond the traditional photographic controls which allow us to
AFFECT the content in order to emphasize particular aspects of that which
actually existed in front of the lens. With simple computer manipulations,
we can now FABRICATE what actually existed. The potential for the great
lie is too easy and too accessible to people who are not trained in ethics
and visual communications. 

Public attitudes towards photographs will change, whether we like it or
not. However, I hope that discussions like the one that has been ongoing
will allow professionals to retain some semblance of ethical standards.
Remember that the Chinese government denied that the massacre at Tienanmen
Square took place. The rest of the world knew otherwise, because we had
photographic evidence of the event. If we keep altering photographs -
current events AND historical images - the public will no longer place the
same value in them. I am truly appalled at the LIFE magazine alteration in
light of its history and tradition. As a documentary photographer, I feel
a sense of loss. As someone who grew up with Henri Cartier-Bresson and
Eugene Smith images in that publication, I feel betrayed. 

loret gnivecki falkner
LGFPPH@RIT.EDU
Aol:  Gnivecki

I am writing regarding the missing pole fromt he Kent State photograph.

                        ****************
The issue of computers and digitally altered images will only become more
important as time progresses.  Loret's comments about altered images, and
the effect on the public's response to them were right on.  Additionally,
her statement aboutthe events at Tienanmen Square are interesting in light
of a favorite book of mine, *1984*.

Fabericating that which did exist, as Loret discussed, is interesting
problem, but not the biggest.  Fabericating that which NEVER existed should
be of far greater concern.  In *1984*, manipulations of the past events were
used to affect the present, and thus the future.  The similarities between
the novel and our current prediciment are startling.

Take as examples Oliver Stone's movie *JFK* and the critics favorite,
*Forrest Gump*.  In both cases, manipulated photography was used to present
a view of the past which NEVER HAPPENED.  Personally, this doesn't bother me
too much.  Movies like this are art, so you expect to see things that are
not factually true.  But as soon as you allow this to leak into the world of
photojournalism, you open a proverbial pandora's box of issues and problems
you will be unable to put to rest.  We would all be advised to remember this
before we permit it to happen.

We should consider ourselves warned.  Deal with these issues NOW.  If these
issues are not dealt with now, in a firm and consistant manner, we all face
a dismal future.

Dodging, burning, cropping are all useful ways to ENHANCE that which is
already there.  As soon as we begin to take things out of a photo, we are a
short step away from putting things in a photo.  The altered image from Kent
State is disappointing, but I would argue, an honest mistake.  If, however,
it serves to precipitate discussions like these and helps to develop ethical
standards, then good has come from the mistake.

Eric Heidel
eheidel@bell-atlantic.com

                        ****************

Thank you for presenting a place for a forum like this.  Job well done!

Eric
__________________________________________________________
Eric Heidel
Sales Support Specialist
Bell Atlantic - TEMPO
Phone: 703-816-4289
Fax  : 703-816-4988 and 4984
eheidel@bell-atlantic.com



I don't understand why everyone is "outraged". Yes, altering a news photo
is very bad if it makes the picture a lie. This alteration in no way
changes any meaning or message of this photo. Maybe the unknown alterator
thought it looked like the woman was screaming because she had a spear
sticking out of her head. It's not like someone added a gun or knife in
her hand. I guess I don't get it. 

Bill Klingner
Chicago IL

A very SAD DAY in our history.  Perhaps if we keep these pictures
around, we can learn from our past.

Robert Maris - Served in Viet Nam - March 1969- March 1970

The only difference I see in the 1995 Life Magazine photo is that the
pole which seems to come out of Vecchio's head has been removed. The
picture looks better. However, I think it is unethical and dangerous to
modify a news picture in any way. Unless there is a general
understanding that news pictures are unmodified some people will be as
skeptical of them as they are about written accounts.

Mike Cartier

1- the image was altered......and why do we notice this today, where as it went
undetected up to now? Yes, you guessed it: DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY.... thanks to
digital photography today we are placing a lot more attention to the fact that
images have been altered and manipulated in one way or another. I find LIFE
magazines' defense ( David Friends' statement) particularly naive and
disingenuous. Would you like for us to make a public forum about all the examples
of your manipulations over the years? I believe you would be embarrased with the
results of such scrutiny. Your best defense, I think, is keeping silent or really
addressing once and for all the hypocrisy surrounding this issue of "truthful"
representation.

2- Why is it that there is such a sanctimonious approach about the "veracity of
the image", when as a matter of fact we know that press pictures are subjective
interpretations of fixed moments, which many times explain little of what was has
really happened at the time, other than what the captions might be leading us to
believe.

3- Oddly enough no one is discussing here, the actual subject matter photographed
of what actually happened that day at Kent State, and what has occured at that
University over the following years. It's like if the death of that student would
be a secondary issue to the pole sticking out in the background.  So what if
there is a pole more or less, if what is being discussed is not what the picture
was about. I find that a much more offensive and dangerous situation, than the
fact that someone, altered the picture.

Pedro Meyer
author of Truths & Fictions
CD ROM published by Voyager.
Pedromeyer@aol.com

Photo retouching is not abhorrent.  The LIFE picture (from
whichever source) has removed the pole, and recropped the left
edge, and lightened the image.  (These remarks are based on
images over WWW, not the "real" photos published.)  The result is
an image which "looks better".  It is easier to discern the
central images: the student dead on the street, the woman
kneeling over him, her companion with a turned head, the woman
walking behind her, and the man with his back to the camera.  The
casual air of not being involved, of divorcing themselves from
the disaster, of the bystanders is equally as disturbing as the
grief of the kneeling woman and the stillness of the dead
student.  Against these central figures, the background becomes
insignificant.
  Who cares if a pole in the background is there or not?  Who
cares that the image of the building behind the walking woman's
right shoulder is less distinct, or the building in general has
slightly better resolution overall (remember I am only going by
the images over WWW)?
  The retouched photo does not detract from the central figures,
but adds to them, by removing certain elements of the background.
This does not discredit the photographer nor the publisher or
employer.  A photograph should illuminate or reveal certain
characteristics or traits, and should enable the audience to
relate to the key themes and elements.  Part of this process has
to be the removal of that which is irrelevant.  By discarding the
chaff, we can focus on the kernel of information.
  In many ways, photographs in general have come to be the "lens"
through which we view modern life (even my words reflect this).
Different photos will present different lens, and will alter the
way we view a scene.  But there is no such thing as an objective
photograph (except possibly in cartography and crime labs). The
audience (be it the public at large or the photographer herself)
will at a sub-conscious level disregard certain elements;
indeed, this is what we refer to as background information.
Unfortunately some of what we disregard is captured in the blind
eye of the camera.
  A photographer (especially an amateur such as myself) has
little enough time to recognize a significant event and to bring
the camera to bear.  Photographers rarely have time to compose
all the elements of a picture.  It is almost as important to the
message of the photo to be able to retouch the image, as it is to
capture the image in the first place.  Where certain distracting
images appear, the photographer should have the ability, and the
right, to be able to retouch the photo.  As pointed out in a
previous comment, retouching includes recropping, forcing prints
to different exposures (changing the contrast, tint and
brightness), and airbrushing; and now we add the capability of
digital editing (eg Adobe's PhotoShop).
  In the case in point, the pole went missing simply because it
was not pertinent, and because it's absence helped make the
central images stand out better.  Far from being a sad day in
American journalism, or something deserving a great hue and cry,
I believe this is both common and laudable.
  Phil Irving, Kemptville, Canada 

From:   alkraft@INDYVAX.IUPUI.EDU (Angela Kraft)
Date: 95-09-09 12:28:13 PDT

What amazed me when I came to this page was that I didn't notice the
difference between the two photos, even though I have seen this photograph
several times. It is scary when people begin manipulating our "reality."
Leave that job to the artists. Photo documentary must remain just that-
documentary- if it is to retain its credabiliy into the 21st century.


From:   marlowe@direct.ca (Mary Holmes)
Date: 95-08-28 13:20:46 PDT

By removing the pole, you remove the fence, by removing the fence you
remove the reality of the Kent State University's control of public
spaces and at the time, 1970, students access to them. The whole question
of the pole relates to the control of public space: here, the university
puts up a fence to stop people from demonstrating. I would argue that the
lifting of that pole is erasing the this fact. Along with the control of
public spaces is the state's control of the masses which was so
tragically enacted that day in 1970. By lifting the pole from the picture
I see that moment in American history being whitewashed and smoothed
over.

Elliot Aaronson has written about the tension between values relating to
individual freedom such as to protest, dissent and express and those
values relating to conformity. He uses uses an example from J.Michener's
book, "Kent State:What happened and Why" which illustrate his ideas on
how conformity makes us take horrific things and some how justify their
being okay. How does a High-School teacher who clearly identified with
rules and order, education and justice react to the massacre of four
students at Kent State by Ohio National Guardsmen? At the time,"a high
school teacher from Kent, Ohio asserted that the slain students deserved
to die. She made this statement even thought she was well aware that at
least two of the victims were not participating in the demonstration but
were peacefully walking off campus at the time at the time of the
shooting. Indeed, she went on to say, 'Anyone who appears in the streets
of a city like Kent with long hair, dirty clothes, or barefooted deserves
to be shot'((1971)New York: Random House).In the tug-of-war between
conforming to photographic ethics of what apparently looks good and
the truth of what the camera captured at that moment it seems that
conformity will stop people from grabbing the truth. The whole reality of
students demonstrating the war in Southeast Asia was not accepted or
favored either by the military, government or even the press at that
time.

The reality is we will distort the truth in order to make something look
better, we will dress up the documentary to fulfill our slant on history
and keep within the bounds of professionally accepted norms of aesthetics
and practice. All to conform. But at what price?