Is this a deceptive political photo or just the way it's done?

Don't blink or you'll miss it.
(You can click to enlarge it.)
Al-Ahram, the state-run Egyptian newspaper, published a photo of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak walking ahead of the leaders of the U.S, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority during Middle East peace talks.

Except that the photo was a subtle fake.

Comparing the real and altered photos, the most obvious alteration is that President Mubarak is now leading the pack instead of trailing it.

The website Photoshop Disasters had the best photo images and comments on the actual doctoring. Some of the changes are harmless and cosmetic, like removing extraneous hallway details and making the background white. Mubarak's in front, but his image also looks like it's been flipped. If you look at his arms compared to the others, both his arms are in front of his body, while the other leaders have one arm back and one arm forward. Maybe Mubarak's image is some sort of composite. (And for some odd reason Obama's tie is a different color.)

It's possible whoever worked on it thought he was trying to improve the photo and stuck Mubarak in front because that made the composition look better.

After being criticized, the newspaper wrote a defensive editorial. I went to Al-Ahram's web site and used Google to translate the Arabic into English. It seems, from reading the "Googled Arabic," that the paper is defending the photo by saying that since the photo was accompanying a story about President Mubarak's role in the peace talks, it made sense for him to be placed in front.

I think they're also saying that they consider the photo more of a photo-illustration, and that those who are criticizing it don't understand modern journalism.

This has been a controversy in Western media as well. The most notable example was in 1994, when the same photo of accused murderer O. J. Simpson was on both Time and Newsweek magazines, and the Time photo was made to look more menacing and "black" than the other, which was viewed as being racist. In that case, Time's darker Simpson photo was also considered a photo-illustration.

Whatever the "real" motivations of Al-Ahram and Time magazine, the photos magnify controversies - was Time's Simpson photo more black and evil? Did Al-Ahram's Mubarak photo exaggerate his role, and subtly alter the news the way its critics say they alter news to look more favorable to Egypt?

This points out that photographs are still viewed by many people to be reality. But the reality is that photos are not real. Some would argue that no photo has ever been real. Today, when Photoshop is everywhere, photos are less real than ever, and what is deceptive to some is simply common practice to others.

Egyptian newspaper under fire over altered photo, BBC News>>
Photoshop Disasters>>
EGYPT: State-run newspaper explains why it doctored Mubarak photo>>
Google translation of Al-Ahram's explanation about the image controversy>>
Museum of Hoaxes about OJ Simpson photo>>
Time Magazine apologizes for Simpson photo>>

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