Ken Geiger’s image of Grand Teton and the eclipse is beautiful.
Is it art? A composite? Photoshop? Multiple exposures, shot with different lenses in different directions at different times of day on two different frames? An impossible scene? I suppose “illustration" is the best description. Whatever it is, it’s gorgeous, but it's certainly not photojournalism. It's not reality, but the artist defines it as art and intends it to transcend reality.
Photojournalists have a narrower box where we work, bound by self-imposed ethics. This image would violate a couple of those set forth in the NPPA Code of Ethics. The biggest challenge comes to this standard: Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
But this isn’t photojournalism.
For me the bigger questions are, does National Geographic magazine hold itself to those standards? Or, is it merely a magazine with pretty pictures and illustrations? Does it intend to promote high-quality visual journalism or does it vacillate somewhere between the two worlds?
When a reputable magazine publishes a questionable image that needs explanation, simply divulging that information would alleviate a lot of the questions and concerns. Former photojournalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Ken Geiger said he never intended the image to be photojournalism, so when a magazine that hires many accomplished photojournalists publishes an image like this without explanation, it muddies the waters.
The real problem to me is the lack of transparency. At first, the National Geographic didn’t note the illustration approach in their online captions. They have since added this editor’s note on nationalgeographic.com “This image is a composite of two photographs: a multiple-exposure photo of the eclipse and a photo of the Tetons.” Geiger also later offered a detailed explanation in the comments section of his Instagram feed.
It’s hard enough in this age of "fake news” to suss out what is real. Without a forthcoming explanation, actions such as these continue to erode the public’s trust in images. Being open and honest about the process, and transparent from the get-go, could also have made this a non issue.
Melissa Lyttle is president of the National Press Photographers Association