The most important questions in the NYT vs. Edgar Martins case not answered


General Photography

I stand by my decision to allow Edgar Martins to explain his thinking behind his work on my blog. I do believe that it is important to see what he has to say - regardless of whether or not I agree with it. In the meantime, the NY Times’ Lens blog linked to the piece on Martins’ website and provided images plus annotations. People noted that Martins’ writing is quite different from what you are used to seeing on this blog. There is a reason why I prefer writing plain and simple language, even when talking about what seems like complicated concepts or ideas. I spoke with a number of my friends (some of whom with MFAs from places like Yale), and they all told me that they couldn’t understand Martins long text and that it spoke for itself (and really, that’s not a compliment).

What really saddens me about this affair is that it gives fine-art photography a very bad name. No, this is not what fine-art photography is all about. But as I said, I thought Martins deserved the chance to explain things in his own words. So treat his text like an “op-ed” in a newspaper (where the newspaper also doesn’t necessarily agree with the contents).

That said, most people noted that Martins’ piece did not address what is seen as the most important question, namely why he told everybody he was not manipulating his images (even pre-Times) when, in fact, he did. If you want to know, you’re in good company: I want to know, too. In fact, since the story broke I sent Martins several emails, asking him to provide an answer. While there might be reasons why he currently can’t talk about the Times photography, everything else should be on the table. This past Friday, I sent him yet another email with that one question (starting to feel like an old record that’s skipping), which resulted in an utterly exhausting exchange of emails over the weekend. There still is no answer. Martins wrote that “soon” he’ll explain, and it is fairly obvious that he doesn’t seem to be that concerned about what people (incl. me) make of his current refusal to give an answer (to quote from his email: “I do respect your blog and your readers’ views, but I do not share theirs [sic!] or your concerns or anxieties regarding this issue. If you bear with me, you’ll soon understand why.” [this quoted with his permission]).

I’m happy to have provided Martins a chance to explain his actions. But I am not happy about being refused the answer that everybody else - incl. me - has been waiting for. And people are right to point out that even if it is fine-art photography, if you manipulate your images, don’t tell people you do not (which, btw, in question form was part of my very first email I sent him, right after the story broke). Oh, and if you think the only way to “explain” your photography is to use “postmodern” pseudo-intellectual art babble (which only comes across as “insufferably pretentious”, to quote Lindsay Beyerstein) then you’re really in trouble.

So here we are with the possibly worst outcome this controversy could have produced. We have Martins’ “explanations”, which most people can’t even read, plus his refusal to answer the most basic question (why did he not admit that he manipulated his images?). And we have the NY Times, which have been basically clamming up, refusing to answer all questions (such as “How come you didn’t spot all those problems before you printed the images?” It’s not like the problems needed a very sophisticated supercomputer to be detected.).

Or as Lindsay put it: “to the best of my knowledge, neither The Times nor Martins has explained how Martins, a freelancer, represented his work to the paper. If Martins was upfront about the alterations, then the Times violated its own ethics guidelines by publishing them as news—as opposed to works of digital art or illustrations. Or, maybe Martins misrepresented his work, but that means that the photo editors at the New York Times Magazine got punked by easily detectable fakery. […] The Times is letting its readers down by not giving the readers a straight answer about when the editors learned that the photos had been altered. In this, the paper and the photographer are projecting a sense of excessive entitlement.” (my emphasis, again from this post)