Scorpions, Magnum & Datta

Kenneth Jarecke‘s Two Scorpions Cross A Stream is an excellent post about the state of the photographic industry as revealed by the Datta/Magnum/Lensculture controversy, and one that I recommend all those with an interest in our medium to read.

Though I do have some slight quibbles. One is over the title, I think a reference to an ethical fable probably of Persian origin as ‘The Scorpion and the Turtle‘ and later as ‘The Scorpion and the Frog‘, which re-emerged in popular culture in the 1950s, in which the scorpion having convinced the frog to ferry him across the river, stings him in mid stream so they both die, giving the reason for his action as “It’s my nature…”.

The two scorpions are presumably the photographer and Magnum, and clearly in the current story they were both acting out their rather poisonous nature, but it was not that which led to their downfall – and indeed was very much the reason for the success that they (and others) had been enjoying, until their fall.

The agent of that fall was not a scorpion but a quite different kind of animal, duckrabbit – photographer Benjamin Chesterton – as I posted in Lensculture & Child Rape.

His story spread rapidly though the photographic world, and led to the further revelations about Datta’s plagiarism by Shreya Bhat which were published in PetaPixel, and which I wrote about in The Strange Case of Souvid Datta a few days later. Jarecke is thus incorrect to state “The initial scandal focused on photoshop manipulation and photographic plagiarism” though that aspect has since rather eclipsed the initial outrage, and I think for rather obvious and unsavoury reasons.

As Jarecke finishes his piece by writing, Magnum have “not apologized for any bad behavior or their association with this whole debacle” and as he suggests if they do so Datta will become the scapegoat. And putting all the emphasis on the plagiarism and Photoshopping neatly enables Magnum to step aside from the wider issues of the content of Datta’s work, to which unlike the manipulation they have awarded their approval.

4 Responses to “Scorpions, Magnum & Datta”

  1. Also worth reading is Nina Berman: How Photojournalists
    Cover Sexual Violence Against Women on Lens:

  2. ChrisL says:

    The horror and outrage that follows any exposure of manipulation does amuse me as if there was a golden era when ethics and “fair play” ruled supreme. The Fenton ‘Valley Of The Shadow Of Death’ photographs are called for the prosecution. Huge amounts of detailed work have shown the clear road was taken first then the cannon balls moved for a “better” photograph. Is this universally acknowledged, of course not. The Getty doesn’t even hint there may be validity issue:
    and rather embellishes the danger he faced as his own account states he was there am hour and a half needed to pour and develop plates never mind move the scene around yet the Getty implies he moved in and out like a Vientnam WAr photographer shooting 35mm. At least the Tate
    questions the originality of the frames taken but rather spoils things by asking “does it matter?” Well apparently these days it does matter a great deal but where is the line draw? In camera lens corrections? We shouldn’t perhaps spend too much time wishing for absolute pure of heart and mind photographers but carry a healthy scepticism with us when viewing any photograph, what was just outside the frame as well as what was in it both before and after the fact.

    • I think the vital thing is that photographers need to retain integrity. Often it is the only thing we can rely on when looking at a photograph though certainly I’m in favour of a healthy scepticism.

      Fenton was I think very much a propaganda photographer, and also a commercial artist. But you examples relate to the systemic failures which Jarecke raises.

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