Chat replay: What role do image apps like Hipstamatic have in photojournalism?

New York Times photographer Damon Winter’s third place award in the Pictures of the Year International contest has caused some controversy among photojournalists — not because of the images, but because he captured them with the Hipstamatic app on his iPhone.

The company that makes Hipstamatic says it “brings back the look, feel, unpredictable beauty, and fun of plastic toy cameras of the past. … Characterized by vignettes, blurring, over saturation, discolored images, Hipstaprints have a casual and seemingly accidental snapshot feel.”

Some of those effects are evident in Winter’s series of photographs, called “A Grunt’s Life,” which was part of an ongoing Times series.

Hipstamatic is the second-most paid popular photography app on iTunes. But does it belong in a photojournalist’s camera bag?

According to Chip Litherland, it doesn’t:

“The fact it was shot on a phone isn’t relevant at all and fair game, but what is relevant is the fact it was processed through an app that changes what was there when he shot them. It’s now no longer photojournalism, but photography.”

Zach Wise, a multimedia producer at the Times, responded on Twitter, “SLRs have picture styles, can vignette, over/under saturate etc, Is hipstamatic ethically different re: #photojournalism?”

On Friday at 3 p.m. ET we hosted a live chat here with noted conflict photographer Ben Lowy, who has used the iPhone in his work, and Kenny Irby, Poynter’s senior faculty for photojournalism and diversity. (Winter told me he couldn’t participate because he’s on assignment overseas; however he did sent me a statement that summarizes his approach and reaction to the controversy.)

“The blurring of the accuracy line in photojournalism is a real challenge,” Irby told me, “especially given levels of reporting experimentation and software development. It is not going away.”

If you aren’t able to participate here, you can tweet questions or comments using the #poynterchats hashtag. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat.

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  • Anonymous

    If the photographer and the NY Times is so proud of this body of work and stand behind the credibility and photojournalistic quality of the Hipstamatic photos, then why wasn’t it entered as part of Damon Winter’s portfolio?

  • Gary Miller

    Since the majority of the discussion was about the use of the iPhone and less about the app used, you may be correct.

  • Mike

    “The amount of post production work that photographers use in “Photoshop” from saturation to sharpening has done everything to lower the bar in our industry”

    There has always been retouching in photojournalism. It has been done from the very beginnings. It only seems to have become a “problem” since the advent of digital cameras, which make photography more accesible to the masses, who may not be familiar with the heritage of photography. Do you think Salgado doesn’t have any retouching? What about Gene Smith? Come on people, you’re just upset because he used a phone to take a better photo than you can with a DSLR.

  • John Thawley

    This becomes very much a similar discussion to that revolving around cable television “news” programs… those that aren’t really news at all…. just commentary and slanted opinions. Photojournalism (it seems) can now be the photographer’s “story” and “take” on a situation, whereas in the past, the photographer’s role was to “report” the story as it happened.

    So, it seems to me, media continues to blur the presentation of information (pun intended). If you shoot the homeless guy, you suddenly find the need to shoot grainy and grungy… cooling the colors and darkening the corners. If you’re presenting a multi-image story…. away you go… you’re free to go-all Stephen Spielberg on it.

    The toothpaste is out of the tube. We’re not going back. But we should find a means to define what’s news and what’s commentary.

    John Thawley

  • Anonymous

    I am always drawn to discussions about photojournalism…especially those that examine the importance of
    TRUTH and the motives and intent of the photographer. Cliff Edom said we would always be dealing with new
    technologies and methods of working, but the constant in photojournalism is whether or not we are “showing
    TRUTH with a camera.” Thank you for sharing this discussion! Dr. Vme Edom Smith, Edom Foundation for
    Photojournalism Education / Mission: “Social Justice Through Photojournalism.”

  • Gary Miller

    The idea of throwing a word around like “ethics” in this situation is hypocrisy at its finest.
    The amount of post production work that photographers use in “Photoshop” from saturation to sharpening has done everything to lower the bar in our industry and open the
    door wide for abuse when it comes to what is presented to the public as truth in journalism.

    Winter’s is an outstanding journalist who has used the tools of the trade. Using an app did not change the content.

    This industry would be much better off spending their time and energy on story content and the integrity of good storytelling.