Photographer says CNN’s first edit of her Appalachia photos misrepresented her work

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Photographer Stacy Kranitz has been traveling to Appalachia for a project called “Regression to the Mean,” in which she explores whether stereotypes accurately represent a place and its people. She said she was honored when someone from contacted her looking for photo stories and expressed interest in her project.

But then she saw the photo essay. As first published, it opened up with an image of a burning cross at a Klan rally, followed by a snake-handler at a Pentecostal church. The introduction stated that she had spent months exploring “the everyday lives of Appalachian people.”

Kranitz told Roger May, a documentary photographer and a self-described “proud Applachian” that CNN had chosen only the images that confirmed stereotypes of the region:

I feel ashamed and humiliated for trusting CNN. I am stunned that they would take my work out of context. …

I made clear to the editors at CNN that I was in the very early stages of the project and was not willing to make any claim that my work accurately reflected the Appalachian region. But they chose to make it sound as though that was exactly what I did.

I think people are rightfully angry. I am disgusted to see the words ”the everyday lives of Appalachian people” next to images of the KKK. That is a real insult to the region as is the reductive edit of my work and I understand why people are so offended by it.

CNN spokeswoman Erica Puntel said that had chosen 16 of the 33 images Kranitz submitted, and that someone from CNN called to listen to her concerns. Puntel said by email:

[Kranitz] said that she had received a large amount of negative feedback and was concerned. She also said that she felt that the edit of the photographs did not represent her work in the way she had intended.

After some discussion, we agreed with her point that some people could misconstrue what she was trying to convey, and therefore, we changed it.

Kranitz submitted a revised edit at the request of CNN Digital Director of Photography Simon Barnett, reordering the photos and switching out some of them. She removed one of the two KKK photos and one of a bikini contest, and she added images of a coal miner and a boy hanging on a rope in a swimming hole. (Having worked in West Virginia, I’m used to parrying outsiders’ perceptions of Appalachia.)

In a follow-up post, May notes that the photo essay got the most comments since a February photo essay of early photos of Lady Gaga. A recent comment on Kranitz’s images:

The artist and CNN present these pictures and claim they represent all of us in Appalachia. They go out of their way to find the most inflammatory, the most unflattering, the marginal, and then claim we are all like that. They condemn us for racism and backwardness and congratulate themselves on being so “enlightened,” without bothering to learn the truth. Isn’t that the definition of bigot?

Related: Swiss magazine uses old photo of boy with toy gun for story on robberies, prompting accusations of race-based fearmongering (Open Society Foundations/The New York Times) | Ed Kashi discusses taking photos out of context (Open Society Foundations) | Native American Journalists Association founder criticizes “beer-sniffing” reporters that descended on North Dakota reservation (The Huffington Post)

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  • Anonymous

    One site presents images of West Virginia that has garnered vast interest outside of North American. It may have images that are far more relevant.

  • Justin Heinze

    But they never said those images aren’t reflective of a PART of the region. Her quote was “reductive editing,” meaning that they selected inflammatory photos to the exclusion of many others, painting an unrealistic portrait of a small part of the region. It sounds to me as if she wanted those photos to play a different role, not be eliminated. CNN is pandering to extremes to gain an audience.

  • Anonymous

    Stacy Kranitz deserves some credit for the sincerity and candor that she has displayed in these numerous interviews.  She has offered transparency on this issue while CNN continues to say very little. You only know what she sent because she cared enough to offer that information to Roger May.  Ms. Kranitz has clearly and consistently stated (on her website, in her initial CNN interview, and during subsequent interviews) that these controversial images are meant to offer us an opportunity to connect with what she described as a series of photographs that “seeks out and demystifies” stereotypes. It was reasonable for her to expect that CNN would choose some of the controversial images that represent stereotypes, but it was also more than reasonable to expect that at least half of the images would offer a counterpoint to them. She does not take issue with the fact that they chose controversial images.  But she has stated that she is “disgusted to see the words ”the everyday lives of Appalachian people’ next to images of the KKK.”  The phrase “everyday lives” was not in her interview with CNN or in the introduction to the greater project on her website.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, it sounds like a lot of know-nothing Republicans you run into on FB who parrot Fox News without any information … good lord, do you think CNN has been bought off by the One Percent, too?

  • Mark Maio

    I agree. If you don’t want certain images used, don’t submit them for consideration. On the issue of “stereotypes”, what the CNN editors chose to publish showed “their” stereotype (read bias), of the region. If anyone thinks that news organizations don’t have a bias they are living in a dream world.

  • R Thomas Berner

    If CNN used photos she didn’t think should be in the essay, why in the (you know what) did she submit them? 

    And I understand regression to the mean, but I think it’s a lousy title for the project. In order to repudiate stereotypes, you have to show them first.

    I don’t think CNN is the problem here.