February 10, 2011

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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Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens,…
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