Fake photos of Hurricane Sandy and the result of rapid-fire journalism:
This is the story of one of those fake photos of Hurricane Sandy, my photo.
The other morning I awoke to a sea of emails and notifications that my 2008 shot of the George Washington Bridge had gone viral. Apparently someone had passed this shot off as a snapshot of Hurricane Sandy’s descent on New York City. In the fever to feed the public’s appetite for sensation, several journalists decided to run with the picture without looking into the background of the shot itself. As is usually the case, the need to be on top of the frenzy became the motive for what already was a dramatic story. I won’t go into the various ways of determining the origin of a shot, but one is so obvious that reveals how little care was given to verifying sources as the storm broke: the most immediate clue that this shot could not have been taken during Hurricane Sandy is that the storm clouds in this photo are coming from the north! This structure and its placement on the Hudson River are so well known that it seems inconceivable that major news organizations would not have caught the mistake.
The truth behind one of the fake photos of Hurricane Sandy:
Fortunately, various fact checkers decided to call some of these media people out on running with these inaccuracies. Kudos in particular to Elliot Bentley and Mashable for not only revealing the many hoaxes but also directing attention to the actual sources of the photographs and videos. Exposed for their mistakes, several members of the media then began to change the their story, again inaccurately. Now the story became not the astonishing photos of a killer storm, but the fraud perpetrated by photographic tricksters like me. One “news” source had the caption “Fake image of the George Washington bridge” written underneath my photo, while ABC’s “20/20” displayed my GW Bridge image in fullscreen as the narrator exclaimed, “a lot of the stuff you’ll find here is fake”, and proceeded to explain how images are Photo-Shopped and otherwise manipulated. Displaying my photograph while discussing such techniques implies that this is a digitally crafted image, which it is, photographically. When an individual posts an image like this to social media, it’s easy to overlook their mistake, but these people are journalists; this is their job.
Nevertheless, I was pleased that all this hype brought attention to a piece that I am particularly proud of, but I want to clear the air by presenting the facts. First, this photograph is real and is not some form of digital trickery. It was taken in June 2008 using my trusted Nikon and processed with Adobe Lightroom. To answer a question I have been asked a lot this week: yes, I do get a little pissed when I see a big red label slapped across my photograph that says “fake” and what it implies. But the authenticity of my photo is easily verified when you look and see that it is one of many in a series that can be viewed in my New York City gallery. And yes, whatever annoyance I feel, I find this story highly entertaining, almost as entertaining as these crumbling media empires so desperate to demonstrate their relevance that they can’t even pause to ask the most basic questions of a source’s veracity.
That being said, I am the youngest of 5 boys. When we were kids, controlling the story meant survival. It’s a skill I learned to appreciate early on. Today’s dying media complex is fighting for its survival like we were back then: by crafting a tale as rapidly and convincingly as it can under extreme pressure, but with cooler technology, louder voices and better hair.