The governor’s new clothes (case closed)

Our readers continue to express knowledgeable skepticism of the Times correction regarding the cover photo of Governor Warner, and one reader forwards an interview of the Times photo editor suggesting that the alterations to the photo were anything but inadvertent. Doug Plager writes:

I hope I don’t bore anyone here but I must add a rebuttal to Mr. Galvin’s comments about color shift. Everything Mr. Galvin says is true. That in no way changes the fact that the NYT’s explanation is still an outrageous, contemptible lie. The difficulties in maintaining color (and tonal) fidelity through the remarkably complex process that Mr. Galvin refers to is generally a linear problem. That is to say, all areas of the image will be affected by color shift uniformly, IF there is no conscious attempt by an operator to affect the color rendering of the image in specific areas or ways. In the production process, all areas of the image will shift uniformly in whatever direction they are headed i.e., towards magenta or towards green, etc. (I am typing the word ‘crossover’ here to inoculate this debate from that issue. While non-linear, film or print crossover cannot account for the massive and non-linear shift in color we see here.)

That is not what occurred in this image. The shift appears to be very great and very non-linear. The face of Senator Warner is probably fairly accurate within the constraints of the printing process while his suit, shirt and tie were apparently changed greatly. Only an external (and conscious) agent can have affected this non-linear color rendering. Portions of the imaged were most likely masked electronically to permit color (in)corrections in specific areas of the image while leaving other masked areas unchanged. This does not occur arbitrarily. Period.

I know whereof I speak. I have manipulated thousands of my images in my career in exactly this way.

Kim Bellomy writes:

I am an advertising agency creative director with over 25 years of art direction experience.

Blame the film and processing if you want. But there are so many incremental choices, steps and approvals that it strains belief to think this photo simply slipped through the NYT system. The NYT has sort of a conundrum on its hands — admit to being the victiom of a completely amateur editorial and production QA process or admit they published this photo deliberately.

1. I am highly skeptical that any film that skews color would be processed in a way that would selectively skew only the background, jacket, tie and shirt…and NOT the face, hair, lips, and eye-color. Film-caused color shifts may affect some colors more than others…but such a process would affect all colors to some degree. Given that Warner’s face seems somewhat “normal” in the hue, saturation and value suggest that the photographer was using some awfully selective film and processing. It would be most interesting to have the NYT make the original print available. I suspect that if special film and processing were used and caused a distortion, then digital color correction of the face would have been required.

2. As an art director, I choose photographers for their specific style based on their portfolio. No self-respecting art director allows a photographer to have complete freedom and control of a photo. (No matter how much freedom a photographer is given, the art buyer has the final power of acceptance.) Hay would have been chosen by the NYT in anticipation of the sort of photo he would produce. More likely than not, the photo approach was discussed before hand. And, upon delivery there had to be any number of NYT staffers who saw and approved the photo before it was placed into the layout. These could include, editors, art directors, art buyers, production managers, production designers etc. In addition to that, there are numerous approval points for a project like this that should have allowed for review.

3. I suspect that the NYT was provided several different shots to choose from by the photographer. This means that the offending photo would have been selected from other “outtakes.” If there were outtakes…that means the NYT knowingly and willfully chose this shot to use. Even if the skewed photo was a complete fluke, the Times picked it and accepted it.

4. After selection, the image would have been placed into the layout. The layout would have been viewed and approved on the computer and by physical proofs several times before going to QA and to the press.

5. Printing a high-quality periodical is not like dropping something off at Kinkos and taking what you get. It is standard industry practice for publications create a final “press-proof” for review. This press proof is as close to what the press will print as is scientifically possible. It is customary for fairly senior managers to look at the press proofs before approval and printing. Unless the NYT’s is completely lacking a credible editorial and production QA approval process, entire groups of descion makers were asleep at the helm.

Michael Cox writes:

It is amazing how so many people can fire up their keyboards and start tossing their little bit of expertise around–that little bit of knowledge that is a dangerous thing.

The bottom line, even with all the photo experts prattling on about color shift this or Photoshop that, is that some editor or a photo or design editor at the Times chose that picture and ran with it. He or she knew what it would look like and you can’t blame it on a miscalibrated monitor, litho film, dot gain, SWOP calibration or any other mystical middle-monsters that hide in the printing process.

There is simply no natural process that occurs in film exposure, processing, or reproduction that can allow a photo to go from exposure to print without someone early in the process knowing that a charcoal gray jacket has suddenly turned maroon. My suspects here are the photographer and the photo editor — egged on by a left-leaning editor.

[Contrary to what John Galvin suggests below,] we don’t do color separations in film in the old sense any more. The Times is most likely computer-to-plate, with the photo being part of a page layout that went from a layout artist’s computer straight to printing plate.

Secondly, this was in an in-house job, meaning the photo was purchased by the Times and then edited and used in their own system. So specs re the press were not an issue.

How do I know? Phtographer, newspaper editor and publisher, magazine
editor and publisher and I have owned a digital pre-press company for 18 years.

Finally, Mike Carney writes:

NPR interviewed the photo editor for the NYT Magazine. She takes responsibility for the colors and says they were trying to achieve a dramatic affect. She did not suggest that it was in any way accidental, but she did say it was bad judgement. Its a short interview, about four minutes.

NPR has posted the interview here. I think we can safely declare the case closed.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Pittard writes:

I don’t think Photogate is quite the closed case you think it is. Check out
this entry at the Hot Line: “Does Ex-VA [Governor] Mark Warner photograph well?” Unless the “older film” mentioned in the NPR story was not used on the 3 outtakes [in the Hotline post] (which I doubt). Keep hammering these lying bastards 🙂 I’m having a ball reading your and your readers comments!

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