16 December 2006

Egypt at Stake

My husband is ill. Violently. He and the girls are resting right now, and well, you know what I’m doing.

We have tickets to go to Cairo on Monday evening, but if my sweetie’s health doesn’t improve quickly, none of us will go. Tagging along on business trips is just like that.

Still, I have Cairo on my mind, and particularly their ancient treasures. I don’t know anyone who isn’t at least a little bit curious about the pyramids, temples, and other ruins of long-gone dynasties. To young Americans, they are among the most familiar of foreign, exotic things. When I was a kid, my parents had a subscription to National Geographic, but also to their jr. version called World. If my memory serves (it doesn’t), every single issue was devoted to Tutankhamen’s tomb.

National Geographic has a great Egypt page. Very informative for people going there literally or virtually. They have a list of sources for further reading and even a list of their own publications about Egypt going back to 1913.

Interestingly, they didn’t include what I think was one of their most significant issues. From what I’ve been able to put together, the Feb 1982 issue was almost entirely devoted to the foregoing century’s discoveries and excavations in Egypt. That issue isn't listed on the current Egypt page. Maybe the reason they don't reference this issue is that the pyramids depicted on the front cover were digitally manipulated to squash them into the available (narrow) space. The ethics of their alteration of the pyramid’s positioning has prompted quite a bit of discussion. Just do a Google search for "National Geographic 1982 Giza".

I don’t know if the 1982 issue was left off the source list for this reason or for no reason at all. If it was deliberately left out, that would signal that NatGeo agrees that its reliability is in question. But there’s a lot to be said for the “no reason at all” argument. They didn’t say their bibliography was a complete one.

I’ve never really been able to decide where I stand on this issue. Digitally shifting a pyramid to the side is not the same as lying about its entire existence, or putting it into the mountains of China. The pyramids are where they belong even if they aren’t exactly there. But National Geographic is a respected source of both excellent scholarship and excellent photography. If they are to be regarded as the standard-bearers for the crossover between art-photography and scholarship, suddenly even a slight "reinterpretation" of where a pyramid actually is really undercuts their reputation.


Matthew said...

I think it's alright for documentary filmakers and photographers to engage in some photoediting. As long as the main content is not altered too much. However, news organizations should not do so.

Josh said...

i read where a reporter for the charlotte observer was fired recently for photoshopping a picture. what did he do? he nudged the color saturation up just a bit because the shot was underexposed. i guess the line is the line.

Vatti said...

As a scientist, I must come down on the side of "please don't move the pyramids". Imagine my frustration if I went to Egypt looking for that particular shot, and discovered it didn't exist? False color images are very common in science, and it's OK to mess with brightness and contrast as long as faint details on the original are not rendered invisible, AND one discloses what was done. The key is, is enough enough information given so that someone else could reproduce the image?
By the way, if Matthew is well enough to comment on the blog is he well enough to travel?

Mary Ann said...

Oh yeah, and I remember that there was a Lebanese journalist that was fired by Reuters or AP for having darkened the smoke rising over Beirut during the war.

Mary Ann said...

Hey dad, do you by chance have that issue of National Geographic? I suddenly really want to own it.

Matthew is doing a bit better, but like whatever illness I had last week, it is taking more time than usual for him to really feel energetic. I think at this stage, the trip is on.