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March 05, 2014

Can We Trust The Images We See in Relevant?

blessed are the stonethrowers.jpg

Relevant, a magazine that bills itself as a lifestyle magazine for young Evangelicals in the United States, has published a cover story about violence in the Holy Land and what Christians can do to bring it to an end. It arrived in the mailboxes a week before the upcoming Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem.

There’s no arguing that the magazine’s cover (shown above) is compelling, even if it offers a mixed message.

The text includes a passage from the Beatitudes, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.�? This text, interestingly enough, is a bit faded so as to allow consumers to have a fuller view of a young Palestinian man throwing a firebomb.

He’s a bit dirty and scruffy, but otherwise he looks, well, pretty cool. The way Relevant depicts him, the firebomb thrower is imbued with an danger, drama and glamour.

It’s like he’s a rock star or something. It’s radical chic revisited.

We contacted Relevant’s founder, Cameron Strang, and challenged him on the appropriateness of using a photo such as this for the cover.

Relevant, like a lot of magazines, such as Esquire or Cigar Aficionado, is aspirational, meaning it gives readers a view of the life that they want to live or aspire to. Aspirational magazines give readers a view of what they – and their lives – are supposed to look like.

Clearly, Relevant falls into this category. Peruse its pages and you’ll see lots of images of rock stars and celebrities that have either grown up in the Evangelical community or who are willing to talk, at least a little, about their religious faith with the editors of the magazine that serves this community. The magazine’s motto is “Faith, Culture & Intentional Living.�? It’s Rolling Stone for young Evangelicals.

The advertising of the magazine shows a lot of scruffy-looking but earnest young Evangelical men who are trying to make their way in the world. In fact, they look a lot like the protagonist/narrator in Porter Speakman’s movie, With God on Our Side.

Relevant is filled with articles giving career and spiritual advice to young Evangelicals. One article chides young people, (“millenials�?) to choose “gratefulness over entitlement.�? Another writer advises readers “When you are in your twenties, your first three jobs should be considered your master’s program.�?

Against this backdrop, it seemed irresponsible to publish a photo like that glamorizes someone throwing a firebomb.

In response to CAMERA’s challenge, Strang told us to read the article (which he wrote). The article, Strang said, is about ending the violence that was being depicted. (There are problems with the article, too, which CAMERA will get to in a subsequent article.)

Even if the article in question were a fair and comprehensive assessment of the Arab-Israeli conflict (which it isn’t), Strang’s response doesn’t cut it. Imagery and text both tell their own stories, and in this instance, the glamour attributed to the firebomb thrower on the magazine’s front cover threatens to overwhelm the message of peace offered in the text.

CAMERA raised another concern. At first glance, the photo on the front cover seemed staged because it seemed more like a work of art than an act of journalism (and yes sometimes, the two overlap). But the timing and positioning of the photo seemed too perfect. (As events progressed, our concern shifted from whether or not the photo was staged, but whether or not it was altered by Relevant. More about that below.)

Blessed Are the Stone Throwers?

The photo used to open the article itself shows young Palestinian boys throwing rocks. Two of the young boys are looking straight at the camera.

Stone throwers.jpg

In response, Strang wrote that the photos were both licensed from a professional news agency (and “were credited as such�?).

Strang also wrote that the two photos in question were shot by news photographers and that the magazine had no reason to think they were staged and that there was no proof that they were. All the other photos associated with the story, Strang reported, were taken by himself and Relevant’s photographer.

Strang is correct that CAMERA has no proof that the two photos in question were staged.

Fair enough.

Nevertheless, there is good reason to ask in general if photos depicting acts of Palestinian “resistance�? are staged, because they often areb as this video by Ruben Salvadori reveals.

Pallywood is a reality that responsible journalists have to take into account.

But there is another concern.

As stated above, Strang said that both the cover photo and the photo that opens the story were taken by professional news photographers (and were “credited as such�?). It appears however, that the only photo in the entire magazine that is credited is the cover photo.

There doesn’t seem to be any a section that provides the credits for any of the other photos in the magazine. We sent an email to Cameron Strang asking where the credits are located in the magazine, and he hasn’t responded. (If anyone can find it, please post the page number in the comments below.)

But let’s not get sidetracked. Take a look at the photo of the young boys throwing stones. Two of the boys are looking directly at the camera, raising an obvious question: was it posed?

It’s a serious question. The National Press Photographers Association’s Code of Ethics calls on photojournalists to “Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.�?

It also warns photographers to “not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.�?

If the rock throwers are posing for the camera, and it sure looks like it to us, it seems reasonable to ask: “Who is manipulating whom?�?

Either way, the answer is not good. One way or another, the boys in that photo have been given reason to believe that throwing rocks is a good way to get the attention of Western journalists. Is that a message Relevant wants to send?

Relevant Questions about the Cover Photo

We found a very similar photo in three places. The first location was in a Slate article. The image was also located at two links at (The photo identification number is afplivefive027166. Enter this ID into a search engine and it should show up.)

This is where things got weird.

Relevant subscribers who compare the magazine cover photo with the photo at the links shown above will see that the photos seem to be almost exactly the same, but at the same time, quite different.

At first glance, the image of the young man throwing the firebomb seems to be an exact match in the two photos. The wrinkles of his shirt are the same. The shape of the fire emanating from the firebomb is also quite similar, maybe exactly the same. (It’s tough to compare exactly.)

But then there are subtle but undeniable differences. The young man’s left arm is at a different angle. And get this, the position of the firebomb, and the young man himself is a little bit further to the right of the building in Relevant’s cover photo than it is in the AFP/Getty version of the photo.

What’s going on here?

We are confronted with some contradictory alternatives.

If we want to explain the differences, we can conclude that they are two different photos. (But then how do we explain the eerie similarities?)

If we want to explain the similarities, we conclude that they are the same photo. (But then how do we explain those niggling differences?)

It’s a paradox!

Maybe there is another explanation. Given the powers of Photoshop, it’s entirely reasonable to ask if Relevant magazine somehow altered the photo it obtained from AFP.

Fashion magazines do it all the time.

But Relevant? Why would Relevant do such a thing on its cover photo?

At this point, Snapshots asks you to take another look at the AFP/Getty photo and look under the firebomber’s right arm.

What do you see?

At Snapshots, it looks to us that there’s a guy sitting on the ground just a few feet from the guy throwing the Molotov cocktail. His presence in the AFP photo kind of undermines the drama associated with a guy throwing a firebomb, but there he sits, undermining our concerns that the photo is posed. (If the photo were staged, you’d think the photographer would ask the guy to get out of his shot.)

And interestingly enough, he’s sitting in the position that is obscured by the bomb thrower in the photo that appears on Relevant’s cover!

Isn’t that convenient!

So what happened? Did Relevant obtain another photo from AFP that is strikingly different and yet eerily similar to the one published in Slate and on Newscom’s site?

Or did the magazine manipulate the photo to make the image more compelling than it was in its original?

Strang isn’t saying, and didn't resopnd to questions about whether the cover photo was altered.

If Relevant did alter the photo, it wouldn’t be the first magazine to engage in this type of behavior. Like we said, it happens all the time in fashion magazines.

But it’s generally frowned upon in the realm of photojournalism. The NPPA’s Code of Ethics states that “Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.�?

Writing on the ethics of Photoshopping in the Huffington Post in 2009, Susan Moeller states that in the world of news, “The rule of thumb is, if you want to change what's in the photo, choose another photo.�?

Let’s be clear. Snapshots is not worried about the body image of bomb throwers in Hebron. We’re more worried about the safety of their potential victims.

But it would be nice to know if what is on the magazine's cover and on its pages is not only relevant, but real.

Posted by dvz at March 5, 2014 09:14 AM


Maybe the "peacemaker" just threw two firebombs and got two pictures taken.

Posted by: Jacob at March 5, 2014 11:41 AM

I wish someone would hire me to follow around these photographers so I could show the entire scene with a wide angle photo and video, not just what the "news" photographer wants to show.

It's fairly easy to find out if these are staged. Find out the name of the photographer, MARCO LONGARI in this case (great job guys)

This is an obviously staged photo for 2 reasons. There are 2 separate / different photos of the same man from slightly different angles, meaning the photographer moved, but the subject's right arm is at the same angle, and the building behind him is at a different position in each photo.

There was more than one photo taken at this photo shoot but the man's arm and firebomb don't seem.

Posted by: Craig at March 6, 2014 08:28 AM

Here's another staged photo from Marco Longari:

Posted by: Craig at March 6, 2014 08:31 AM

It is the same image, the perspective has changed by getting rid of the tilt, that changed all the angles.

Posted by: Andrew at March 6, 2014 11:20 AM

Fire and smoke don't hold still very long! While the posed thrower, shirt wrinkles etc are a match, the cloud of smoke and the flame have changed, due to a few seconds between the two images.

Posted by: steve gerzof at March 6, 2014 05:55 PM

The conflict in the Holy land (Israel)hasn't been going on for almost 50 Years ,it has been going on for more then 100 years.Jews have been killed by Arab in Palestine then later in Israel for about 100 years.You need to read some history.

Posted by: Erella Teitler at March 7, 2014 02:45 AM

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