Thursday, September 01, 2005

About Those Photo Captions

You've undoubtedly seen the brouhaha today, about two photos, one from AFP, showing two people wading through the water with stuff which the caption described them as having "found", and another from the AP, showing a man in similar circumstances, but described by the captioner as having "looted" a store. Some eagle-eyed commenter noticed that the people in the AFP photo were relatively light-skinned, while the man in the AP photo was clearly black, and concluded that the difference in the captions must certainly be attributable to that distinction; strange that Mr or Ms Eagle-Eyes didn't seem to notice that AFP and AP are two completely different news agencies, but whatever.

Truth to tell, my initial assumption was that the AFP photo was captioned by someone at AFP itself, who presumably was not a native speaker of USAn English, and therefore any comparison between his/her word choice and that of the AP captioner is completely futile. Turns out I was wrong. The AFP caption was written by the photographer himself, Chris Graythen, who is very much USAn, and a New Orleans native and resident (well, now an ex-resident), who took it for Getty Images. And, thanks to the wonders of the WWW, we don't have to guess any more, because we have the word from the horse's mouth (it's way down the page; search for "Jeasus"). It turns out hat he described the two people in the photo as having "found" rather than "looted" the items they were carrying because that is what happened:

there were a million items floating in the water - we were right near a grocery store that had 5+ feet of water in it. it had no doors. the water was moving, and the stuff was floating away. These people were not ducking into a store and busting down windows to get electronics. They picked up bread and cokes that were floating in the water. They would have floated away anyhow.
And it's not as if he deliberately avoided the word "looting". As he says:
I'm not trying to be politically correct. [...] If you don't belive me, you can look on Getty today and see the images I shot of real looting today, and you will see white and black people, and they were DEFINATELY looting. And I put that in the caption.
I did look at his photos from today on the Getty web site. There are 20 images from 31-Aug-05, and I couldn't find any that showed any looting; maybe the ones he's talking about weren't taken up by the agency, or haven't been put up yet, or something. In any case, those who see the whole world though racism-coloured glasses will be disappointed. But then, they usually are, and it doesn't seem to stop them.

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