British Soldier in Basra

The top photo, showing a British soldier gesturing to a crowd of Iraqi civilians near Basra, ran on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and Hartford Courant on March 30, 2003. It had been taken the previous day by LA Times staff photographer Brian Walski.

A staffer at the Courant noticed that some figures in the image appeared to have been duplicated. For instance, the back of a person squatting down (visible behind the soldier's knee) was identical to the back of the person directly to the left. The staffer queried the Times's Director of Photography about this, who then contacted Walski. Walski admitted the photo was actually a composite of two other photos (middle and bottom). The LA Times fired him.

In an interview with Photo District News, Walski later explained his state of mind when he created the composite:

I had ten frames of soldier totally cut off. At some point I must have zoomed out. When that guy came up with the baby, I shot off ten more frames. I had just one where you could see the soldier's face. The others he was turned away. I put four pictures on my laptop. I was going back and forth. There was no reason to do [what I did]. I was playing around a little bit. I said, 'that looks good.' I worked it and sent it.

The revelation of the altered photo attracted an enormous amount of media attention. This was partly because the scandal occurred at the prestigious LA Times, and partly because it underscored how easy the manipulation of images had become -- so easy that a convincing composite could be created in a few minutes by a photographer working in a war zone.
Links and References
Editor's Note. The Los Angeles Times.
Van Riper, F. Manipulating Truth, Losing Credibility. The Washington Post.
"Brian Walski Discusses His Doctored Photo." (May 07, 2003). Photo District News.
Photo Categories: Composite Images, Military, War, Photojournalism, 2000-2004

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