A Blurry Double Standard? A Photo from the Boston Marathon Bombing


Before I begin with an observation of a photo that emerged from yesterday’s horrific bombings, I’d like to first take a moment to acknowledge the insignificance of my thoughts vis a vis the tragedy that has unfolded. There have been many great pieces that have already emerged in the first 24 hours like this one from Bruce Schneier of The Atlantic. That said, I blog about salient issues in photography, and there is no better time to discuss an issue than when it is in our collective consciousness.

Freelance photographer Melissa Golden raised an interesting observation about a particularly gruesome photo (warning: it’s extremely graphic) that was featured on The Atlantic’s InFocus column.

A crop of the photograph by by Charles Krupa/AP

A crop of the photograph by Charles Krupa/AP

From her Facebook page, Melissa commented,

Number 8 in this gallery is horrifying, but I’m very concerned with the In Focus’ decision to blur the face. Since when do legitimate print journalism outfits modify photos like this? Run it or don’t, but don’t enact a double standard for Americans when we’re totally cool running unadulterated photos of bombing victims from foreign lands.

Interestingly, the image was originally run without the pixelation, but The Atlantic decided to make adjust the image with the following statement:

Note: An earlier version of this gallery featured this photo with the graphic warning but without the image blurred. We have since decided to blur the subject’s face out of his respect for privacy.

My initial reaction was in opposition to Melissa. I supported the blurring, but not necessarily because of the typical argument the family members hadn’t been notified yet. I reasoned that the flow of real-time information today is different from an editorial decision to publish an image of a dead soldier a week or even a day later. Just like the Super Bowl, I argued to myself that we needed the 10 second tape delay to be able to censor out objectionable content until we had time to consider its impact.

But upon further reflection, I realized that this is bunk.

Basketball player Kevin Ware's injury was broadcast on national television

Basketball player Kevin Ware’s injury was broadcast on national television

Consider for a moment that just two weeks ago, Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware suffered a devastating leg injury which broke his bone and pierced his skin, sending blood onto the basketball floor. This scene was broadcast live, and then in slow-mo, and then over and over again on TV and the Internet.


Consider the Pulitzer Prize Winning photography from Syria that featured maimed and murdered people.


Consider the World Press Photo grand prize photo that featured two dead children. The cat is already out of the bag. We live in Internet time.

We individually apply editorial decisions to every tweet, Facebook post, and Instagram that we create. There is no more waiting a week to gut check whether a photo is appropriate or not for publication. The bombing occurred in broad daylight at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Dozens, if not, hundreds of people saw this victim roll by them in the wheelchair. This isn’t a case of violence behind closed doors where release of the image would violate reasonable privacy or would jeopardize the prosecution of the case.

A free society can determine the standards by which they live by. I certainly believe that children should be shielded from horrific images and pornography. But a well-informed society shouldn’t have a double standard for “us” vs “them” or “sports” vs “news.”

When it comes to newsworthy items, we should not allow ourselves to censor the flow of information. As Schneier opined in the aforementioned piece, “…we need to be vigilant not to weaken the very freedoms and liberties that make this country great, meanwhile, just because we’re scared.”

Let the news flow freely, gruesomely if necessary. And let’s refuse to have our eyes covered in the face of adversity.

About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and Co-founder of PhotoShelter. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article originally appeared here.

  • Adam Cross

    If we don’t give conflict victims in other areas of the world privacy and blur their faces I don’t see why we should do it in America. double standards to the extreme.

  • Mansgame

    Kind of sad that photographers are trying to draw attention to themselves in light of a tragedy. It’s always “me me me me me” with some photographers. This is a tragedy. Some papers may want to hide the face. If you don’t want them to do it, don’t give them the picture (and don’t get paid).

  • Yoav

    In Israel it was back in 1994 when it was the last time a newspaper in the country showed a dead israeli unblurred. since then it was agreed by all newspapers there to not show dead people over the papers.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Great post. There’s a lot of questions that we, as photographers, must ask ourselves in these times of instant twitter/instagram news coverage and 24 hour a day news networks. Often times there simply isn’t enough time to weigh the pros and cons before broadcasting the content to the world.

  • Lars Blackmore

    How is this about the photographer? He shoots for AP, they distributed the photo to their subscribers uncensored — the editors at The Atlantic made the editorial decision to run, then censor the image. The photographer had nothing to do with that entire process, he just did his job. Are you suggesting that he shouldn’t have taken he picture in the first place? Seems kinda ridiculous when his job is photo journalism.

  • mlieberman85

    It’s more of a question of ethics than just the whims of a photographer upset that his image was altered. I understand why they might want to do it, especially if a relative or other loved one’s first time finding out about how someone is doing is seeing a very graphic image of them, but the discussion should still be had.

  • Mansgame

    He doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the process but he’s writing an article about it and trying to draw attention to himself when this doesn’t have anything to do with him other than him being at the spot to take pictures. Editorial decisions are left to people whose job it is to make those decisions. If he doesn’t like it, he can just have his own blog and post pictures.

  • Samuel

    no he isn’t, not in the slightest. He is trying to draw attention to the ongoing issue of journalistic censorship in an increasingly citizen reported and internet speed world. I can’t see a single bit of this article that is praising any one photographer over another.

  • Samuel

    This is another branch of the censorship vs protection argument. If the BBC, fox, cnn etc showed the actual gruesome and real world of what goes on in attacks and world conflicts then there would be a never ending string of complaints that people were upset by them.

    But similarly you can’t report on an issue to its full power and extremes without using the pictures, if there was less editorial in the selection process of this, a domestic attack and the photos coming back from syria and other overseas conflicts then perhaps the world would take more notice but alas mainstream media can’t handle thousands of complaints every time they tell the true extents of a story.

  • Samuel

    Because it is very unlikely that the mother of a Syrian child killed in an airstrike will
    A. Doesn’t already know because it isn’t being reported live and
    B. Reads american news websites.

  • kronalwake

    If all you want to do is ensure the free flow of information, are you suggesting that it was difficult to describe the above, exceedingly graphic photo, in pure verbiage, and that the extent of damage could not be relayed without the photo?

    If we’re going to do away of censorship for the cause of honest and free-flowing information, then we should probably start with a discussion of the motivation for taking this photo in the first place. I contend the motivation was NOT information, but shock and awe, which happens to sell pretty well, doesn’t it? When early reports of lost limbs surfaced, I didn’t really need a photograph to envision the horror. This image is gratuitous, therefore NOT about the free-flow of information.

    This is not to say that there shouldn’t be photography of awful things, but if you want to come from an elevated, ethical position, you should be honest about whether or not the photo is serving the purpose you claim. Capturing a horrific image doesn’t necessitate purity of cause or spirit.

  • Renato Murakami

    As I see it, this isn’t a matter of double standards or whatever.
    It’s a choice made by whoever is making the publication, it has always been, and it’s better that it’s maintained that way.
    We can have endless debates about how valid it is to show such gruesome pics in news and publications, but we can’t set definitive standards for anyone.
    Is it disrespectful to people close to the victims, is such level of graphic violence desensitizing, is it necessary for people to comprehend the seriousness of the matter at hand, is it going against journalistic principles to edit out faces or graphical content… all that is up for debate.
    Decisions such as those are up for media vehicles to make.
    So, readers and viewers can choose themselves were to get their own news.
    And parents can also choose what to recommend for their kids to get their news if they choose to do so.
    Being like this will also make the responsibility of maintaining certain policies and ethics their own, monitored by it’s own readership.
    I mean, in this day and age we have plenty of news sources who try to keep their stream of content free from certain stuff (images that are too graphic, erotic/pornographic content, among others). And we also have news souces that exploit those to the upteenth level.
    One could argue that an image like that could be far less damaging (and far more informative) than constantly publishing inane gossip coming from your most recent brainless celebrity.
    So in the end, such decisions has to be kept in an editorial level. As long as it’s not breaking any laws, let the public decide where the content they will get comes from.

  • Stuart D

    They censor the images and the censor the news, it becomes clean and acceptable, other bombs went off in other countries on the same day, drones strike villages, what does it mean to anyone, a Hollywood explosion, some burned clothes and a little blood with the shake it off mentality and get up and save the girl!
    Bombs kill and they kill indiscriminately, but they kill horribly, the more we see this, the more we know this the less these news stories would be dismissed.
    Photographers images should never be edited, the news should never be edited we need to know what inhumanity looks and feels like.

  • Arctic-Winds

    But other family members of the child in various countries might well do.

  • Adam Cross

    that’s a rather ignorant view point to have – I suppose because it’s “unlikely” that the mother will see them that means those people have no rights? however “unlikely” the facts remain the same – America thinks it’s own people have more rights than others; and websites are not only seen in America, websites have global access and secondly people like AP and Reuters etc don’t just supply America with images.

  • Stephen Shoihet

    I think it’s wrong to censor images like this. We should see things like this, we should be horrified, outraged and saddened. A person has had their life changed forever, they lost their legs, they will relive this horror in their mind for a long time… hiding their face robs them of their identity and leaves only the horrific and sensational image of their missing legs.

    We should remember these people for a very long time but most won’t…most want to be outraged right now and next week or next month they’ll move on to the next thing that outrages them. If this happened to me, I’d want the world to see my face, I’d want them to think for a long time about what happened and all the people that had been affected by this event.

  • nc485

    Answer me this. Will this story hit you harder if you see images like the one above or if not? I’m as much against the exploitation of these tragedies as anyone, but the fact is, this image is poignant and inescapable and much more likely to incite meaningful thought and action in those who see it. Shame on the person who puts these events and issues out of sight and mind simply because the images of them are unpleasant.

  • Swade

    Why does this have to go to an attack on Americans? Why does the decision of one publication somehow encapsulate that the whole of the USA believes this? It was a decision by one editorial to censor one picture to keep the privacy of this one person (and probably to protect themselves from legal action).

  • Rusty

    I don’t agree with blurring the man’s face. The expressions of all of the people in this photo speak volumes about how they’re dealing with this tragedy, especially the victim. It is a horrible sight in full but it truly tells the story of what happened. Cropped above the worst of his injuries it’s still an amazingly powerful photo.

  • harumph

    What are you talking about? The photo was taken by Charles Krupa and the article was written by Allen Murabayashi. Not the same person.

  • kronalwake

    There was a crop of the image in question where if the victim’s face was not pixelated it may have been a brilliant shot. It would show the natural shock on the victim’s face, the focus of the first responder, and the vivid combination of bewilderment, concern and purpose, the fellow participant who is holding the tourniquet. Instead, the image can only draw you into the carnage and you lose the potential and poignancy of that image.

    I don’t shy away from disturbing images. I clicked on the disclaimer knowing full well something horrible was behind it and my first reaction was that this was a cheap way to get viewership. I didn’t need that image to feel the horror of losing a limb. It’s impossible to understand the depth of such tragedies without first-hand experience. Proximity helps, a photo is information, but it doesn’t really transport you there and I think it would be incredibly naive to think that it does.

    To me, it’s not censorship that is the problem here, it’s the lack of integrity in telling the story. Just about every other image in that series on the Atlantic, told a better story of the anguish, chaos and suffering that happened in those moments immediately after the blast.

    So to answer your question, no the story will not hit harder with images like the one above. The image above distracts from the extraordinary range of emotions of that day by replacing that range with intense horror. Carnage is not poignant, it’s the genuine expression of suffering that can only be seen on another human face that is poignant and I think the great photographers know that and capture that. In the days when there were great news outlets, they understood that too.

  • Richard Ford

    Its the same with people that get angry with street shooters. It is soft western double standards. Fine to show photos of tsunami kids or darfur sufferers. But oh no – not my kids.

  • DamianM

    You can see his face on the news as they wheeled him away.
    there was no need to blur his face.

    It was horrible and we must not treat it lightly.

  • Duke Shin

    It’s not because of any “double standard,” Americans are just squeamish. Remember when Janet Jackson’s one boob fell out of her shirt a few years back and everyone freaked out over it, even though there was a perfume ad one channel over with a naked woman (nipple barely covered, of course)?

  • Syed Zillay Ali

    this is insane

  • Annonnymmous

    Somehow Americans think they should be treated with respect, while everyone outside the US don’t matter. That is a fact. The Geneva convention forbids showing prisoners of war in captivity. Yet the US (a signatory to the Geneva convention) has found NO problems displaying captured soldiers and other freedom fighters to the world, while they went ape-shit when Iraq’s military had captured a few US soldiers and displayed them to the media, the US threatened to capture the responsible people and have them tried for violating the Geneva convention.

    I have seen hundreds of children’s faces blown up by American soldiers in other parts of the world… thousands of grownups in the same way, and not ONCE has anyone from the US media ever taken a step towards blurring faces or thought about respecting the Geneva conventions, then a single American gets his leg blown off, and it’s all about protecting him and his family. THIS is what sickens me about Americans in general. The total and absolute hypocrisy and double standards.

    Media should ALWAYS respect international law, AND not have double standards of any kind.

    Unfortunately the entire US media is owned by only 5 companies, and that means that it is no longer MEDIA, but rather PROPAGANDA machine.

  • Samuel

    I feel i should clear up what i said, reading it back it isn’t saying what i had meant too and I’m totally happy to agree that it was a stupid comment to make. I was merely trying to bring about a few reasons why perhaps it seems more acceptable to publish uncensored photos on primarily american news sites when they come from countries that are further afield.

    I didn’t mean for a second that this is how journalism should be done, quite the contrary. I’m a firm believer that mainstream news outlet should show more graphic and distressing photos from places that are currently enduring a conflict. The Boston marathon is slightly different in that respect as its not an ongoing systemic problem and it was met with the suitable cries of support and sadness from around the world. I don’t want to be that guy who starts arguing about Iraq and Afghanistan and other areas that have widespread civil unrest (Columbia included, i must admit i wasn’t aware of it and for that i can only plead ignorance) in the aftermath of a unrelated tragedy but I still feel that in places that are far separated from western consciousness graphic and horrific pictures are the best method of raising awareness and making people think about something that has become so routine. Just because the bomb in Iraq that went off on monday was one in a long history of random attacks doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked by mass media and smaller organisations as well.

    I’m having real trouble coming to a conclusion on whether or not identities of casualties should be concealed in any circumstances and i think it would have to be decided case by case. For example if I was was injured in a blast and my photo was taken as i was being taken for treatment i wouldn’t have a problem with it being published censored or not, this isn’t the same for everyone though and i doubt publishing rights would be the top of my priorities.

    I’m sorry my original comment seemed so flippant that was far from my intention.

  • Ryan

    I know my opinion is skewed on this, but this photo has made a major impact on me and I believe the unblurred version to be preferable. I say this because the blurred subject of the photo is actually a close friend of my brother. When I first saw it shortly after it happened, unblurred, it was shocking to recognize the face, albeit he did look quite different than normal because of what happened.

    The reason I think the unblurred one is preferable is because the look on his face completely changes the feeling of the photo. It brings it from anonymous gore to a real human connection.

    As troubling as it is to look at, I realized that I *had* to look at it. Jeff (as his info is now very public) did *not* have a choice. He actually has to suffer with the results. I felt it was very unfair to not look just because it makes me uncomfortable.

    I think it’s through a photo like this that we can only begin to understand what the person is actually going through and without a face to apply those feelings, what’s the point?

  • Samuel

    All my points but made in a FAR better way, photojournalism is, first and foremost for reporting an event as it happens gory or otherwise.