This past week in Durango, Colo., a 31-year-old man was sentenced to four years probation for his role in a scheme involving stolen photographic reprints. From May 2012 through November 2013, Brandon Donahue took receipt of materials filched by an employee at Steve McCurry Studios in Pennsylvania and resold them through the Open Shutter Gallery. His co-conspirator Bree DeStephano, with whom he split all proceeds, is scheduled for separate sentencing in Pennsylvania June 2.
For McCurry, the famed author of the award-winning 1984 photo “Afghan Girl,” that’s currently the least of his problems. On May 6, website PetaPixel documented digital alterations made to three different McCurry photos. The first image irregularity, visible in the background of a gallery exhibit print of a photo shot in Cuba by McCurry during one of four personal trips, was caught by an Italian photographer, Paolo Viglione, who blogged about it in late April. Two other tipsters provided PetaPixel with more prominent examples of apparent digital trickery in separate photos taken abroad.
At press time, McCurry has commented to PetaPixel only about the first of the three images in question. He also spoke to Italian newspapers La Stampa and Republica about the print, in which the base of a yellow street sign is superimposed on to the bottom of pedestrian’s right leg. Via PetaPixel:
McCurry said the issue in the Cuba image was, “a change that I would have never authorized,” and “the lab technician who made the mistake does not work with me anymore.”
Notice how this explanation ties in, broadly speaking, with the criminal activity we led off the item with. In other words, at first glance, it seems that while McCurry has been traveling the world to capture images, his employees have run wild at the Pennsylvania and New York studios. (In the PetaPixel article comments, readers debated whether the more prominent photo alterations could have been done without McCurry’s approval.)
Next weekend, in what should have been a triumphant standalone event for McCurry, the photographer will see the opening of his first solo exhibit in Canada, at a gallery in Montreal. The digital alteration of the Cuba photo is glaring when blown up, but in the original print, it sits distantly in the background. It is to Viglione’s credit that he was able to notice it and spark this whole matter in the first place.