To the editor of wired.com:
The interview with me that appeared on Friday of last week (“Raw Meet: Fred Ritchin Redefines Digital Photography”} was conducted over the telephone, and as we finished talking the interviewer informed me that he had not recorded it. In the article he apparently reconstructed my answers based on his notes, often exaggerating, over-simplifying and distorting my point of view. Despite being presented in a question-and-answer format, the answers are frequently not mine. They both distort the way in which I speak and leave me wondering, in many cases, what it was that I was supposed to have said. And while the interviewer did send me the text to review, I was given no deadline for my response and the article went online a few days later without any input from me.
The issues are similar with the author’s introduction. I do not believe that “we are obsessed with ourselves and images of the unreal.” Nor do I believe that “we are escaping from very real photos of destruction into visions of idyllic fantasies, and that this escapism is being branded by governments and corporations for their own ends.” In fact I believe that we are very anxious about our futures—about our ability to make a living, about our wars and our environment, about the lack of reasonable discussion among our politicians, about our educational systems, the failure of the American dream and many other aspects of our lives. The virtual spaces that are being created—the Internet, video games, fantasy football, etc.—can be comforting, just as television has been, but they certainly do not constitute “visions of idyllic fantasies.”
What I do believe is that we often feel powerless to change policies or to affect the course of events, and that the media swirl of celebrities, scandals, scares, and the like often reinforces our sense of powerlessness. We are presented with enormous numbers of spectacular images of catastrophe with little effort to explore the reasons or even to suggest the solutions for what has happened, leaving us feeling overwhelmed.
Similarly, to take the first sentence of what is described as my answer to the initial question, I do not believe that “Media has always needed correction but it is presently exacerbated by the fetishization of the self.” The sentence does not make sense to me. Nor does the sentence in the next paragraph: “The individual merits the fulcrum of fantasy, only it’s the branding of fantasy.” I do not even understand what I am thought by the interviewer to have said.
Nor do I think that people should be “undermining photography” but rather critiquing and deconstructing media, photography included, that are part of the system of staged events, photo opportunities, generic imagery, and various other strategies intended to deceive the viewer. I don’t think that the “merging of the real and unreal” began with Ronald Reagan, but he raised it to another level. Nor do I think that when the “Gutenberg press came along, everybody recognized the new formats”—the process was much more gradual and nuanced than that.
I do not know what the term “a syntax of information” means—I probably was referring to the need for new linguistic strategies to describe and more successfully employ digital media. Nor could I have talked about “EXIF data,” because I did not know the term, or about “tabs,” because I never thought of them in the digital context. “We must accept that photography is a post-production medium” is an exaggeration—I would have said that it is “increasingly a post-production medium,” but not exclusively one. I will leave it at that, although there are a number of other clarifications to be made.
A couple of factual errors about me: I did not work at The New York Times for ten years, but for three and a half (from 1978-82)—I worked in journalism for ten years at various publications. The sentence that begins “I didn’t call for us to undermine photography in the Vietnam War” is certainly not my language—I was mostly in high school and college then and had not started to think seriously about media. What I did say was that photography played a more pivotal and helpful societal role during the Vietnam War than during our current conflicts.
I am grateful that wired.com is interested in my thoughts, and I respect Wired for having tackled difficult and important subjects concerning the impact of the digital when few were paying attention. But whether an interview is being published online or on paper, it must reflect what the interviewee actually said. I do not know if this is old-fashioned of me, but it is what I believe.
I appreciate this opportunity to respond.
Our interviewer’s recorder failed, and the article he wrote was reconstructed from notes. As a result, there is no complete objective record of the conversation against which we can compare. We have corrected the one factual error brought to our attention, and we apologize if there were any other inaccuracies. –Evan Hansen, Editor in Chief