Controversy over New Orleans photos captions

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Friday, September 2, 2005

Looters in New Orleans take home groceries.

Tuesday, Yahoo! News posted photographs from the Hurricane Katrina disaster area gathered from various sources.

An Associated Press photograph of two African-American women was captioned, "Looters carry bags of groceries through floodwaters after taking the merchandise away from a wind damaged convenience store in New Orleans on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005."

A similar Agence France-Presse (AFP) photograph of two caucasians was labeled, "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store in New Orleans..."

The vast majority of people who did not evacuate from the famous city were poor and black; many were unable to obtain transportation.

Several news sites have noted that New Orleans rescue and evacuation efforts have been severely complicated by the presence of these looters. The evacuation of the Superdome was halted after shots were reported, fired at a National Guard rescue helicopter.

New Orleans residents wade through water for food.

Yahoo! News later released a statement on the images, saying, "...we present the photos and their captions as written, edited and distributed by the news services with no additional editing..." Yahoo! agreed to AFP's request to remove AFP-supplied photographs after the controversy began, fueled by articles on the topic by Salon, Flickr, and other news sites.

The choice of wording may be chalked up to different policies at the two agencies (AP and AFP); the AP has been labeling several of their photos with the term "looting" if their photographers witness the act, while Getty spokeswoman Bridget Russel said regarding the AFP/Getty photo, "This is obviously a big tragedy down there, so we're being careful with how we credit these photos."

Chris Graythen, who took the AFP picture and wrote the caption, said "I believed in my opinion, that they did simply find them, and not 'looted' them in the definition of the word. The people were swimming in chest deep water, and there were other people in the water, both white and black. I looked for the best picture. 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."