Photographs can be used to understand or echo voters’ emotions, but in the digital chaos, emotions often impose on images. Last June, during the G-7 summit, major outlets ran a shot by Jesco Denzel that seemed to show a domineering Angela Merkel leaning over a hostile Trump. Days later, John Moore’s image of a Honduran toddler crying as her mother was searched by border patrol officers went viral, amid reports that the U.S. was separating thousands of children from their parents in detention facilities. In both scenarios, the images were not exactly what they seemed. While tensions were high at the G-7, other images taken of that same conversation showed a more ordinary exchange. Similarly, it was later reported that the child at the border had not been taken from her mother, though they were both detained.
Still, such images struck a nerve because they got at an emotional truth—even if the contextual truth was quickly distorted online. Curtis said it presents a unique challenge in photo editing today. “You have to be aware of any picture that you publish can be shifted to whatever narrative: left, right, or center,” he explained. “It’s our role whenever we are publishing those types of pictures to make sure we are including the right caption and visual context.”