concerns about newsweek’s oprah cover photo

The June 8, 2009, issue of the “new” Newsweek has a cover article called “Crazy Talk: Oprah, Wacky Cures, & You” by Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert. The print version of the US edition has this cover photo Oprah:

Oprah on Newsweek Cover June 8 2009

My scan of the image does not fully capture the problem, but compare this image with the image of Oprah, first, accompanying the online version of the article, and, second, on the cover of Newsweek from October 24, 2005:

Here I have put the print and online photos of Oprah’s face side-by-side:

oprah comparison photos

I am concerned about this image for several reasons, including perpetuating a stereotype of black (and all) women as hysterical. Mostly, however, I am concerned about the kind of editing that might have taken place on this image to darken Oprah’s skin and highlight shadows, just as we saw with images of OJ on Time and Newsweek (which I also discussed in relation to the images on Obama Waffles):

Without seeing the original image that Newsweek used we cannot be completely sure that malinipulative Photoshopping took place, but the evidence before us certainly points to it. What are your thoughts?

Update 9:45am, June 5, 2009
Inspired by the below comments, in particular Christa’s discussion of the origination of visual texts, I did what I probably should have done for my original post: I investigated who photographed the Newsweek cover image in question. The photographer is Siphiwe Sibeko, who took the photo for Reuters-Corbis. Sibeko is a South African photographer from Sowento. His online portfolio reveals a gifted photographer with images that provide stunning insight into the lives of people in many places in Africa.

A Google image search for “Siphiwe Sibeko + Oprah” brings about 70 results, including what appears to be the original photo from which the Newsweek cover was cropped:


Here we have the original, cropped to match the Newsweek cover placed next to the Newsweek cover:

original photo of oprah next to newsweek cover image

It does appear that some editing took place on the photo (though some shadow difference could, I guess, be due to printing on paper). What was the reason for these edits? Newsweek needs to address this.

Complicating the issue, and building on the comments that focus on the relationship between the image and the written text, it appears that the image of Oprah was taken not while she was espousing “wacky cures” on her TV show, but at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls on January 7, 2007. Note the ear-rings, dress, and hair in this photograph, also taken by Sibeko (which can be found at this story):

The photograph accompanying the article, “Winfrey Founds South African School for Girls,” also by Sibeko, also appears to be from the same event:

Readers assume a direct relationship between the image on the cover and the text in the essay. However, now it seems that the image has been taken out of context. This is especially troubling because of the hours upon hours of TV footage and thousands of photographs of Oprah from which the Newsweek cover photo could have been selected. If this were written text and the issue a written source, this would not be acceptible. We need to hold the same standards to uses of visual media, as well.

I’ll leave it up to Christa to analyze the situation more thoroughly since her work is in the area of visual texts.

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