A crying man, carrying a child, who has their arms around his neck and is wearing a fluorescent yellow life jacket. In the background are people alighting from a rubber dinghy. Superimposed over the image are newspaper headlines, both positive and negative about the photo.

Only the photographer knows the truth

Today, more than any other time in history, truth is hard to authenticate. And, as a result, it’s often impossible to know whether what we’re seeing and reading is fact, opinion, propaganda or just clumsily researched. Consequently, public trust has eroded to such an extent that Edelman’s annual ‘Trust Barometer’ report talks of “a new era of information bankruptcy and a trust ecosystem unable to confront it.” Rumour and misinformation travels across the internet at an alarming rate, and often it’s accompanied by other media – sometimes created for the purpose, but more often lifted out of context or even edited to support a narrative.
For photographers, keeping control of their work is already hard enough, with their images frequently taken, edited and shared without payment or permission. But for those photojournalists who are legitimately working to document and share the truth of world events, it’s an even tougher task. Imagine your image being published and then used entirely out of context to perpetuate stereotypes, spread lies and create fear. This is precisely what happened to Canon Ambassador and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Daniel Etter when he photographed the European refugee crisis for the New York Times. The now famous image is of an Iraqi refugee, holding his son and crying tears of joy as he alights from the rubber boat that carried him and his family to the Greek island of Kos. The image went viral and the stories that accompanied it were often… less than accurate. “It was shared millions of times,” explains Daniel. “It actually kept me up at night for many weeks because all these false stories were out there.” Unfortunately, his experience is far from isolated and so, along with World Press Photo-winning photographers Ivor Prickett and Johnny Haglund, Daniel is championing the Truthmark.

A screen shot from the Truthmark website. The header reads: We found a matching image. To the left is the original image of Laith Majid and his son, Taha. To the right is the photographer’s name (Daniel Etter), the date (15.08.2015) and the location (Kos, Greece) with ‘the truth about the image as follows: “Laith Majid, an Iraqi refugee from Baghdad, breaks out in tears of joy, holding his son Taha and his daughter Nour, after they arrived safely on a beach of the Greek island of Kos, Greece, Aug. 15, 2015. The group crossed over from the Turkish resort town of Bodrum and on the way their flimsy rubber boat, crammed with about 12 men, women and children, lost air. Fearing that they get sent back to Turkey and upon being told so by their smuggler, Mr. Al Amirij’s wife initially identified them as Syrians from Deir Ezzor. The family has since made it to Berlin, Germany.”
The Truthmark website allows you to upload an image and discover the real story behind it, directly from the photographer. It’s an important and powerful tool in the fight against fake news and misinformation.

Protecting the ‘truthtellers’
The Truthmark is a clever initiative supported by Canon Nordic that lets photojournalists digitally attach their first-hand story of what is happening in the image, to their images. When they upload their photography into the Truthmark database (which has no impact on their own copyright), they can add a written piece detailing precisely what was happening, in their own words. Not just date, time and location, but the actual story behind the image, adding context and hidden detail that might otherwise be lost as the image travels. This is then encrypted into one single file and anyone who wants to check the authenticity of an image can search the Truthmark database and discover the real story, straight from the photographer. Even if the original image has been tampered with, Truthmark’s digital fingerprint technology can still recognise the images. Johnny Haglund explains: “It’s an online tool that recognises a unique digital fingerprint of the image and then pairs it with the photographer’s own story. No matter where the photo ends up, the true story will always follow.”
Jenni Lindström, Director of Nordic and Baltic Marketing at Canon Imaging Technologies & Communications feels passionately about protecting the ‘truthtellers’ and regularly hears the frustrations and anger of photographers like Daniel, Ivor and Johnny, as their work is increasingly misused (“Using images for the wrong purposes is too easy these days,” laments Ivor).  “We want to stop the misuse of images to spread fake stories,” she says. “The world needs the truth right now than ever before – and Truthmark is striving for it.”
How to protect your truth
Photographers from around the world are invited to use the Truthmark website, and it aims to build a global database. Adding your truth is simplicity itself and photographers absolutely retain their copyright.
  1. Go to pictures
  2. Create an account
  3. Drag and drop your photos and write their real stories
  4. The image is added to the database with a unique digital fingerprint that allows users to verify the true story behind it

Written by Cathrine Stenemyr