The Most Controversial Photos of 2012


R. Umar Abbasi’s shot of New Yorker Ki Suk Han as he was about to be struck and killed by an oncoming train is arguably one of the most controversial photographs in recent memory. The subsequent “DOOMED” news rag cover was shocking, even for the New York Post. Was the photographer really trying to warn the train conductor with the flash of his camera? What of the others who swarmed around the body for their own cellphone pic? Is there a clear ethical line when it comes to photojournalism and what is the responsibility of a publisher? Let’s look back and briefly survey some of the biggest media photo controversies of 2012 — some serious, some frivolous — and continue the discussion. Warning: Many of these images are rather disturbing.

Photo credit: R. Umar Abbasi/NY Post

R. Umar Abbasi’s photograph has raised an extensive debate on what is ethical to photograph. However, just in the last few days, there have been three incidents of injury or death on the New York subway. Only a horrific photograph like this had attracted so much attention to any particular instance, and hopefully, will make commuters more aware of their surroundings.

Photo: Sam Gewirtz/New York Times

The New York Times was criticized so severely for featuring this graphic image of a shooting victim next to the Empire State Building that the editors briefly removed the image from the front page. In the end, they leaned towards journalism over sensitivity.

Photo credit: Newsweek

Not only did Newsweek publish a contentious piece of “shock journalism” by well known anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the article was accompanied by this out-of-context cover image and a Newsweek-encouraged Twitter hashtag: #MuslimRage. This allowed for a dialogue to take place, as Muslims responded to the hashtag with images of their regular lives and mocking Twitter messages. Yey, Internet!

Photo credit: Mark Seliger, GQ

Ah, good ol’ intentional provocation-lite. Check out GQ’s play on football superstar Tim Tebow’s good-Christian-boy image and his imminent objectification as a sex symbol. There was some amount of blasphemy-related outrage re: the whole Sexy Jesus thing. Perhaps it was just a rebuttal to Ricky Gervais’ bloody crucified “atheist” glamour shot on the cover of The New Humanist last year?

Photo credit: Martin Schoeller, TIME Magazine

When the TIME issue on attachment parenting featured 26-year-old Jamie Lynne Grumet and her three-year-old son breastfeeding on the cover? A controversy erupted over whether it was tasteful, appropriate, or even criminal. Hey, talk it out, talk it out — that’s good. If only people didn’t get so hung up on the oh-so-offensive image itself and its tangent censorship dilemma, but instead focused more on the actual topic of attachment parenting. Sigh.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama was photographed being joyfully bear-hugged high up into the air by pizza joint owner Scott Van Duzer of Fort Pierce, Florida — a registered Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and planned to vote for him again in 2012. There were two major controversies surrounding the photo. There was the Republican trolling of Van Duzer’s Yelp page à la “traitor” and other nonsense. Then there was the “What were the Secret Service agents thinking?!” dilemma. That it was OK unless Van Duzer “took [Obama] away” apparently, which he didn’t. But he could have. Look at ’em guns.

Photo credit: Mary Altaffer via Huffington Post

Not to be out-done, Republican presidential candidate Paul Ryan also found himself starring in an exciting campaign photo, pictured here helping out at a soup kitchen in Ohio, helping the homeless so very hard. According to sources, most of this was very elaborately staged for a photo op. How embarrassing. Oh, did we hit a sore spot? We could have posted those snazzy workout photos, you know, but we didn’t. You know, the ones over here. Oops.

Image credit: National Enquirer

Not much to discuss here, really. Tabloid photographer slyly snags lucrative image of Whitney Houston in her coffin during her funeral ceremony and sells it to the National Enquirer. It was all a very ethically transparent endeavor, a commercial exchange typical for the industry, followed by outrage from the deceased diva’s family. The National Enquirer did the same thing to Elvis and John Lennon, the New York Post helpfully reminds you. Yes, that New York Post.

Photo credit: Max Rossi

It’s hard to pick just one of the photographs that caused a stir earlier this year by juxtaposing tourists and the half-sunk Costa Concordia — the cruise ship which capsized near a Tuscan Island and killed 32 people became a spectacle for tourists and journalists alike. This shot however… just, wow. “Nothing appears to be between the ears of the lazy sunbathers,” right? Take it away, Moz. We’re feeling mighty cynical.

Photo credit: Flickr/PM Harper via US Magazine

We saved the most controversial photo of the year for last, clearly… Just kidding. To be honest, it was a toss up between this image of Justin “White Trash Prince” Bieber meeting the Prime Minister of Canada while wearing jean overalls and Miley Cyrus’ selfies of her — GASP!!! — new Robyn hair. Bieber won.

Surely, we missed something more important, right? Drop us a line.