So much depends upon a stuffed Mickey Mouse lying in the debris of a bombed-out building. In a weekend post on The New York Times site, Opinionator Errol Morris takes on distinctions between art, journalism and propaganda in “It Was All Started by a Mouse (Part 1).”

Morris looks at (and reposts) a set of images of children’s toys strewn in the rubble of Lebanon—images that some reporters and bloggers have suggested are staged. He contacts the photographers, who are all with wire services, and ends up talking at length with Ben Curtis, the Associated Press’ Chief Photographer and Photo editor for the Middle East. Curtis is very forthcoming, and interesting thoughts emerge about the challenges of still photography and storytelling.

Storyboard looked at the problem of narrative and photography very briefly in a post last month about a gallery of wire service photos from an Athens riot. But Morris does an in-depth investigation of the issue here, a kind of continuation of his earlier extended essay, “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock.”

In the “Alarm Clock” series, Morris—who won an Oscar for his spare 2004 documentary The Fog of War—comments that:

 “We should be aware of how easily we can be manipulated by photographs. There is the idea that if we follow the rules… truth pops out like ice cubes from an ice-cube tray. These essays should serve as a reminder of how complicated and convoluted the relationship between a photograph and reality can be.”

The short take? Captions are everything. But Morris merits a full read, not only for visual storytellers, but also for reporters and editors who have to mix and match news sources when pairing visuals with written stories.

[Thanks to AP photographer Evan Vucci for drawing our attention to the latest Morris post.]

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