Chalk one up for citizen journalism. A few days ago, a contributor to group blog MetaFilter posted up a link to a lovely photo feature in the New York Times Magazine of abandoned construction projects left in the wake of the financial crisis.

The images were haunting, beautiful and, unfortunately, digitally doctored, as was revealed when one eagle-eyed MetaFilter reader just couldn’t get past how perfectly symmetrical some were.

Reader “unixrat” (now known to be an American computer programmer named Adam Gurno) took this photo from the collection:

Then he cut it in half, and copied a mirror version of that half, giving him this:

“I’ll eat my hat if this is not fakery,” he wrote in the post’s comments.

Although photo-retouching is pretty standard procedure in magazines these days, this clearly went beyond smoothing out a few blemishes, and the article specifically stated that the photographer, Edgar Martins, creates his photos “without digital manipulation”.

As the story spread throughout the blogosphere, the New York Times acted quickly to pull the photos from their website, issuing the following statement:

Editors’ Note: July 8, 2009

A picture essay in The Times Magazine on Sunday and an expanded slide show on entitled “Ruins of the Second Gilded Age” showed large housing construction projects across the United States that came to a halt, often half-finished, when the housing market collapsed. The introduction said that the photographer, a freelancer based in Bedford, England, “creates his images with long exposures but without digital manipulation.

A reader, however, discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from .

Despite their above claim that “one of the pictures” was altered, New York photography blog PDN has since done a little more investigating, and found several more instances of digital trickery in the images:

The Times, to their credit, has covered the full incident in honest detail on their photojournalism blog Lens and is awaiting a full response from Martin.