Africa Geographic has just disqualified Björn Persson, its 2019 Photographer of the Year. His photo of an elephant named Tim won this year’s contest. However, the judges later discovered that the image doesn’t accurately reflect Tim’s look. It turned out that Persson overdid it with photo manipulation, so he’s been stripped of his award and a new contest winner has been announced.
According to the official announcement, certain rips and tears in Tim’s ears are edited so that they’re “not being accurately reflected” in Persson’s photo. When looking at the image, you may think “but it’s obviously heavily edited,” considering its style and mood. Africa Geographic writes that the judges noticed it as well, and commented on it. Still, they feel that it’s acceptable because it adds a “mystical dimension to Tim, a sense of fantasy and legend.”
As for the post-processing work done on Tim’s ears, the judges didn’t pick it up immediately. But when they did, they decided that it goes beyond acceptable. The decision was made based on the following contest rule:
“Entries should be a faithful representation of the original scene. Localised adjustments should be used appropriately. The objective is to remain faithful to the original experience, and to never deceive the viewer or misrepresent the reality.”
After he was disqualified, Persson defended that the heavy editing job on Tim’s ears was unintentional. He said that it was a mistake which occurred while he was cleaning up the image. The judges have accepted his explanation, but they stick to the decision of disqualifying his photo. Africa Geographic has already announced a new winner, Eraine van Schalkwyk.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a contest winner gets disqualified after the contest. My favorite case ever is the Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner who submitted a photo of a stuffed anteater. In these situations, people wonder why judges don’t pay closer attention while choosing the winners. It would help us avoid scandals like this. Africa Geographic CEO Simon Espley explained:
“We are gutted to have missed this detail about the rips in Tim’s ears, but take comfort that few people have the depth of knowledge about Tim to pick up on that level of detail. That said, we will take this on the chin and improve our systems going forward.”