The 58th running of World Press Photo competition has been shrouded by controversy to say the least. Along with the announcement of the winning photos, which we reported on in early February, organizers of the event also made it clear that a whopping 20% of the total entries were disqualified due to excessive post processing.
As Lars Boering, WPP Managing Director said in an official statement: “Our contest rules clearly state that the content of the image should not be altered. This year’s jury was very disappointed to discover how careless some photographers had been in post-processing their files for the contest. ” He continued by adding that the WPP plans to the work with the international photojournalistic community in efforts to better understand the reasoning behind the heavy handed editing trend so they can help to establish a new set of standards and guidelines for the photojournalism industry as a whole.
Approximately two weeks after the winning photos were announced, the mayor of Charlenoi, a city in Belgium, where the winning photos for the “Contemporary Issues Stories” division were set, publicly asked WPP officials to disqualify the images. The mayor explained his opposition to the prize winning images by saying the photos were damaging to the citizens of his town, as well as damaging the state of modern photojournalism. The photo set titled “The Dark Heart Of Europe”, depict just that, an underground side of Europe that centers itself in part around various sex habits including BDSM and voyeurism among other things. You can see the collection here (NSFW). Additionally, you can read full coverage of the accusations in an earlier DIYP post.
Giovanni Troilo, the photographer whose images the mayor was protesting, was consequently questioned by the WPP after the mayor accused the photographer of staging the photos and creating a false reality. In particular, an image of a couple having sex in a car, while it was parked in a public (although a seemingly desolate) parking lot.
Troilo said of the image: “My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange.” He added, “It is above all a research, a realistic vision of the town by a photographer who knows it very well. I know it through my family who has been living there for 65 years. Charleroi is for me also a metaphor to talk about the European identity crisis. I believe this is definitely a “contemporary issue”.
The WPP released an additional statement on March 1st that stated WPP has decided to uphold it’s decision and Troilo’s photos would remain on the winner’s podium.
“World Press Photo is a contest for photojournalism and documentary photography, established to cover a wide range of topics, styles and practices in contemporary reporting. The contest requires photojournalists do not stage pictures to show something that would otherwise have not taken place.
Giovanni Troilo was awarded first prize in Contemporary Issues Stories for his 10-image story entitled “The Dark Heart of Europe.” The award to Troilo was questioned by the Mayor of Charleroi in a letter to World Press Photo dated 25 February 2015. The Mayor claimed Troilo’s story was a “serious distortion of reality that undermines the city and its inhabitants, as well as the profession of photojournalist.”
In response to the Mayor’s letter, World Press Photo conducted an investigation into whether the photographer had contravened journalistic ethics about staging in his work, or had mislead the contest jury. This investigation required Troilo to provide all relevant facts and background information about how his story was conceived, carried out and entered into the contest.
The process for investigating awards after they are announced requires, once the information from a photographer is obtained by World Press Photo, a discussion between the Managing Director of World Press Photo, the Chair of the General Jury and the Secretary of the General Jury. In this case, the Chair of the Documentary Jury was also consulted.
The conclusion of this investigation is that World Press Photo finds no grounds for doubting the photographer’s integrity in carrying out his work. No misleading facts have been uncovered in the caption information that was made available for the jury. As a result Giovanni Troilo’s award stands in the 2015 Photo Contest.”
In response to the aforementioned photo of the couple having sex in the car, WPP responed, “The cousin had given the photographer permission to follow him on this particular night, to observe and to photograph him having sex with a girl in public. Whether the photographer had been involved or not, the cousin had planned to have sex in the car.”
As a follow up to the official WPP statement announcing their decision on the matter, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) issued a statement of their own, which essentially called the WPP out on allowing, if not encouraging photojournalists to set up and stage scenes.
“While World Press Photo describes itself as a photojournalism and documentary photography contest, this statement seems to grant permission to photographers to set-up or stage scenes that would “ordinarily” take place.”
In the NPPA post, the organization suggests that “serious students of Ethics and Photojournalism” shall take issue with the decision made by the WPP.
In response, the WPP posted a correction to their March 1st press release the following day which apologized for any confusion the wording may have caused:
Following the statement released by World Press Photo on Sunday 1 March, a misunderstanding has prevailed in the public online discussion leading to a conclusion that the World Press Photo contest would appear to approve of staging pictures. We would like to clarify here that the intention in the statement was to point out exactly the opposite.
The line in our statement says: “The contest requires photojournalists do not stage pictures to show something that would otherwise have not taken place.” The last part of the sentence aims to define what we mean by staging; it does not aim to define an exception to a rule. Staging is defined as something that would not have happened without the photographer’s involvement. The sentence as a whole is meant to underline that it is not acceptable for contest participants to mislead by staging their pictures.
World Press Photo has not changed its contest rules regarding the professional conduct for journalists. There is no explicit mention of staging or re-enacting, but the rules state that World Press Photo requires all participants to act in accordance with the guidelines of professional conduct as laid down in the Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists of the International Federation of Journalists.
World Press Photo regrets the confusion caused by the wording of the statement.”