World Press Photo rejects 20% of final-round entries due to manipulation

When [post-processing] meant a material addition or subtraction in the content of the image, it lead to the images being rejected from the contest…. [T]he jury rejected 20 percent of those entries that had reached the penultimate round of the contest and were therefore not considered for prizes.” World Press Photo Managing Director Lars Boering

The 2015 World Press Photo awards have just been announced, and this looks to be a great year. I haven’t had a chance to go through all of the winners, but it’s nice to see some familiar names in the mix (Glenna Gordon, Andy Rochelli, Lu Guang, Sergey Ponamarev) alongside winners from around the world.

In the announcement of this year’s awards, however, there was a fascinating section on “Integrity of the entries.” Photographers whose work advance to the final round of judging must provide unedited files to the jury to verify the integrity of their images. World Press Photo Managing Director Lars Boering said that 20% of those final round images had to be disqualified from the contest due to “careless post-processing” that led to “a material addition or subtraction in the content of the image.” That’s an eye-opening statistic and sad to hear. Whatever credibility photojournalism has (and it might not be much in the eyes of the viewing public) depends on a commitment to truth and integrity in an image. While those are nebulous concepts–Aristotle, Aquinas, Russell, and other philosophers have been arguing about this for centuries–I think most would agree that “material addition or subtraction” from a still frame is a blatant affront to viewers and to the truth. We should all be alarmed that twenty percent of final-round images had some element of outright fabrication. We don’t have numbers for previous years to compare rejection rates, but this announcement is still sobering.

World Press Photo has taken some heat over the years for awarding apparent photo manipulation. Most recently, there was controversy over Paul Hansen’s 2013 Photo of the Year winning image of two Palestinian children killed in an Israeli airstrike. While that image never struck me as being manipulated, World Press Photo took the criticism to heart. The contest now requires original files for final round images. The organization now also wishes to become a think tank of sorts, providing research and guidance in the industry on this and other subjects. Last year, for instance, World Press Photo published a paper by David Campbell titled “The Integrity of the Image.” Here’s a direct pdf link to that paper.

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