Pictures of the Year International organizers have finally weighed in on the controversy surrounding Paolo Pellegrin’s prize-winning contest entry. And they dodged the issue that is central to the debate: the legitimacy of one particular documentary-like image of a subject posing with a gun in a parking garage–at Pellegrin’s request. (The subject told PDN that the image “put him in a bad light.”)
Instead, POYi addresses only the less complicated issues about the sloppiness of Pellegrin’s captions for the story.
POYi’s statement about entry, posted in the POYi Winners Gallery below Pellegrin’s story, reads as follows:
“The spirit of Pictures of the Year International is to honor photojournalists and celebrate their outstanding documentary photography. We do not probe for reasons to disqualify work. POY understands that errors may occur in captions submitted by photographers. We are happy to make corrections and acknowledge the errors. Story summaries and captions are ‘published’ when posted on the POY website. Any misunderstanding regarding self-authorship for ‘published’ captions or story summaries will be corrected by the photographer. POY affirms the awards.”
That response to the controversy is even more tepid than that of the organizers of World Press Photo, which at least addressed the guy-with-gun image directly when they issued their statement about it yesterday:
“The jury is of the opinion that although a more complete and accurate introduction and captions should have been made available by the photographer, the jury was not fundamentally mislead by the picture in the story or the caption that was included with it.”
Asked what safeguards they have in place to vet winning entries for manipulation, World Press Photo told PDN today that they reserve the right “to ask for raw files or untoned scans and consult an external photo expert to advise on possible manipulation. This analysis focuses only on technical facts.”
Rick Shaw, director of POYi, did not immediately respond to PDN’s request for an interview about the POYi statement.
But what the POYi and WPP statements about the Pellegrin entry suggest is that the photo contests are equipped by their rules to deal perfectly well with black and white issues, and less well-equipped to deal with any ethical gray areas.
It is, after all, easier to come up with guidelines about technical questions of how much image manipulation is too much, than it is to make rules about what kinds of actions on the part of a photographer might be misleading or damaging to the subject.
But until the contests are willing to take on such ethical gray areas when they arise, they’re leaving photographers a lot of room to “make things happen,” as long as it doesn’t happen in Photoshop, and as long as the captions pass a basic smell test.