In the days since World Press Photo announced that 20 percent of the photographs they considered in the final rounds of the competition were disqualified for manipulation, many in the industry have called for WPP to release the offending images and make their standards more clear. In comments by jurors, WPP administrators and photographers published on the New York Times Lens Blog, 2015 competition jury chair and New York Times director of photography Michelle McNally noted that the manipulations led “many in the jury to feel we were being cheated, that they were being lied to.” World Press Photo jury secretary David Campbell notes that newspaper and wire service photographers get fired when they are caught manipulating news photos: “Narciso Contreras and Miguel Tova have lost their jobs because of manipulations that crossed the one line we can draw.”
These reactions beg the question: If World Press Photo is a reflection of the photojournalism industry, should photographers who attempted to deceive jurors—and the public—be banned from the competition? After all, newspaper and wire services have fired photographers who manipulated images.
According to World Press Photo managing director Lars Boering, the organization is not currently planning to ban any photographers who submitted manipulated images to the competition. “I might discuss that with the board and the team that is organizing the competition,” he told PDN, adding that “a lot” of the disqualified photos were cases of “clumsy” Photoshop use rather than blatant attempts to deceive competition judges.
World Press Photo rules state: “The content of an image must not be altered. Only retouching that conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed.” In her statement on Lens, McNally clarified that the manipulation the jurors disqualified included “removing or adding information to the image, for example, like toning that rendered some parts so black that entire objects disappeared from the frame. The jury—which was flexible about toning, given industry standards — could not accept processing that blatantly added or removed elements of the picture.”
The organization is very aware that manipulation accusations can deal huge blows to the careers of photojournalists, Boering says, which is why they are keeping confidential the names of photographers who were disqualified—despite calls for more transparency. “If people get caught by agencies, then they are thrown out, and I know it’s difficult for these people to get back to work or find other agencies, so that’s a serious thing,” Boering explains. “If an agency makes that decision it’s up to them because that’s their rules. We organize a competition; we care a lot about photojournalism and visual journalism, but…I don’t think we should be the ones that decide on the careers of photographers, and whether they should be ruled out of competitions with others or whether they should lose their job with their agency.”
“We’re not going to put their names out unless we think it’s really severe what they’ve done,” Boering adds. “It might be that we think about talking to them about the way they go about it.”
Boering said WPP had today sent notices to the disqualified photographers presenting their evidence and explaining their decisions. He says the organizations has received one or two responses from photographers accepting the decision.
It’s more important to WPP that this controversy sends a message to photojournalists and the industry, sparks discussion and, hopefully, a resolution, Boering says. “Technology makes a lot of things possible, but it makes it possible to find things…. The technicians that do our research, they’ve showed me several examples of things that you can do and I think it’s amazing.”
Boering says he’s heard from people at agencies and news organizations, and others in the photo industry in the past few days. World Press Photo is planning “several debates” starting on the day of the awards presentation, that he hopes will help the “find common ground with the industry to get it right.”
Related: Mads Nissen Wins World Press Photo of the Year 2014 Prize
AP Cuts Ties with Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image
Photographer Fired by AP Says Decision Was Fair, But Process Wasn’t