February 27th, 2013

POYi Punts on Pellegrin Controversy

©Paolo Pellegrin

©Paolo Pellegrin

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.

Related:
World Press Hits Pellegrin with Wet Noodle (And Other Contest Scandals)

Paolo Pellegrin and His Subject at Odds Over Photograph

February 26th, 2013

World Press Hits Pellegrin with Wet Noodle (And Other Contest Scandals)

Last week, debate erupted over an image Paolo Pellegrin had entered as part of a portfolio that won prizes at both the World Press Photo and Pictures of the Year International competitions. He had apparently cribbed his captions from the New York Times, misidentified the subject of the photo in question, and while he didn’t exactly set up the photo–he arguably created what appears to be a documentary photograph of a tough guy brandishing a gun in a bad neighborhood.

As BagNews Notes first reported, Pellegrin had asked the subject, a college student and the friend of his fixer, to pose for portraits at a local shooting range. The subject, Shane Keller, told PDN Pulse that as he walked to his car with the gun, Pellegrin took advantage of the harsh light in the gritty-looking parking garage to make a picture for a larger story about the underside of Rochester, New York.

Today, World Press photo organizers issued a statement that said, “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.”

Officially, POYi has so far remained silent about the image, although one juror told PDN last week that he was “satisfied by Paolo Pellegrin’s explanation” about the image.

The big photojournalism competitions are supposed to be about celebrating great work and top talent, but this year’s contests have been overshadowed somewhat by charges of manipulation and the ensuing debate over what crosses ethical lines.

What ends up getting disqualified, and what ends up doing real harm, are arguably not always the same thing.

The White House News Photographer’s Association just rescinded Washington Post photographer Tracy Woodward’s Award of Excellence in the Sports Feature/Reaction category of The Eyes of History competition. WHNPA said it rescinded the award because “digital manipulation that was in violation of the contest rules.” Woodward had cleaned up background distractions in the image, which showed a high school wrestler celebrating after a match victory. NPPA reported the incident in detail on its Web site yesterday.

Meanwhile, debate about the Pellegrin image continues to simmer. Photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke posted a sharp critique of Pellegrin’s actions yesterday. “This controversy is no longer about poor, misleading or ‘lifted’ captions,” Jarecke wrote. “This is now about a self-proclaimed ‘documentary’ photographer who manipulates people and uses them as props to illustrate a story narrative he’s made up in his head. I thought these issues had been worked out by now. You don’t use people for props. You don’t manipulate them into doing things they aren’t doing and you don’t ask them to pose for you and then pretend it’s a situation that you’ve happened upon.”

Anticipating an onslaught by Pellegrin’s many defenders, Jarecke concludes his post: “Sling your rocks and arrows below. Please don’t hesitate to remind me that I’m old and outdated, and thus have no idea what I’m talking about.”

There was also some controversy early last week about the World Press Photo of the Year winner, an image showing  a parade of mourners carrying the dead bodies of two children in Gaza. The image was shot by Paul Hansen of the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Some critics took him to task for the dark toning he applied to the image before he entered it in the World Press Photo competition. The version originally published by Dagens Nyheter had lighter tone and slightly different cropping.

WPP photo jury chair Santiago Lyon told Jim Estrin of The New York Times Lens Blog that the jury had examined the image for post processing and decided that Hansen’s photo was “within the acceptable industry parameters.” He added: “Everybody has different standards about these sorts of things, but as a group we felt that it was O.K.”

That didn’t stop the hand wringing, but at the time, it was all that armchair ethicists had to work with. Through the lens of the more recent controversy, what Hansen did now seems quaint and, if not forgiven, at least forgotten.

February 22nd, 2013

Paolo Pellegrin and His Subject At Odds Over Photograph

Pellegrin-Shane-Keller

© Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

In response to allegations that he staged a photograph and plagiarized captions for his prize-winning story about the underside of Rochester, New York, Paolo Pellegrin has defended the work in a statement distributed by Magnum, his agency. The full text of the statement is below.

On the BagNews Notes blog, Pellegrin was accused of staging the photo shown above and plagiarizing the captions for the story, which recently won prizes in both the World Press Photo and POYi competitions. In the POYi competition, Pellegrin was named Freelance Photographer of the Year for a portfolio of images that included the Rochester story, called “The Crescent. Rochester USA 2012.” The Crescent is a section of Rochester where crime rates are high.

The subject of the photograph in question, Shane Keller, told PDN that he raised questions about the photograph in an e-mail to Loret Steinberg, a professor Keller had while studying photography at RIT. Steinberg approached Michael Shaw, editor of the BagNews Notes blog, who posted an article that quoted extensively from Keller’s original e-mail.

Keller told PDN today that it is not clear that the photo was staged. Pellegrin had asked him to pose for portraits with firearms, and Keller agreed to do that. Keller went on to say that he’s not sure he was in the act of posing for the portraits when Pellegrin took the photograph above.

“It looks like he happened to be there, in the right place, at the right moment. It looks like spot news photograph,” says Keller, who now lives in Dover, Pennsylvania. “It’s in a gray area, where if we don’t view it as a portrait photograph, then it’s on the gray line: Would it be considered a staged photograph?”

Brett Carlsen, a friend and former RIT classmate, was on the scene as Pellegrin’s assistant. He told PDN that Pellegrin had asked Carlsen to help him find gun owners to photograph in Rochester. “He was trying to find the underbelly of Rochester. He wanted to look at gun culture, and [photograph] gun owners,” Carlsen says.

Carlsen knew that Keller had guns, and called him up to ask on Pellegrin’s behalf if they could come over to take pictures. After shooting some portraits against a wall in Keller’s apartment, Pellegrin asked if he could photograph them at a shooting range where Keller was a member.

Keller says he agreed, and that Pellegrin asked if he could take more portraits once they entered the garage attached to Keller’s residence. According to Carlsen, when they entered the garage, “The light caught [Keller], Paolo told me to get out of the way, and he started taking pictures.”

Keller believes the photograph misrepresents him, and he would like to see it removed from the series.

“What bothered me more [then the question of whether it was staged] was my being associated with the Rochester Crescent. I lived in a nice and safe neighborhood. That photograph goes with a story talking about the gang and drug violence. It’s associating me with these problems in Rochester, when in reality I had nothing to do with that situation. It paints me in a bad light. I don’t look at a photograph of person with a firearm and assume they’re a bad person, but in a collection of other photographs about violence and drug issues, it paints me in a bad light.”

But Carlsen sees it differently. He acknowledged that Keller doesn’t live in a violent, crime-ridden area, but he lives a few minutes’ drive away, Carlsen says. Pellegrin’s images, he continues, “Shows that people keep guns to keep violence out of their homes. From an ethics standpoint, I think it fits. I don’t see a problem. Those  guns are in [Keller's] house to keep other people in the story out of his house.”

Pellegrin did not respond directly to a request for an interview, but the statement he provided through Magnum is reproduced below:

I’m sorry that Michael Shaw, Loret Steinberg and Shane Keller don’t like
my pictures from Rochester.  It’s not uncommon for people living in a
community to disagree with an outsider’s take. We all know that.  They
find my work “heavy handed.”  I found many of the things I witnessed in
Rochester shocking.  Part of a documentary photographer’s job is
sometimes revealing things that local elites would rather not have
discussed quite so openly.  In my experience, it was particularly true
in Rochester that certain portions of the population were disinclined to
have an open conversation about race, poverty and crime.

Shane doesn’t like the caption of the portrait I made of him.  (He does
acknowledge, however, that this picture was a portrait, and I’ve never
indicated otherwise.)  Here is the caption for that picture:
“Rochester, NY, USA.  A former US Marine corps sniper with his weapon.”
Shane agrees that he is a former Marine and that he is standing with his
weapon in Rochester.  My firm recollection is that Shane described
himself that day as a sniper.  He may have misspoken; I may have
misunderstood; or he may have used the word “sniper” in a manner that
was not meant to imply formal status as a Marine Corps Sniper (he spoke
for a long time about sniping).  In any event, if Shane was not actually
a Sniper in the Marine Corps the caption should be changed to read
“Rochester, NY, USA.  A former US Marine Corps member with his weapon.”

Shane also points out that I took his portrait.  This is true, and his
account of how we were introduced by Brett, who was assisting me, is
also substantially accurate.  I had been spending the majority of my
time riding along with the Rochester police in the Crescent and
otherwise interacting with the community there.  I approached the work
through a combination of reportage, portraiture, and even landscapes.  I
also realized that to tell more fully the story of gun violence in
Rochester, as exemplified by what I was seeing in the Crescent, I wanted
to make some portraits of gun aficionados.  Like any journalist, I
worked with my assistant to locate such people, and Shane was one of the
people we located.  I think his portrait, and even his reaction to it,
add an interesting dimension to the story.  Shane thinks he and his guns
have nothing to do with the violence in the Crescent; I disagree.  (For
what it’s worth, there is no firm agreement in Rochester as to what
constitutes the “Crescent;” it sometimes seems to be a conceptual
designation as much as  a geographical one.  I actually didn’t know
where precisely Brett had driven me to meet Shane, which is one of the
reasons I captioned the picture simply, “Rochester.”)

I have no idea why Shaw et al. appear to think there is something wrong
with making a portrait, or that making a portrait is not “authentic”.
As photojournalists, we make portraits all the time.  Are my portraits
from Gaza any less “authentic” because they’re portraits?  Of course
not.  It’s ridiculous.

There is one element of the Bag News Notes story that is worthy of
discussion in the face of a changing photojournalistic landscape,
however:  The relationship between my captions, such as, “Rochester, NY,
USA.  A former US Marine corps sniper with his weapon,” and the
background text about the story that accompanies them.  Traditionally,
when photographers like me produced work freelance, our agencies – in my
case, Magnum – would distribute the photographs to publications with a
background or “distro” text and a series of captions.  The captions were
meant for publication; the distro text was for editors, who, if they
took the work, would assign a writer to produce a text that would
accompany the captioned pictures.

In Rochester, I produced the work directly as part of a collaborative,
freelance project with a number of my colleagues, and the work ended up
winning awards without ever having been mediated by the English-language
press.  (Some of the work did appear in Zeit in Germany, although
Shane’s picture did not.)  Thus, my photo captions are accompanied on
the World Press Photo and POYi sites by the kind of background text that
ordinarily would not be published. (Zeit, for instance, didn’t publish
it.)  This distinction between captions and background information is,
in my mind, quite important.

My picture captions are my authored work, based on my individual work in
the field, and I stand fully behind them.  (If a small correction
sometimes needs to be made — like clarifying that Shane was a Marine
but not a sniper in the Marine Corps — so be it.)

The background text, which traditionally would be for internal uses, and
not for the public, is something I gathered from various sources in
Rochester and from the internet, including the New York Times.  Factual
background sentences like, “The Crescent is home to 27 percent of the
city’s residents and 80 percent of the city’s homicides” are frequently
repeated in the neighborhoods I was working in; I believe I first
encountered the statement in connection with the House of Mercy and the
amazing Sister Grace, with whom I spent a considerable amount of time.
(The sentence is on House of Mercy’s facebook page, for instance.)  I
confirmed my background information in various interviews with the
Rochester police, the House of Mercy, and many others – but that doesn’t
change the fact that it was intended as background information, i.e.,
the starting point for someone else’s authored work.  I’m a
photographer, and I produced a body of photographic work.

Looking at the presentation on the World Press Photo and POYi sites, I
do regret the formulation, “where these pictures were taken” in the
background text in relation to Shane’s picture.  Shane’s picture is not
captioned the Crescent, and I wouldn’t have captioned it the Crescent,
because I wasn’t sure it was taken there (as stated above:  I wasn’t
sure exactly where in Rochester Brett had driven me to meet Shane).  I
captioned the picture “Rochester, NY, USA.”  But the juxtaposition with
the background text is confusing and should be fixed.  The story is
about the Crescent, and I continue to believe that Shane’s picture tells
an important part of the story about Rochester, guns, and gun violence
(whether Shane agrees or not), but I don’t want there to be any
confusion.  For purposes of clarity, I don’t have any problem with the
picture itself, how it was made, or its inclusion in my story.

One final thought:  Neither Shaw, Steinberg nor Keller ever attempted to
contact me.  They do not quote Brett, anyone in the Crescent, the police
officers I spent so much time with, etc.  It seems somewhat strange to
me that while mounting a purported journalistic high horse they
themselves did not follow the basic tenets of fair and professional
journalism.

February 19th, 2013

Paolo Pellegrin named POYi Freelance Photographer of the Year

©Paolo Pellegrin

©Paolo Pellegrin

Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin has been named Freelance Photographer of the Year at the Picture of the Year International competition. Runners up were Tomas Munita, the second place winner, and third place winner Paolo Marchetti.

Pellegrin’s portfolio of 50 images included selections from projects that mostly explore the wrenching consequences of economic hardship and political and military tensions. The projects include a story about the underside of Miami, for which Pellegrin rode along on police patrols; a crime-ridden section of Rochester, New York (ditto);  recent political changes in Cuba, and two separate stories about Gaza–including one about the effects of the Israeli blockade, the other about the lingering consequences of Israel’s attacks on the territory in 2008 and 2009..

The portfolio is a study in the type of photography for which Pellegrin is well-known: unflinching reportage combined with layered, poetic images that blur the lines between documentary and art.

In other POYi Freelance Division categories judged last week, Javier Monzano won first place in News Picture Story–Freelance/Agency for his coverage of the siege of Aleppo, Syria.

Paolo Marchetti won first place for Issue Reporting Picture Story for his project about the deplorable conditions in juvenile prisons in Latin America.

Photographer David Chancellor won the World Understanding Award for his project called Hunters, about big game safaris in Africa. It explores “the complex relationship that exists between man and animal, the hunter and the hunted, as both struggle to adapt to our changing environments.”

Photographer Arnau Bach won the Community Awareness Award for his project called Paris Suburbs, exploring conditions behind the social unrest in the city’s poorest and most segregated suburbs.

Brett Stirton of Getty Images won the Environmental Awareness award for his story about the illegal ivory trade, including its causes and consequences.

POYi jurors will select Editing Division winners this week, and conclude with Multimedia Division winners next week.

Related:
Ezra Shaw Named POYI Sports Photographer of the Year
Paul Hansen of Dagens Nyheter Wins POYi Newspaper Photographer of the Year
Associated Press Wins Top Portrait Prizes at POYi
POYi Announces Campaign, Spot News, and Feature Category Winners