There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Photoshop manipulation of images. It is a never ending debate–what is allowable, appropriate, ethical, etc. As a photographer whose work is mostly rooted in the visually tangible world, I avoid altering images, and I crop minimally. It is an unstated, but understood, agreement with myself and with my viewers. But at the same time I am well aware of the tenuous hold on reality that any photograph has. For me, that dichotomy between the real and the unreal is integral to what makes photography compelling. Veracity is another issue. It may be dependent on adherence to certain norms, but it is not, in the end, always as clear cut as people think, or wish it to be.
The latest issue, involves the disqualification of a winner in the World Press Photo contest, an annual event held in Amsterdam, which showcases the best of photojournalism. The controversy involves the Ukrainian photographer Stepan Rudik who won third prize in sports features for his pictures of “street fighting.” Because of past questions about the honesty of digital images, this year photographers were required to furnish the RAW files–digital negatives–downloaded directly from cameras. These could then be compared with the final submitted images. The basic rules being that traditional darkroom manipulation is allowed (cropping, dodging and burning), but not digital cloning or removing unwanted distractions.
Here’s the silliness we end up with:
Rudik’s winning submission
Rudik’s original uncropped, unconverted RAW image
Rudik’s cropped image with no other changes
What disqualified Rudik was not the cropping, not the converting to black and white, not the digitally introduced grain, not the heavy burning of the margins of the image. The photo was disqualified because a bit of extraneous detail–someone’s foot–seen between the fighter’s thumb and forefinger was cloned out.
I’m not going to defend Rudik who should have known better, or should have consulted the rules more carefully. Contests like World Press Photo, however, routinely reward photographs for calculated affect, false sentiment, misleading context, you name it. To their credit, they seek to honor those who, in many cases, risk their lives to report on conflicts around the globe, but so often end up promoting aesthetic cliches over less mediated documents, and in doing so, create the the problem that led to Stepan Rudik’s disqualification.
Full story and discussion here.