World Press Photo judge: Too few photographers, too little editing

World Press Photo | The New York Times | British Journal of Photography | BagNews

World Press Photo's Photo of the Year isn't a hard-news shot: It's a John Stanmeyer image that shows people in Africa raising their cell phones in search of a signal from a neighboring country.

African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia—a tenuous link to relatives abroad. Djibouti is a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East. (John Stanmeyer, USA, VII for National Geographic)

But Stanmeyer's "win was overshadowed by the disclosure that 8 percent of the finalists’ images were disqualified because information had been removed after processing," James Estrin writes in The New York Times.

An outside expert studied the raw and jpeg files and found evidence indicating that information had been removed through cloning or extreme toning, said Gary Knight, the jury chairman. He said it was obvious that the offending images were “materially and substantially changed.”

Knight told Olivier Laurent of the British Journal of Photography that in contrast to previous years, "most of these important stories were photographed by very few photographers. You didn’t have depth in each issue and each event.” Editing was also lacking, Knight said:

"If you look at the organisations that have won awards – National Geographic, The New York Times, AP, AFP and Reuters – it’s evident that there’s very few [institutions] left that can still afford to provide resources to photographers. I’m seeing in these awards the real-life consequence of the lack of resources that photographers have to go out into the world and cover stories with any depth at all.”

Knight told Estrin he'd asked to be removed from the final judging because he and Stanmeyer founded the agency VII, but the contest's rules "did not allow for it," Estrin writes. But Knight's "lament and warning about the dominating impact of 'Big Photo' is, in my mind, the largest story to come out of World Press Photo 2014," a post on BagNews reads.

If the industry is so weak, and the (independent) photographers are so scarce, and the subject matter by non-corporate entities so thin, I’m less worried about Mr. Knight of VII voting for Mr. Stanmeyer of VII, than Mr. Knight voting for Mr. Stanmeyer, who has been shooting for National Geographic for a decade.

Some more winning shots (all captions via World Press Photo):

Police arrive at a crime scene where two bodies hang from a bridge; another three are on the floor. They had been killed by organized crime in Saltillo, Coahuila, in retaliation against other criminal groups. Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. (Christopher Vanegas, Mexico, La Vanguardia / El Guardían)
As the fight continued to rage, Shane told Maggie that she could choose between getting beaten in the kitchen, or going with him to the basement so they could talk privately. Lancaster, US. (Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, USA, for Time)
A five-year-old bonobo turns out to be the most curious individual of a wild group of bonobos near the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite being humans’ closest living relatives, little is known about Bonobos and their behavior in the wild in remote parts of the Congo basin. Bonobos are threatened by habitat loss and bush meat trade. (Christian Ziegler, Germany, for National Geographic Magazine)

Previously: World Press Photo: ‘No evidence of significant photo manipulation’ in award-winning shot

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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