Author Mark E. Johnson

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to Undergo First Amendment Training

In a refreshing turn, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union over police practices of questioning and detaining photographers. Members of the Sheriff’s Department will undergo new training:

The training, supplied through a newsletter detailing the LASD policy and given to all new recruits and to all deputies assigned to patrol, states that members of the public ‘have a First Amendment right to observe, take photographs, and record video in any public place where they are lawfully present” and prohibits deputies from “interfering, threatening, intimidating, blocking or otherwise discouraging’ photographers from taking photos or video unless they are violating a law.

I’d rather it not be just a newsletter …

World Press Photo Rescinds Troilo Award

In a statement moments ago, World Press Photo has revoked the first place award in the contemporary issues category given to Giovanni Troilo.

Mocking Stock

Every now and then, you need to laugh a little … so how about actor Vince Vaughn and castmates from the new film Unfinished Bsuiness posing in bad stock photos?

Visa Pour L’Image Decides Not to Show World Press Photo Winners

Jean Francois Leroy has the World Press Photo competition winners will not be shown at Visa Pour L’Image at Perpignan this year.

The photojournalists we want to represent do not call upon their cousins to fornicate in a car. The photojournalists we want to put forward do not add a flash in a humvee in order to bring to light the face of a soldier in Iraq. The photojournalists whose work we are proud to present do not ask their subject to take off their shirt, and light them up with studio equipment to make them resemble a Dutch painting. No more than they would show an Alzheimer patient’s pillbox to speak about the excess of psychiatric drugs.

… But the values we stand for are non-negotiable.

World Press Photo Controversy Continues

As if there hadn’t been enough of an issue with this year’s World Press Photo competition with the disqualification of 20% of the finalists, then the questions of staging of an image and the bungled defense of upholding the award, now there are questions about whether one of Giovanni Troilo’s images was shot in the city he claims to have documented.

It’s time, World Press Photo, to say enough. It’s time for the jurors to say they were deceived by this photographer. It’s time for the jurors to speak publicly. It’s time for all competitions to rewrite their rules.

If none of these charges against Troilo hold up over time, then so be it. But it’s time for him to step up, admit there are too many questions of credibility over these images and refuse the award.

The credibility of our field is in constant question, letting this issue fester is only worsening the situation.

It’s time to end it for the betterment of photojournalism.

World Press Photo Statement Clarification

It has been an interesting 24 hours online, hasn’t it? After Sunday’s announcement that World Press Photo was upholding an award for a photo essay that many felt crossed ethical lines, they were taken to task by myself and many others for this line:

The contest requires photojournalists do not stage pictures to show something that would otherwise have not taken place.

World Press Photo has now issues a clarification where they say that my (and nearly everyone else’s) interpretation of that statement is wrong.

The line in our statement says: “The contest requires photojournalists do not stage pictures to show something that would otherwise have not taken place.” The last part of the sentence aims to define what we mean by staging; it does not aim to define an exception to a rule. Staging is defined as something that would not have happened without the photographer’s involvement. The sentence as a whole is meant to underline that it is not acceptable for contest participants to mislead by staging their pictures.

I am happy that they have clarified their statement and am pondering rescinding parts of my statements on the value of a World Press Photo award. I still have significant issues with this particular story, specifically the inclusion of family members as I believe we need to strive for objectivity (accepting that it is a goal and not a rule).

Combined with the disqualification of 20% of the finalists in this contest, I have major concerns about the entrants and the culture that is developing in this and other photojournalism and documentary photography competitions. Perhaps I am just old fashioned, but I do believe it is our responsibility as journalists to seek truth and report it, to be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects and to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work we do.

World Press Photo Upholds Troilo Award

After an investigation into ethical concerns surrounding Giovanni Troilo’s first place award in the World Press Photo Contemporary Issue-Story category, the organization has decided to uphold the award.

Massive Editorial Statement: World Press Photo, you got this totally wrong.

How so? From their statement, here’s their justification:

World Press Photo is a contest for photojournalism and documentary photography, established to cover a wide range of topics, styles and practices in contemporary reporting. The contest requires photojournalists do not stage pictures to show something that would otherwise have not taken place.

Yes, World Press Photo has just said that in its PHOTOJOURNALISM and DOCUMENTARY photography contest, you can stage a scene.

You can recreate something you claim happened before.

You can deceive.

You can lie.

World Press Photo – that is not journalism. You want to run a photo commentary contest? So be it. You want to run a photo column contest? So be it. You want to run an interpretive art contest? So be it.

But deception and staging play no role in journalism. Absolutely none.

The phrase “documentary photography” has been co-opted over the years and, admittedly, there is a long history of “documentary photography” being staged, directed or manipulated. It shouldn’t be – the sins of W. Eugene Smith were committed in a different era. We are better than this now.

Our tools are better, our understanding is better and the expectations of our audience – to seek truth and report it, to not deceive – should make us better.

The value of a World Press Photo award has, to me, been reduced to nothing.

UPDATE: World Press Photo has issued a clarification on this statement.

Contest Reality Distortion Field

Over at Time’s Lightbox, Olivier Laurent is reporting that World Press Photo has received a letter from the mayor of Charleroi, Belgium, claiming that a set of images that won an award this year are “profoundly dishonest.”

This is getting out of hand.

The mayor’s letter goes on to analyze (Giovanni) Troilo’s photographs and captions, including one that purports to show a couple having sex in a car. Troilo submitted the image to World Press Photo with the caption: “Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons.” On his website, however, the photographer reveals that the image was set up: “My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange.”

There are, to me, four major photojournalism competitions in the world: the Pulitzer Prize, World Press Photo, the University of Missouri’s Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism.*

My suggestion: These competitions need to explicitly state that they are photojournalism competitions (which one does in its name) AND change their rules to state that any image considered to be in violation will be made available for review. How that decision is made, whether it’s through personal or technical review, needs to be spelled out.

Why use the word considered? If phrased right, it’s not a conviction of an ethical violation. Contests should be an educational tool – to show what’s the best in the industry, to show new ways of seeing and to help us understand where the limits of the business are.

It’s pretty clear that, this year, the entrants don’t know where the limts are.

* NPPA, as you probably know, is headquartered here at the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and I am a member in good standing.

Why You Hire a Professional, Presidential Aspirant Edition

This is classic – how Marvin Bush’s love of Frank Zappa ruined his brother Jeb’s wedding photos.

NPPA Eyetracking Roundup

Here are the four pieces from the National Press Photographers Association’s eye tracking research by Sara Quinn