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.

Mark E. Johnson

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