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.