Danish photographer Mads Nissen has just been awarded World Press Photo of the Year 2014 for his photograph showing an intimate moment between a gay Russian couple. The selection was made after a whopping 20% of finalists were disqualified from the contest for altering their photos in a way that broke the post-processing rules.
There are two interesting aspects to this story.
The first is that 1 out of 5 possible finalists were disqualified — but when asked for their RAW files for evaluation, all but two submitted them. That implies that these people thought they were following the rules of the contest, not that they were trying to cheat the contest — and still got disqualified, indicating a strong disconnect between how the judges felt the rules should be interpreted and what the photographers thought was acceptable.
The second is the organization is taking this as a wake up call and intends to study this problem to see how their rules and guidelines need to be updated for the digital age. It’s quite clear that we’ve hit a tipping point where the “process it as if you were still shooting film” age has ended.
Interestingly enough, most of the disqualifications were for excessive toning — removing items from the image not by cloning but by taking areas of the image to whites or blacks, especially darkening shadow areas until the detail goes away.
This contest is about photo journalism: one thing that’s crucial is that the image that’s distributed accurately represents the scene that was there: once you move into the realm of photo manipulation you’re lying about the scene and the rules are intended to maintain that journalistic integrity. This is ultimately a huge subjective slippery slope: at what point do you stop improving the image and start modifying it?
Obviously, the judges and photographers disagree, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch the dialog and what changes come out of it, but I’m hoping this is a first significant step towards the end of the “did you photoshop it?” fights…