Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin suddenly found himself under intense scrutiny in the photo blog world after a picture he took in Rochester, NY that won him 2nd at POYi, 2nd at WPP and 1st as Photographer Of The Year (I’ve omitted the various sub categories for these awards) was deemed to not show what it purports to show by Michael Shaw and co-contributors at BagNewNotes.
If you haven’t already been down the rabbit hole I will give you the short version (and links if you wish to have several hours of your time evaporate online). Paolo and several other Magnum photographers visited Rochester, NY last April as part of their “House of Photos” series where they collaborate and document something. The purpose I believe (and applaud) is to push the envelope, hang out together to create, and flex the Magnum muscles for potential clients. The award winning image in question was made as Paolo photographed a piece on The Crescent section of Rochester where drugs and violence can be found. The subject of the image was a photojournalism student at RIT who disputes what the caption says, what the picture depicts and how it was used. The student contacted his former Ethics and Photojournalism professor at RIT who consults with Michael on BagNewsNotes where they determined that Paolo had committed misidentification and plagiarism. The misidentification was that the person in the image was not a former Marine Corps sniper, just a former Marine and that he was not in The Crescent but miles away in his parking garage in the suburbs. The plagiarism is a description that accompanied the image that was lifted from a 10 year old New York Times article. Finally, there is allusion, in the subjects description to how this all came about, that the shot was staged. That a picture of this type was needed to tell the story, so they went out and found it.
In a press release and in several interviews Paolo disputes parts of this. He admits to lifting the description and says it was never intended to be published, but simply provided as information for news organizations who might publish the images. He says he may have misheard the subject or the subject misspoke leading him to write the sniper caption. And the caption was not The Crescent but that was the name of the project he was working on. The caption was Rochester, NY, USA. Regarding the setting up of the image, Paolo simply says that it was a portrait like any other he makes in the course of storytelling (i.e. setup).
I believe Paolo Pellegrin has been very sloppy with his journalism here, but my idea of sloppy is someone else’s libel. I say this because I would categorize the magazines I’ve worked at as “infotainment.” Journalism co-mingling with entertainment and things the advertisers made us do. Which brings me to the point of writing about this whole mess. Photojournalism needs leadership. Photojournalism needs magazines, contests, blogs and photographers who lead by example and practice exceptional journalism. If there’s anything to be outraged about, it’s that one of photojournalism’s brightest stars is sloppy and thinks it’s not a big deal.
Here are the links:
Paolo’s statement released to NPPA:
Jim Colton calls it Photo Contest Bashing, That Time Of Year:
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle