World Press Photo Looks To Change Contest Rules For Retouching

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The controversy that erupted this summer over the World Press Photo award winning image taken by Paul Hansen has forced the organization to examine their contest rules. In a press release on October 2nd announcing contest chair Gary Knight, Managing Director Michiel Munneke explained: “We have evaluated the contest rules and protocols and examined how to create more transparency, and we have changed the procedures for examining the files during the judging. We will announce further details when the 2014 Photo Contest opens for entries later this year, but the bottom line is that we will need to be able to rely on the integrity and professionalism of the participating photographers.”

Relying on the integrity of photographers is fine when it comes to the level of manipulation where things are added and removed from images, but the larger issue is that World Press Photo in the past has allowed the jury to decide what it deems “currently accepted standards in the industry” for retouching. And this opaque rule is what allowed a mob to form and go after Paul Hansen in the first place. Here are their rules for retouching at the time:

The contest entry rules state that the content of the images must not be altered. Only retouching which conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury will consider what they deem acceptable in each category during the judging

I hope that an organization with the reputation of World Press Photo will tell the world what these “currently accepted standards” are and set an example for newspapers, magazines and other contests. Despite the finger wagging of publications like PDN (ironically pushing over a dozen photo contests of their own) at the mob’s accusations towards Paul, the problem lies not with the blogger’s headlines, but rules that leave photographers hanging out to dry when questions arise.

The darkroom is long gone and a RAW image can have many different interpretations as it’s brought to life on the computer screen. Expecting photographers to not produce contest winning interpretations when entering World Press Photo is folly.

There Are 10 Comments On This Article.

  1. DC Photographer

    As with many other contemporary issues where there is no discernible “line in the sand” where one could say that an image is too processed, why not create a line in the sand? One way would be to allow any post-processing, excluding moving or deleting parts of an image, or adding elements that were not part of the original image.

    This should make clear that the judging of contests are exactly that: subjective preferences of judges. I don’t see any way to enact and apply rules that address nebulous “currently accepted standards in the industry.”

  2. All images are manipulated, even when they appear in the press e.g. the cropping of Nick Ut’s famous photograph of children feeling napalm. My question is, what is the contest? It is “World Press Photo…” Therefore, I suggest holding the “press” in the title to be the standard. The photo submitted for the competition must be the same as the photograph presented editorially on publication, possibly pending review of the publication’s editorial standards and also of the RAW file. Just a suggestion.

    • exactly. i always wondered why they would allow a different edit than the one(s) already published at all. if they were true to the name they would only accept tearsheets / screenshots anyway.

  3. I think that is something that we all look forward to. Change is good if that is for a greater contest then all of us can accept it.