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.