This Year’s World Press Photo: Conflicts of Interest and 8% of Finalists Disqualified

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After last year’s controversy over the winner of the World Press Photo of the Year, all eyes were on the organization as they announced the winner of this year’s contest.

But while general consensus from the photo community seems to be that John Stanmeyer deserved this year’s award, talk of conflicts of interest and the high percentage of disqualifications due to photo manipulation are plaguing the contest.

The main controversy swirling around the contest has to do with a conflict of interest between the winner Stanmeyer and the chair of this year’s jury, Gary Knight. You see, both gentlemen are founders and shareholders of the limited company VII photo.

Knight told The New York Times that he actually tried to be removed from the judging process where Stanmeyer’s image was concerned, but WPP rules wouldn’t allow for it. And even though he assures the paper the he was “a hindrance for John getting the award, not a help,” much of the photo community is responding with skepticism.

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But this conflict of interests isn’t the only news to come out of this year’s WPP competition. A particularly troubling statistic has attracted some serious attention in the days since the winner was announced.

As it turns out, those stricter rules against photo manipulation that we told you about a few months back claimed a significant number of ‘victims’ this year. How significant? A whopping 8% of finalists were disqualified.

According to the Times, an outside expert was brought in to examine the RAW files, and found that 8% were “materially and substantially changed.” A finding that Knight said caused him “real horror and considerable pain because some of the changes were materially trivial but they were ethically significant.”

Last year's winner came under sever scrutiny from people who felt the photo was over-processed.

Last year’s winner came under sever scrutiny from people who felt the photo was over-processed.

Finally, Knight also made some statements while speaking to the British Journal of Photography that some say belittle the state of photography. He said he detected a “perceived lack of depth” in the stories submitted and lamented that, while the winners were great, “there was material gap in the way the world was covered and in the quantity and quality of the strong stories that we were presented with.”

This, opines Knight, is due to the few big players left who can provide photographers with adequate resources. “I’m seeing in these awards,” says Knight, “the real-life consequence of the lack of resources that photographers have to go out into the world and cover stories with any depth at all.”

Conflicts of interest, ethically significant post-processing leading to 8% of finalists disqualified and comments that make it seem as if World Press Photo believes photography as a whole might be going down hill as the major agencies become fewer and farther between… probably not the legacy this year’s competition wants to leave in its wake.

What’s your take on all of this? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know. And if you would like to read more about any of these issue, be sure to head over to the duckrabbit blog, New York Times Lens Blog and British Journal of Photography and read their phenomenal articles on the subject.

(via The New York Times and duckrabbit blog)

  • Richard

    Another factor is that many of us who subscribe to numerous photo blogs, photo sites, individual feeds, and more are inundated with work 24/7. In the “old days” it was easier to sort things out, now it’s a huge pool that contains plenty of great work surrounded by, well, less than great work. I don’t know about the rest of you but my eyes are coming out of my head already.

  • sean lancaster

    Yep. On any given day I can visit the Explored photos on Flickr and find simply outstanding images. There’s a lot of mediocrity as well, but the stunning images show up in droves each day. Seeing greatness from regular people tends to desensitize many people to the top images limited to “press” only, for example.

  • Stephen

    I’d like to hear a lot more about this Venn overlap between “materially trivial” and “ethically significant.” Are we talking about cloning and healing, or dodging and burning? Are global edits “ethically significant”?

    At some point we have to acknowledge that developing photos has always involved some degree of art. You choose to use this chemical over that, you time something differently, etc. There’s no question Photoshop and Lightroom make actual substantive edits easier and therefore more widespread, but it’s equally true that the exercise of judgment during development doesn’t become “ethically significant” merely because it’s done electronically.

    I’d be interested to see an actual breakdown of what we’re talking about. Which photos were altered, and how?

  • Richard

    I was tossing all of it into the same pool. I gave up on Flickr Explore many years ago: I don’t trust social networking to come up with great images. You might find this interesting (or not):

    Written and posted in 2007 but I think it holds up.

  • DLCade

    According to the New York Times:

    “An outside expert studied the raw and jpeg files and found evidence indicating that information had been removed through cloning or extreme toning”

  • Eric Schmadel

    I felt this way when we all went digital and the internet exploded. When I shot film and processed it myself, I felt like I was a solid photographer. It was like I posessed a skill that few people were able to do the same way. Then Flickr came along and I realized that I was a lucky slob with with a staff job and a couple of awards on my resumé and that there were a thousand people out there that could do my job just as well for half the salary.

  • Joshua Morin

    “And even though he assures the paper the he was “a….

  • Renato Murakami

    Sounds like the shitfest that happens after photo contests and prizes is becoming an enduring tradition much like the contests themselves…

  • Rabi Abonour

    Seriously – WPP just feels like a joke these days. I’ll stick with POYi (which certainly isn’t perfect, either).

  • sean lancaster

    You seem to be making up an argument that doesn’t pertain to what I said. I don’t doubt the system can be gamed or that it doesn’t capture all the best images or whatever. What I said is that on any given days, the 500 Explored images will contain some very awesome shots. Sure, it also contains some crap (or mediocrity as I noted above), but that’s not my point. Some of the images are stunning. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Richard

    I agree sean, there are some great images in Explore. And, there are many stunning images that don’t make explore. Explore, as a “feature” is or questionable value for finding those stunning images. There are other ways.

  • Cookiepus

    Its only fair to state that last years winner -Paul Hansen’s pic of the funeral, was cleared of photo manipulation.
    He took a lot of crap online – for no reason.

  • MMielech

    “According to the Times, an outside expert was brought in to examine the RAW files, and found that 8% were “materially and substantially changed.” ”

    Where does one start with that statement. Well, first, suppose the photographer submitted the jpeg processed within the camera from the raw image? Is that cool? And, if it is, the judges are saying that the Nikon or Canon or Fuji conversion is more valid than a photographer’s handiwork in Lightroom and maybe Photoshop when it comes to color prep? Who writes these rules? Really. I would love to see them written in a very concise list of dos and don’ts.

    Eugene Smith is spinning in his grave. Somebody go back and and check out his images from Minamata, published in Life magazine. Plenty of darkroom work in those images. Nobody seemed to mind then.

  • Matt

    Yep, it can hurt when a novice with a camera phone gets a better image. Sometimes it is the old a million monkies with a camera can make a great image. But, also, freeing from the technical aspects can make a better artist.
    Is that bad? I don’t think so. I still have a lot of fun, but I could think differently if it was my livelyhood.

  • Matt

    I agree with you both. Some incredible images are being made. It is a great time.

  • Bill McKenzie

    Bang on!