Paul Sullivan looks at some of the nebulous “industry standard” practices regarding photoshopping and journalism in the context of the World Press Photo contest disqualifying a recent winning entry.

As reported on by the New York Times and the British Journal of Photography, last week saw the World Press Photo disqualify Stepan Rudik, one of the winners of this year’s contest, after concluding that he had digitally manipulated his work.

Rudik’s disqualified entry, called “Street fighting, Kiev, Ukraine”, was shot for the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. It had won 3rd prize in Sports Features before being ruled out.

The manipulation involved removing the foot of one of the subjects in a photo, which broke the competition rule that stated: “The content of the image must not be altered. Only retouching which conforms to the currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed.”

Rudik has announced that he is not arguing with the decision of the jury and has decided to make the original photograph public in order to save his reputation as a photographer. You can see it here.

I think it’s both savvy and brave of Rudik to face up to the WPP decision in this way, but the decision itself is interesting too, in that it gives an insight into the world of photo reportage and image correction generally.

. . .it seems not to bother the WPP jury that the photo has been cropped, desaturated, vignetted and granulated to create a vastly different image to the original (in terms of appearance, if not subject or theme). They only ruled it out on the grounds that the small portion of foot was removed.

For instance if we peek at the original, it’s in all honesty a fairly average shot. The manipulated image is much more dramatic than the original, honing in on the essence of the original scene without necessarily misrepresenting the “story” Rudik wants to tell.

Yet it raises some questions: why didn’t Rudik shoot more frames, from different angles? Why didn’t he focus in on the fighter’s hand at the time? Why didn’t he even leave the foot in the final shot, since there was so much manipulation it would have been barely noticed?

Also, it seems not to bother the WPP jury that the photo has been cropped, desaturated, vignetted and granulated to create a vastly different image to the original (in terms of appearance, if not subject or theme). They only ruled it out on the grounds that the small portion of foot was removed.

Their rules about “currently accepted standards in the industry” seem a little vague don’t they? And you have to wonder what the real difference is between, say, cropping out all the other unwanted elements in the original and taking out a few cm of errant footwear. As can be seen over at Peta Pixel, the decision has opened up a whose can of worms on issues of authenticity and photographic post-processing in general.

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