Following controversy that Giovanni Troilo’s winning story was staged in parts and inaccurate in others, World Press Photo investigated the claims and determined to uphold their decision to award it the Contemporary Issues prize.
One photo which the controversy focused around was of a couple having sex in a car at night, which was called into question because the headlights of the car and a flashight which illuminated the inside of the car made the photo appear staged.
“There’s been [a lot] said about the flashlight and about the lights of the car being on or not,” says Lars Boering, World Press Photo’s Director and one of the judges of the competition, “[But] we don’t know if people have the lights on or not when they do stuff like that.”
Troilo, however, admitted to TIME Magazine that he did place a place the flashlight under the couple to improve the image quality.
New photo information could disqualify
But now a different photo has been called into question (link to photo, depicts nudity), after a team of journalists investigated the story and found that at least one photo had been taken outside of Charleroi.
One of the journalists who investigated the story, Belgian photojournalist Bruno Stevens, posted on Facebook: “At least one of the Troilo ‘Charleroi’ [World Press Photo] pictures was NOT shot in or near Charleroi at all.”
“This picture was in fact shot last December in BRUSSELS, over 50km away from Charleroi! I have spoken with the main protagonist from this image, so this information is 100% verified.”
In light of this new information, Boering says they will investigate the story again.
“We will check the information, we will check the original caption, we will talk to Troilo again, we will also talk to him about the other work,” says Boering.
“To make it clear: we are looking at the whole series again, but specifically we’re looking at this photo and the information we have here.”
The original caption reads: “06 December 2014. Charleroi, Belgium. Vadim, a painter who uses live models, creates a work inspired by an existing painting.”
Boering sees the debate surrounding Troilo’s photo as part of a broader debate in photojournalism that has been going on for several years.
“Every year there’s something to talk about and that’s just a part of World Press Photo, and this year it’s a very strong debate and there’s some issues involved that need to be addressed,” says Boering, “[But] it’s also a question about: ‘What is photojournalism? What is documentary photography? What is changing, how are people changing their perspective?’ Not on photojournalism because I think that’s really clear, but the perspective on how do people look at documentary photography – and things are changing for a while now.”
“We should look at it as something that is changing – but I don’t think that talking about ethics and staging and acceptance of manipulation is changing, I mean we’ve been applauded for being strict on throwing out manipulated images.”
“But this whole thing with Troilo is so dominant right now that we have to go back to that debate later on,” says Boering.
Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and a previous judge of the World Press Photo prize Greg Marinovich, who is now the Chief Content Officer of photographic agency startup The Stand questioned the journalistic integrity of Troilo’s story in a previous interview with the World Editors Forum.
He says the new information that the photo was not taken in Charleroi, if true, “Is further evidence that these are not honest images, and it raises worrying questions about the photographer’s intentions around his mission to reveal a truth or to deceive.”
He says World Press Photo should “step back from these images”.
Blurred lines of ethics a worrying precedent
Marinovich told World Editors Forum previous to this new information that the decision to uphold the award sets a dangerous precedent for photojournalism.
“The consequences are that the World Press Photo, which is the most esteemed photo competition for photojournalism and documentary photography in the world, and has a huge reach, is saying it’s okay to fudge the lines,” said Marinovich.
“If so you’re in a heap of trouble, because how does the public know? How do our communities know that we’re telling them the truth if we don’t want to specify that this is a picture we arranged or managed as opposed to something we just captured? How on Earth does the public know and trust us, We’d have no credibility left.”
In response to claims from senior photojournalists including Marinovich, Jim Colton and Yunghi Kim that World Press Photo were blurring the lines of what is acceptable in photojournalism, Boering says that they would not deliberately blur the lines, and that the rules have not changed.
“They say it’s blurring the lines, I think it’s one of these issues that you can talk about,” says Boering.
“Where does the line get blurred? [In] their opinion it’s getting blurred – I will listen to these arguments of course, I’m not saying that I do not agree with it or I do agree with it, that’s something we have to discuss with more people than just them. Their statement is made from a strong belief in what photojournalism is, and I like them for that.”
Photos provided by World Press Photo, courtesy of Giovanni Troilo, Italy, Luz Photo.