Leadership Looks Like World Press Photo

Leadership Looks Like World Press Photo

I have been very critical of World Press Photo’s response to many years of photo contest controversy (here, here, here). WPP has had a number of missteps – not necessarily for lack of trying – but because manipulation and ethics are slippery, and quite frankly it didn’t feel like they wanted to lead on these issues. Thus, the response to the various controversies necessarily felt reactive.


In March, I made the following suggestions:

  • Convene a panel of photojournalists from around the world to form an ethics committee. This is a modestly compensated group with rotating seats to ensure continuity from year to year. This group is responsible for 1) creating a methodology for investigating and resolving ethical issues, 2) issue rulings when winners come into question, and 3) liaise with other major photojournalism contests to work towards a unified understanding of ethics.
  • Release the tools and criteria for determining disqualified images
  • Alter the terms of the contest so that rejected images can be published for educational purposes
  • Create a set of visual guidance on what is and is not allowed based on real news photos
  • If the aforementioned seems too onerous, then rename simply rebrand: World Photos.

Today, World Press Photo:

  • Released its first code of ethics based on 17 consultations with photographers, editors and publishers around the world.
  • Released four videos that provide visual guidance of acceptable and unacceptable manipulation
  • Published a Judging Procedures Handbook
  • Implemented a five day verification process (including a manipulation review) after the jury decision to fact-check the winners
  • Announced the launch of an online channel that Time reports “will commission and curate new work, report on the opportunities and challenges of photojournalism, conduct analyses and lead debate.”

They did not, however, change their name.

I am not suggesting that any of my past criticisms have anything to do with the positive changes they have made. And quite honestly, it doesn’t matter. All the suggestions in the world are worthless if a good leader doesn’t have the will to institute change. The work that went behind today’s announcement helps to restore some luster to a prominent brand at a time when we need it.

The changes won’t categorically prevent controversy, but they do set an example for the rest of the industry on a thoughtfully-constructed contest for the 21st century.


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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Lawrence Hudetz at 4:32 pm

    Ok ok, you don’t like Ansel Adams type comments. I get that. Instead, let’s examine it from the whole f64 ethic.

    If followed today, there may very well be less controversy. Start with crop…unacceptable in f64 standards. That takes care of the problem in one of the videos with cloning out the top of a post which, after all, is now a distraction almost worse than leaving the image upcropped. However, now we have a different problem.Why? Because the whole relationship of subject to edges of the image has changed with the crop. After cropping, the power centers (ie rule of thirds, golden mean proportions) move. And that may be a good thing. After all, the trained eye does this all the time at the moment of exposure. So, if it’s alright to crop out the offending object, then I would assume that the final image might have just as well been cropped a bit higher to eliminate the post entirely. We are re-leading the eye differently than in the uncropped image. To me, that is a far bigger journalistic problem than cloning out a distraction. If we clone to merely eliminate distractions, we are changing the photo at a higher level as well.

    Take the conversion example to b&w, the sheep. Let’s set up the scene with two different camera/lens combinations, that is full frame cameras, one of which is using a DX lens (Nikon’s) the other, an FX lens, same focal length. The DX will be vignetted, the FX barely. So I am being told that if the original from the DX lens shows the vignette and the original from the FX does not show a vignette, but the final print from the FX is edge darkened such the the two final prints are indistinguishable, the FX submission is denied but the DX is not? What if I used the DX lens deliberately to use the natural vignette? I am obscuring detail at the edges during exposure.

    Now we get into aesthetics taking over. One doing noting to the image, the other vignetting the image deliberately, because the vignette is also manipulating the eye. Images that bleed off at the edges are generally weaker than ones that don’t.

    What is the picture about, and has the photographer done his/her’s job. Did they get “close enough” as Robert Capa suggests? His D-Day images, all except 10 frames, seriously damaged due to faulty processing. The remaining were surreal, conveying the madness of that day. They are icons.

    Just as well I do not pretend my work to be photo journalistic, even if I occasionally take a journalistic approach to subject matter.

    Some time, we should have a discussion about this very concept in producing architectural photography. For openers, is the photo representational or is it interpretive?

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