Late Winter brings about a new crop of contest winners and nary a season goes by without a whiff of controversy in some form or fashion. Yesterday World Press Photo announced its 2020 Photo Contest and Digital Storytelling Contest nominees.
Among the fifteen images selected as nominees was a photo by Mulugeta Ayene who covered the tragic aftermath of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 – one of several downed Boeing 737 MAX airplanes.
It’s a decisive moment to be sure with a caption that explains the action, “A relative of a victim of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 throws dirt in her face as she mourns at the crash site, on 14 March.”
But if you look at the figure behind the two women on camera left, you’ll notice a strange halo that only seems to extend around his head and the collar of his jacket. It doesn’t look like typical chromatic aberration, which usually expresses itself as purple fringing.
There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation, but no technical information other than the camera model (Canon 5D Mark III) is included with the image description.
Secondly, photo contests need to be in the business of transparency if they want to avoid controversy. If the jury saw this aberration and decided it didn’t need to be explained, I think the organization should reconsider its position. Photo contests are constantly under criticism (this piece is no exception), and they need to de-risk their relationship with a skeptical public by erring on the side of overcommunication.
Finally, for those who don’t understand what the big deal is, consider that even though we bandy about the term “fake news” with abandon, most journalists and photojournalist work within an ethical framework set out by their professional organizations and/or publishers. When a visible aberration like this halo appears without explanation, we have to wonder what else might have been edited within the frame.