I know it has been said here that the World Press Awards 2009 was a nice selection, albeit maybe too much linked to the most important events of the year. Who is to say that a lesser known event might have had stronger images ? Regardless, ever since the results, new information has been brought to my attention that I would like to share.

<Disclaimer>  I am a big Obama fan and a huge admirer of Callie Shell’s work. This has nothing to do with either politics nor quality of work < End of Disclaimer>

This image of Obama, taken by photographer extraordinaire Callie Shell, was apparently a set up. Callie asked, or challenged, the then candidate Obama to do pull-ups while they were waiting backstage:

Callie Shell/ Aurora

While it is  a great picture, it still bothers me highly that the photographer would have provoked the image. To me, a photojournalist should always remain a spectator and not an actor, and especially not a stage director. He/she is there to document an event, or a moment, without possibly affecting it. Of course, it is almost impossible because just having a photographer point a camera at an event will create some kind of  reaction. There has been many examples of images taken only because the participant in a news event saw the photographer and reacted accordingly. There not much anyone can do about this.

However, interacting with your subject should not be allowed, regardless of the situation. And it certainly should not be rewarded with a major journalistic award. This situation breaks my heart because I love this photograph, but just knowing that Obama did this knowing the photographer would create a sellable images just ruins it for me. Its almost like it was staged.

The second info I received was about those sports images:

Julian Abram Wainwright/ EPA

Like you, I was very impressed with these images, considering the extremely brutal environment the sports photographers have while shooting the Olympics. These look like studio photographs that would have taken a lot of resources and time to set up. Amazing. Well, apparently, it so happened that these images did not travel like that when originally send to the EPA wire. Not at all. What you are seeing is heavily post production retouching of the original images. The background was much more visible and the drops almost impossible to see. That begs the questions : should participant of the World Press Award should submit their original images or should they be allowed to heavily retouch them ?

These images are still great, don’t take me wrong. It is just the ethics behind.

Finally, I don’t know what that is :

Li Jiejun , China, New Express Daily.

It got 3rd prize in the Portraits category. Is it because the Jury do not beleive the Chinese can’t do better photography than  imitating classics with puppet dolls? How does this series, that looks like a photography student Saturday afternoon exercise, win a prize ? its amusing, cute, indeed, but how is it photojournalism? Is it photojournalism on photojournalism ? Huh ?

The World Press should change the selection process a bit. For one thing, they should add multimedia. Now !!.

But also, I beleive they should have a 110  person jury that would judge images all year long as they come in, on some sort of sharing Facebook type site, where each one could add great pictures as they see them. This is the 3rd millennium and juries could easily use existing technology to post images as they see them. Other jury members could add their votes  and at year end, the votes would be tallied. Even the public could participate in one category. No need for mass CD or FTP submissions, for week-long exhausting viewings sessions of 10,000’s images in  dark rooms, or other antiquated selection process.. If they don’t do it , I will.

Author: pmelcher


  1. Paul, are the originals of Julian Abrams Wainwright’s Olympics series available somewhere? If so, do share!

    This isn’t just a World Press problem, it’s a problem with most photojournalism contests. Retouching that will get you fired at a newspaper might be routine for a magazine. Some photographers submit unretouched work for publication and do additional retouching for their personal portfolios. Judges see only the submitted work and seldom know the story of how a photo was made. It’s not a level playing field.

  2. Author

    probably in the EPA archive site. I do not have access to it, otherwise I would have shared, indeed.
    Please remember, the images apparently submitted to the world press were retouched from the set that initially went throught the wire initially. yes, judges are not aware of it.
    That is why my proposition to alter the voting process by judging on published images would eliminate this issue.

  3. On the Obama image, I agree, especially since the caption mentions “Two staffers had just passed this site and done two pull-ups. Not to be outdone, Obama did three with ease, dropped and walked out to make a speech. Missoula, Mont., 4/5/2008.” (http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0810/callie-bp.html)
    So if the information you state (source?) is correct, that’s just lying. If she would just have left the info out it would still be wrong, but I wouldn’t mind as much. Still, I would like the info to be confirmed by non-anonymous sources, because it’s a pretty heavy accusation.
    The image also won an award of excellence in POYi by the way: http://www.poyi.org/66/12/ae01.php and is part of this winning story: http://www.poyi.org/66/13/index.php

    On your second point, I think you’re wrong. The image is the same as the original, just converted and with some added contrast. I have seen far, far worse cases of making backgrounds disappear by burning them.
    In the original the background is also black, see here: http://www.anp-photo.com/search.pp?page=1&ShowPicture=8093339&pos=3

    And the background really was that dark, I remember that from the diving photos at the time.
    See for instance http://www.anp-photo.com/search.pp?page=14&ShowPicture=8781451&pos=112 or http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/olympicpix/archive/2008/08/23/t-minus-one.aspx (“Sometimes, the Olympics throws you a bone. Today the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down on the translucent roof of the Water Cube venue where the 10 meter diving semi-finals were taking place. This made for a beautiful day of shooting, both from overhead and from the side. The bone in this case, is not only the nice light but also the fact that the one guy who is favored to win the competition has the longest hair of the group and tends to keep it wet before he dives. Therefore, when he does, water drops shoot out on an almost perfect black backdrop–a photographer’s dream.”)

    I found the doll pictures a little odd too.

  4. Author

    Thanks for your input Jan. That is exactly the kind of reaction I was hoping to read and share…let me answer you on a few points:
    Callie: Hold on. I am not accusing anyone of anything. I just thought I would share some thoughts. I will not enter the blame game or the pointing fingers. This is an exercise in reflective thinking, not a shooting gallery. The question here is not if she said or didn’t say anything, it is rather if she did, does that make this image less great?
    On the diver images, I am sorry we disagree. I see a lot of retouching between the original and the one send to the World Press. Again, not to accuse anyone of anything. These images are great. The question is : Can they be considered photojournalism after being altered?
    Thanks again.

  5. Let me get this straight, you accuse Callie of staging this picture then say you weren’t “accusing anyone of anything” and that this is “exactly the kind of reaction” you were to get.

    Were you in the room ?

    Did you solicit the photographer’s input before you slandered this work or would that come under ” interacting with your subject should not be allowed, regardless of the situation.”

    How dare you lecture on ethics when you have none yourself.

  6. Author

    Well, Vincent..Lots of anger I feel from you . No, I was not in the room. No, I did not interact with the photographer on purpose because, once again, the point here is not to find out if it is the truth or not, but how it affects our perception of the image. I think Callie has received enough awards and acknowledgment not to care about what I think.
    And if you consider that slander, then that means you agree with me that if she did say something, the image is much less valuable. Others would argue with you about that.
    On a broader sense, if we can’t discuss openly what we think on one’s blog, I wonder where we can do it ?

  7. Yes, indeed – lots of anger

    “the point here is not to find out if it is the truth or not”

    You aren’t interested in the truth as it relates to this blog ? Is this an experiment ?

    Lets say I found out recently that you lied about your resume.

    disclaimer – I love your blog – end of disclaimer

    It’s not for me to find out if it’s true, I just feel it takes away from your credibility.

  8. Yes, knowing that would make the image less great. It’s not pictorial or a portrait, it’s photojournalism. Knowing the subject acted in a certain way because the photographer asked him to would make it tainted, how nice of an image it is.
    I would never dream of doing something like that, especially at that stage.

    But realistically, it has happened before, more than once.
    Last month a reportage about the winner of the 1955 Zilveren Camera (Dutch photojournalism contest) was broadcasted on Dutch tv, and the winner just told like it was normal he asked his subjects to pose for him. It’s this image: http://www.novatv.nl/uploaded/IMAGES/AA/foto-1955.jpg
    The photographer asked the nuns to lay on the roof and watch the parade to get some nice content in his photo.
    Maybe that was acceptable back then, but in this day and age it certainly wouldn’t be.

    The content of the diver images wasn’t altered, so I think it’s acceptable. It’s just made more graphic by converting it to B/W and adding contrast. Like it was shot on B/W film, maybe.
    While you might question converting images to B/W for contests just to make them more appealing (it can be an easy way to make them stand out), if there’s no rule against it you can’t blame photographers for doing it.

  9. Author

    @ VincentJMusi : exactly. it is an experiment.
    @ Jan : I don’t blame anyone. I would rather see the World press judge images as they were published, as explained in the last part of my entry, then waiting for photographers to submit images. It would certainly help.

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