So is this a fraud, or an acceptable amount of manipulation?

I came across this story in an OCA forum when another student asked if the photograph that won the World Press Photo of the Year for 2013, was real or a fake.  It has generated quite a lot of discussion and I felt it very relevant to this unit.

World press photo winner 2013, Paul Hansen

World press photo winner 2013, Paul Hansen

The photographer, Paul Hansen is adamant that it is a genuine photograph and although this has been challenged by a ‘tech blogger’,  World Press Photo, the organiser of the competition, supports the photographer saying that they have examined the RAW file and are happy with the image.  The challenge is that the image that won the award was in fact several images spliced together.

Hansen says:

“In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway, I  developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead  of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger  dynamic range.

“To put it simply, it’s the same file – developed over  itself – the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them.”

I don’t fully understand what he is saying but is it that he developed the RAW image twice and then stitched those two together?  If it is, is that not the same as creating a composite image from several files?  Looking at the evidence quoted by World Press Photo, it seems that it is not really all that easy to tell because, for example,  ‘this metadata does not track whether multiple files were composited’ .

To me the image is a very dramatic and heart-rending scene of two young children, apparently dead and being carried to their funerals.  When I look more closely in an attempt to see what the ‘tech blogger’ saw that lead to his challenge, I see that the light is coming from the above front and left as I look at the picture, yet other areas that you might expect to be dark, such as the wall to the left front are quite light and the front foreground is very dark.  This may be, to quote World Press Photo, ‘Only retouching which conforms to  the currently accepted standards in the industry’.  However it does beg the question, if it is so difficult to prove or disprove the amount of manipulation, just how common it is to produce an image which does not conform to these regulations, particularly when there is a lot to be gained.

This does not answer the question about how much manipulation I feel is acceptable, it simply highlights the complexity of this area.  Whilst I certainly would not condone something being passed off as genuine if it was a fake, it does beg the question, would I even be able to tell? [accessed 20 May 2013]


About Anne Bryson

I live in Gloucestershire with my husband Iain and West Highland Terrier, Isla. I enjoy golf, photography and my grandchildren, not necessarily in that order! Having completed a 10 week digital photography course with the Open University in 2010 and wanting to take photography further, I enrolled on the Open College of the Arts BA (Hons) starting with 'The Art of Photography' which I thoroughly enjoyed. Next came Digital Photographic Practice followed by People and Place. In April 2016 I progressed to level two with Documentary and in June 2018 enrolled on my latest OCA course, Landscape.
This entry was posted in Personal Reflections, Photographers, Reading or observation, Reality and intervention. Bookmark the permalink.

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