With its 12th Montreal edition underway, the world renown photojournalism contest that is World Press Photo is set to attract over 50 000 visitors to the Bonsecours Market. The main hall features the International Exhibition; a series of powerful images capturing some of the biggest stories of 2016, like the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, or the ascent of the Black Lives Matter Movement in America. Although problems and issues we face today are clearly reflected in these photographs, one underlying problem is harder to distinguish from the others: the presence of fake news.
“Fake news is all over,” said Laurens Korteweg, the Director of Exhibitions and Education at World Press Photo. “And talking about fake news within the photojournalistic industry quickly brings you to discussions on Photoshop and staging, which is happening more and more.”
According to Korteweg, in the last two years of the contest, between 15% and 20% of the remaining contestants in the last round had to be disqualified due to misuse of Photoshop or for staging. Although all photographers use the program to tone their works, some overtone their photos or even remove details in an attempt to make it look “cleaner.” These lead to their disqualification as the image is no longer considered reliable. It’s the same case for photographers who stage their photos; the general public is misled into thinking that these images are portraying a certain reality when they really aren’t.
This was the case for Giovanni Troilos. Troilos is an Italian photographer who was initially awarded the first prize of World Press Photo’s Contemporary Issues portion of the contest in 2015, but ultimately had his award stripped away from him. His work entitled La ville noire, a series of photos depicting the Belgian city of Charleroi as a symbol of the European life was disqualified because one of his photos were snapped in Brussels rather than in Charleroi like he had indicated in his submission.
More recently, in early September of 2017, another controversy surrounding photojournalism arose; it was discovered that the supposed heroic photojournalist and Instagram sensation Eduardo Martins, who apparently worked with organizations such as Vice, The Wall Street Journal, and even the UN to cover stories in war-torn countries, was not an actual person. According to an investigation conducted by the BBC, the identity of Eduardo Martins was forged by an unknown individual as none of the organizations he said he had worked for had any records of him working there. It was also revealed that he “had been stealing pictures taken by professional photographers who had risked their lives in conflict to get them” and that he “fooled journalists and picture editors by making slight alterations to the images.” (BBC)
What is World Press Photo doing to counter this problem?
World Press Photo has tightened up their expectations towards submissions in recent years. Following the disqualification of Giovanni Troilos in 2015, they put in place their first code of ethics to bring clarity to the way they enforce their rules. World Press Photo has also put a lot of focus on the judging process, making it clear that reliability is a point of focus for them.
“Concerning the issues [of fake news and staging], we will we keep doing checks and keep improving our procedures for the contest,” said Laurens Korteweg. “We want to be able to say to our visitors that this a place where you can trust the information you see; a safe place.”
Korteweg also mentions that cooperating, rather than competing, with other similar photography contests is important. “We should join forces with other contests and other organizations so that is it clear to the professionals who submit their work what they can and cannot do. If we come up with a consensus, it will be easier for us consumers to understand and trust what we see.”
For the moment, it is still too early to tell what will happen with fake news in the near future. Will it be amplified by mainstream media and the growing accessibility to information, or will the attention it’s getting dial down as the general public slowly becomes more and more aware of the issue? All we can conclude for now is that fake news is very much present in our world today.
So while we wait and see how everything will unfold, we might as well enjoy the rest of one of the world’s best display of photography. Montreal’s 12th Edition of the World Press Photo Exhibition is open until October 1. The entrance fee for students 10$.