Photographic manipulation: World Press Photo needs to be transparent in enforcing its rules

Back in December last year I posted a commentary on World Press Photo’s new rule on ‘manipulation’ of submitted imagery. The main point concerned the ambiguity of what “currently accepted standards in the industry” meant as the governing criterion. I concluded that “for the WPP clause to be effective, the organization is going to have to be transparent about its operation and the jury’s deliberations should a problem arise.”

The rule has been tested in its first year. WPP has announced that a winner — Stepan Rudik, 3rd prize in Sports Features — has been disqualified for removing an element from his photograph. According to WPP, “the photographer ventured beyond the boundary of what is acceptable practice.” (You can read the full WPP statement here; the British Journal of Photography report is here; and @photojournalism posted this link to Rudik’s photograph on Twitter).

Now is the time for WPP to be transparent about its decision. The statement from the organization is commendable in so far as it goes, declaring how it acted in accordance with its new rule and making the decision public. But where are the details on the image and the photographer’s transgression? How was the photograph altered, and how did this venture beyond the boundary of acceptable practice?

These questions need to be answered given that the judgement has been made in terms of supposedly accepted industry standards. Such standards won’t mean much unless they are obvious to all, and WPP needs to offer a more detailed account of this case.


The New York Times Lens blog has more detail on the story here. It has a response from Stepan Rudik, and provides an important link to a post on PetaPixel which shows the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images from Rudik that show what the WWP jury objected to. These warrant a close look.

And here is the interesting thing…it was acceptable for Rudik to crop and desaturate an image of a hand being bandaged, but not acceptable to remove a small intrusion from something in the background of the cropped/desaturated photograph. No doubt Rudik violated the WPP rules, and I am not defending his removal of what is said to be part of a foot on the edge of the hand. My question — as always in these cases — is why is extensive cropping and complete desaturation acceptable but other changes not?

This is why WPP needs to be more transparent about this case. Its great that blogs like PetaPixel have done the investigative work, but we need to hear from WPP itself on what makes some changes acceptable and others not. How do these standards come to be “currently accepted” in the industry? We’ve heard from the photographer via PetaPixel, now we need to here from WPP.