in or out?

It is a bit nerve-wracking being a POYi judge.

Contests are very emotional for members of the photojournalism community and being asked to determine the best images from a year puts one in the center of the storm.

Each year, there seems to be some sort of controversy.

This year was no different.

Our major ethical debate concerned an image shot by Andy Spyra that we awarded 3rd place in the Feature single category.

First a bit about the judging process.

Each of the four POYi judges has a handheld in/out vote recorder. During each category we vote on each single entry. Our votes are displayed behind us so we don’t know which judge voted in or out. It takes two in votes by the panel of four judges to advance an entry to the second round.

After one round of ins and outs, the judges go back through and take a second look at all the outs and at that time any one judge can bring back in an entry for discussion.

In the Feature category, Andy Spyra’s “Kashmir” image was voted out in the 1st round along with 2139 of 2149 pictures. I was intrigued by the image and asked to have it brought back in. Four other outs were brought back in at that point.

After viewing the photo for the second time, all four judges (Kathy Anderson, Scott McKiernan, Pedro Ugarte and myself) starting liking the photo more and more. It was quite beautiful and moving.

As our discussion went on, we all were curious to how the image was made.

We asked for the caption to be read.

The caption read-  “June 2, 2009, India, Kashmir, Srinagar. Family members and neighbors gather in a tent to mourn the alledged rape and murder of two young girls by the Indian military forces in the town of Shopian.”

The caption field also had an explanation of how the photo was shot. It was a 2-second exposure at f/22. As Spyra took the photo he shot one part of the scene for one second and then quickly turned the camera and photographed a different part of the scene for the remainder of the single exposure creating an image that sandwiched two separate scenes into one image.

In addition to the technique we also wondered why it was entered in Feature when it was so newsy.

After some debate, the image was eventually awarded third place.

At dinner that night, us judges debated long and hard about the image.

One judge was very troubled by it.

That judge thought that it was unethical and that it was the equivalent of creating a double exposure and passing it off as one exposure.

I thought that since it was only one exposure it broke no rules but was this photographer’s personal vision.

Since it was a personal vision type of photograph we understood why it was entered in the Feature category.

Over the next two days, we kept discussing the image.

Since none of us had ever been exposed to this technique we had no precedent to fall back upon. We all agreed that it did not technically break any rules but wondered if it really was in the spirit of a photojournalism contest. I made the analogy that it was like Spyra exploiting a loophole in a law.

One of my arguments countering the judge who wanted it eliminated was if we do disqualify the entry where are we drawing the line? If capturing two parts of a scene, each for one second, is illegal at what point does it become acceptable? Is 75% on one part and 25% fine? Is 90% and 10% ok? Is 100% the only acceptable option?

Also if this image is unethical, is a pan blur breaking the rules? Is a long shutter speed brightening a dark scene wrong?

In the end, with help from POYi head Rick Shaw, we decided that, right or wrong, we would keep the image in third place in order to encourage conversation and education.

What do you all think?

20 Responses to “in or out?”

  1. I think this was a smart decision, as I’m sure that just as the POYi judges had a hard time agreeing, so will the photo community as a whole.

    Personally I am all for creative photo-j photos like this that promote the art of photography as well as the documentary aspect. Our role is to tell stories as accurately as we can, and perhaps in some instances the accuracy needs an emotion only conveyed through this type of image-making.

    I know my position isn’t for everyone, and I can definitely see the validity of the argument to throw out or disqualify this image. I also am interested in hearing what people think about this topic.

  2. I think the strongest argument is the pan blur comparison. In a pan, you are essentially photographing more than one scene, or at least more than one background that could fit in one frame at a higher shutter speed. Spyra’s use is a lot like a slow-shutter pan, only with more intentioned use of moving the scene.

    I like the decision to allow it, but I don’t think it is something that I would use because it doesn’t feel like journalism. Similar to the tilt-shift images that aren’t realistic. But I guess it is just a question of where to draw the line like you said.

  3. That is a tough call. I’m not that crazy about the picture but I appreciate the photographer trying to do something different. I think it should remain in feature though I would be hard pressed to argue for keeping it in a news category.

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this spawns a flood of similar pictures in next year’s contests

  4. […] It is a bit nerve-wracking being a POYi judge. […]

  5. Ethics are the basis of photojournalism. Too bad so many people interpret them in a fundamentalist way. I appreciate the creativity of the technique. As everyone copies it this year, it will be a much-needed windfall for chiropractors.

  6. I agree with the decision to keep it in; it’s not a double exposure– he only pressed the shutter button once.

    Perhaps a new category for next year’s competition would avoid further controversy or the rules could be amended to permit in-camera “effects”.

  7. To my mind, any way you look at it, it is a double exposure. That the manipulation occured in camera is beside the point.

  8. Also, I take it the camera was on a tripod for this shot. Is that right?

    • Rob, I don’t think a tripod was used but at dinner one night I was able to replicate a poor imitation of the image using the table as support.

  9. I think you might the right choice. I also commend the photographer for including how the image was made in the caption info. I wonder what place, if any, it would have been awarded if that info hadn’t been included? Also, thanks for bringing the discussion into the rest of the world Scott. I feel like there are such great discussions happening in that little basement cave… often, the rest of us miss out! ;)

  10. Spyra has a short write up with his thoughts on his website here:

    http://www.andyspyra.com/content/blogcategory/4/6/

  11. I agree with the decision made by the panel of judges on this one, and I’m glad they were willing to accept a photograph that was made by pushing the creative limits of photojournalism. It’s a tough call, but I think the right one was made.

    On another note, Scott, I was one of the 18 University of Nebraska students who attended the judging on Thursday and Friday. I wanted to say thank you for speaking with us, and I learned a lot from watching and listening to discussion about the images being judged.

  12. Perhaps I should explain my earlier comment. I’ve looked at dozens of Andy Spyra’s photos and think that he has created a fine body of work, in a consistent creative style. I admire his work immensely.

    But from the phootjournalistic point-of-view: I think that combining exposures within a single frame in an effort to convey the story behind an event is a tampering with reality that should not be encouraged.

    The Australian war photographer, Frank Hurley used this technique during the First World War because it was his belief that the camera, and no single photograph, could convey what war was about. He was right. But it wasn’t justified then; and it isn’t now.

  13. I don’t care so much about the technique that Andy has used to take this photo. It is a single exposure and this photography could be taken with a +50 years old film camera. It works for me. I don’t think it cross any ethical or technical borders of photojournalism. The most important thing to me is that the photographer did a very powerful image on that subject. Despite the technique used, this photo don’t lie, it reflect the reality. This image deserved to be awarded because it’s a very strong image. And about the technique, I think one of the purposes of this contest is to raise the bar of photojournalism, even technically.

    I’m not a native english speaker, and I hope my point of view is well understood.

  14. Yikes. The photograph is an interpretation of the scene, not the actual scene. It’s a wonderful image that would work well on an op-ed page or with a perspective piece. It’s also a creative problem-solving technique. I like it. (Wait for the “but”..) How many of us have been frustrated by not being able to gather all the elements that we wanted to into one picture? But that frustration is at the heart of what we do – we are limited by reality because we are sworn to show reality for what it was, not what we wanted it to be. Yes, I know, you can say that that we selectively interpret reality based on lens choice, angle, etc.. etc.. But those are the conventions that we have accepted as an integral part of the established photographic process, and these limitations can be generalized to all photographers, keeping the process fair. How many of this have patiently waited minutes, hours (days!) for a picture to happen, only to give up because it “just didn’t happen”. Awarding this picture a prize means POYi has said “that’s OK” to an individual photographer’s imagination of what-could-have-been as part of the photojournalistic process. No limitations hindered by actual reality. Imagine if someone was shooting a rally of protestors and counter-protestors, but they were separated by a distance. If I shot one side, then panned to the other, sandwiching them together in one photo, would that be ok? How much distance is too much distance? Does it all have to be one shared emotion in order to be ok? When is is inappropriate? Can I make Obama and Castro appear to be standing close together by a judicious pan..? I think these are valid questions that as a community we would do best to avoid. Getting back to the fundamentals (fundamentalism, as it were), is being fair to everyone by taking our subjective experiences and interpretations out of the equation…

  15. In general I think his extreme use of photoshop is far more unethical than how he shot this certain picture.

  16. Very well phrased Alex (and what a writer that guy is ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for em’). This is a photo made in an attempt to overcome some of photography’s technical and logistical capacities, like being in two places at once. There’s plenty of merit to challenging them as Spyra has. But as a final result, the photo does not accurately portray a scene. It portrays multiple scenes in a single frame, which I don’t think is ethically reasonable from a journalistic standpoint. I’m glad that he took the photo like he did, it’s worth taking along the way, but there seem to be limitations to it’s use because of the technique.

  17. […] – Feature gewonnen. Jedoch lief der Bewertungsprozess nicht ganz gewöhnlich ab, wie man hier im blog von Scott Strazzante, einem Jurymitglied, lesen kann.Das Bild wurde in der ersten […]

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