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?