Who should win this years ‘sanctioned incest’ @ worldpressphoto multimedia awards and why they probably won’t

This afternoon the winners of the World Press Photo Multimedia awards will be announced.

Last year the panel was chaired by Ed Kashi from the photo agency VII (great choice) and another member was Andrew De Vigal, multimedia editor at the New York Times (another great choice). I think there was just six judges.

First prize went to the New York Times. Second prize went to a VII photographer. (both strong work)

You would presume that the laws of the contest would require both Kashi and De Vigal to at the very least abstain from voting or commenting on their own companies work? Anything else would just be two fingers up to any normal definition of fair competition.  So when I put this question to World Press Photo they responded by saying that it would be ‘unfair‘ to stop Andrew De Vigal or Ed Kashi voting for their own companies work.


What does that say about how much  (or little) respect World Press Photo  have for the hundreds of people entering work who I’m sure have a very different understanding of what is ‘fair’ in a competition?

When governments put in place systems like this we call it corruption. That’s the kind of corruption (bad governance) that photojournalism presumably, in part, exists to expose. Mmm.

Last year  Jan Grarup was awarded the Oskar Barnack Leica Award 2011 for Haiti Aftermath..  Pete Brook (Prison Photography) pointed out that  Danish photojournalist  Jan Grarup is a member of  the photojounalism collective NOOR and who was on the judging panel? Yes, Stanley Greene, another member of NOOR. Once again you would presume he would have been forced to abstain from the vote. Nope. Because, and I kid you not, the organisers put out a statment saying that

The jury voted “unanimously” for the winner. There was no conflict of interest.’

‘No conflict of interest’ in voting for your own agency?  I’m beginning to wonder what in the world of photojournalism actually would be considered a ‘conflict of interest’?

Speaking for NOOR images Claudia Hinterseer was kind enough to explain to Brook how the photography competition scene works

Looking at other international photography contests you will be amazed how often jury members are professionally or – as is very common in our industry – personally (on the basis of friendships) related to photographers whose work is rewarded.’

Once again its staggering that an industry that makes so much of exposing corruption seems to be completely oblivious to how this looks to everyone outside of the scene that as Hinterseer points out  quite literally celebrates itself.

Last year VII’s Stephan De Luigi was awarded first prize (multimedia)  in the Hope For A Healthy World competition, for his excellent work on blindness.  There was three judges on the panel. One of them was Scott Thode– editor of VII THE MAGAZINE who pretty much heads up VII’s multimedia efforts.  It’s not made clear whether he cast a vote or not. It should be.

When Pete Brook pointed out just how daft things have become in the world of phtoography comps (which is practically an industry itself’) he asked these pertinent questions:

 1) Is this situation – as suggested – really unavoidable?

2) If so, what are we to make of this web of casual association and sanctioned incest when it comes to industry awards?

I don’t expect he’ll get an answer anytime soon.

The industry only behaves in this way because it’s allowed to by us.

There seems to be a widespread belief that the only way to get on in photojournalism is to play the game, and then if you’re really lucky one day you might be on the judging panel voting for your own company. That’s a crap way to plot your career. Personally speaking I’d rather win a week in a madrasa than an award voted for by another member of duckrabbit. It’s embarrassing.

If you’re nodding your head and would like things to change, you know what to do (like on Facebook and retweet at the bottom of the post). I assure you the people at World Press Photo and other photo comps are not blind to criticism. They are reliant on both you and their sponsors.

Let’s end on something positive.  Irrespective of whether this photofilm wins a World Press today (good chance it will), Melanie Burford‘s  The Monster Under The Water  is for me hands down the most impressive journalistic photofilm I have watched in the last year.  It’s a film that tells an important story, in a compelling way, with great skill and integrity. A photofilm that  sits easily in the great tradition of documentary storytelling and one that  will stand the test of time irrespective of any awards it picks up along the way.




The Monster Under The Water by melanie burford

Story by Kim Barker/ProPublica

Jason Melerine was born to the water. His father fished, his grandfather fished, his great-grandfather fished. At age 11, Melerine drew pictures of the boat he would someday own. The day he turned 16, he quit school to go crabbing. Now 28, he can barely read and write. Fishing off Delacroix Island, a sliver of land alongside the Louisiana coast, is all he knows.

In the first weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded last April 20, Melerine, like most Louisiana fishermen, feared the worst: that the cocktail of oil and dispersant would immediately kill the state’s already fragile fishing industry. His worry consumed him. He pulled patches of hair from his chin and his leg. He landed in the hospital with migraines. He contemplated suicide.

“For us, it’s a life, it’s what we love to do,” said Melerine, whose four children eat crab so often they complain about it. “It’s what we know to do. Water is my life.”

The story of the Gulf oil spill has often been told through numbers: more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled, more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersant dumped on top, more than $16 billion spent by BP on cleanup, claims and other spill-related bills. The human toll is more difficult to pinpoint, which is why ProPublica took a longer look at what happened to the fading fishing community of Delacroix, an island romanticized and mispronounced in Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and treated as a nostalgic touchstone by writers who marvel at people who continued to live off the land and the water, passing skills from father to son.

Despite the fishermen’s fears, the worst didn’t happen. The oil never coated Delacroix Island, and it didn’t hit the surrounding parish waters nearly as much as predicted. The well was capped. BP seemed to pay whatever money was asked. Scientists declared the seafood safe. The country moved on.

But for the fishermen of Delacroix Island, moving on hasn’t been so easy. All the old uncertainties about their declining community — hurricanes, erosion, the intrusion of modern life, falling seafood prices — are still with them, but now new uncertainties are piled on top, underscored by the recent deaths of dolphins along the coast and crabs off Delacroix Island. Even if nature somehow rights itself, the BP money that has flowed to the Delacroix Islanders may have inadvertently hurt their community and market by encouraging some fishermen to stay home. The fishermen ask themselves about the future and worry that they may be the last of their kind. Some have taken anti-depressants and sleeping pills to cope with the stress.

“I guess they been taking care of us all right, but they done tried to cover it all up with money,” Melerine said in November. “Money don’t take care of everything. We might be living it up now because we got money. But three years from now, we might not have nothing. We might not be able to sell nothing. This oil’s gotta affect something.”

To view the rest of the story at ProPublica, please visit http://www.propublica.org/article/gulfs-delacroix-islanders-watch-as-their-world-disappears




Author — duckrabbit

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White.We specialize in digital storytelling.

Discussion (13 Comments)

  1. Stella Kramer says:

    It’s because competitions want to have big names judging to give them perceived legitimacy, so they bring in people mostly from large publications and agencies.
    Here in NY the same thing happened with the SPD awards. Rather than go to others in the industry, the competitions generally go for people in mainstream media (or big agencies). It’s too bad they can’t see beyond that.
    The real question is: Why don’t people recuse themselves for voting for their own work or that of their company?

  2. Stella Kramer says:

    Never expect the obvious where peoples’ egos are involved. These days, with so many awards, it’s hard to give any of them meaning. But then I’m not a photographer.

  3. Stan B. says:

    Even the WWF (Worldwide Wrestling Federation) was honest enough to rebrand itself WWE (Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment).

  4. Mike says:

    I think it would be good for photojournalism contests to be judged at least in part by people not in the photojournalism industry. Surely the audience photojournalists are aiming to evoke a reaction/feeling from in their work is the public at large and not just their fellow colleagues. I think a jury with a combination of people not in the industry and photographers could give a more balanced perspective and outcome. People not in the industry won’t be familiar with the big name photographers or have vested interests. It could well be that the said works are indeed the deserving winners but perhaps the outcome would be more credible.

    • duckrabbit says:

      HI Mike,

      I totally agree with you. And I think also we may well see the same winners, afterall we rarely see bad work win, but as you say the awards would have increased credibility.

  5. Stan B. says:

    This piece is one of the few times I’ve heard natives let down their hair and talk openly and candidly about their environmental fears- it really is a monster under the water, one that will last ages. No more than 15% (at best) of escaped oil is ever recovered from surrounding waters- and that’s under ideal conditions. And that is nothing to say of the tons of highly toxic chemical dispersant used solely to sink it out of sight. The gulf area was already plagued with “dead zones” well before this monstrosity of an avoidable accident, it is now an even larger cauldron of hidden poisons whose unknown toxicity and longevity will continue to wreak havoc indefinitely.

  6. Tom White says:

    Melanie’s film is great. And I like the idea of non industry judges. The ‘people’s choice award’?

  7. Here’s a thought. “Photojournalism’s got Talent” – ring your man Simon Cowell and ask him to get this new talent show together, round up a few ‘celeb photogs’ to prettify the panel (that process alone will be priceless) and get the contestants to strut their stuff.

    We’ll have an audience engagement part where they judge the contestants on their qualities such as humanity, presence, storytelling, objectivity etc and the phone in vote will introduce the necessary bias we need – might as well make the bias democratic instead of the nonsense we’ve got currently. And a ‘subject’ comment sections where those in front of the lens get to offer comment on the experience they had and how it has or has not affected their lives.

    “We’re all journalists now” I keep being told as I see another iPhone scoop, so whats wrong with providing those ‘citizen journalists’ with some basic education in the art of seeing, storytelling, discrimination and objectivity, through the large window to the world sat in the corner of their living room?

    Could do for photography/storytelling what Masterchef is doing for cooking, Strictly did for sales of Slipperene (look it up) and BFGW is doing for sales of petticoats.

    And before you accuse me of making human suffering, famine, pollution and mental health issues into entertainment, just ask yourself is photojournalism really less important than cooking, dancing and crinoline?

    If you’re unsure, read this thread and weep: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2012/03/thoughts-of-a-young-photographer/

    Susan Boyle with a Leica anyone?

  8. More on the same:

    The British Institute of Professional Photography is considering banning judges from entering its annual competition after four of this year’s jurors received prizes in the organisation’s Professional Photography Awards.

    Ay yi yi…


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