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Wednesday, 27 February 2013


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There seems like an awful lot of armchair sanctimony swirling about this seemingly trivial subject here. Granted, I've been mainly preoccupied by other matters for the past couple of weeks. But I was surprised to see this subject erupt here again.

Mike, Ctein,
My Question is this; Since everyone (including Mr. Pelligrin) now agrees that the photo in question was STAGED, and then included in a news/ documentary story, and has since won an award geared toward news photography, is that not enough to disqualify it as 'Award Worthy'?
Mr. Pellegrin has resorted to weasel words in explaining the incident, and has now called the picture in question a "Portrait".
What definition of "Portrait" includes using an unidentified stand in for a mis-identified person, in a mis-identified location?
Perhaps he should have entered it in a Portrait contest?
Then there is the matter of plagerism, Mr Pellegrin does not deny he lifted the words whole cloth from the NY Times, his defense is that either A. because they were located in a background section and not for publication, plagerism is OK, or B. "Someone" should have re-written it thus obfuscating the plagarism.

Awards, weather you are for them or against them usually celebrate what the best of us can achieve in a chosen category by some more or less objective standard, or lacking that, the opinion of "experts' or persons of renoun in that field.
In the final analysis is Mr. Pelligrin's work (in this instance) the 'best we have'?
Should it be revered and emulated by those who seek to be the best news and documentary photographers?
The attempt to turn the attack on the messenger is also telling.
Ethical standards must stand up to scrutany. When questions about comportment with ethical standards are raised they need to be answered with simple facts. Weather or not the person who asked the question complied with your idea of How such questions 'should' be asked, is not relavent.
I find it difficult to believe that the award would have been given if Mr Pellegrin had told the comittee that the picture was staged.
That seems to answer the question for me.

This is a sad incident. I have revered the kind of dangerous work Mr. Pellegrin and others do ever since I first saw the work of Larry Burroughs. There is no shortage of big photographic shoes that every photographer who undertakes the photography of war and social issues must try to fill.
Based on what I have read and seen on this issue, most notably Mr Pellegrin's own account, I sadly suspect he has rather small feet.

The World Press Photo site for the photograph now has the caption "A former US Marine Corps member with his weapon" and does not include the [allegedly plagiarized] background text that appears with the other photos.

So what do journalists call that? A correction?


Dear Michael,

Well, since you specifically ask my opinion…

The photograph of Shane is not staged. It is posed. That is not a quibble. Many, many news photographs are posed: looking through a recent copy of the Chronicle, 11 of 20 local photographs were posed. So long as they're not represented as otherwise, there's nothing wrong with that.

Staging is when you create the "facts" to be photographed. For instance, asking a bunch of inner-city kids to stand on a street corner and photographing them there is posing them. Asking them to make believe they are engaged in a drug deal is staging (even if they are drug dealers). That is a no-no, by current journalistic standards.

(Here's a fun essay question: by today's standards, is the famous flag raising on Iwo Jima photograph posed or staged? This will count for 20% of the student's grade. Students must justify their conclusions.)

There is nothing about the photograph of Shane that is inherently wrong. It is clearly a posed portrait and is not a material misrepresentation, in and of itself. Properly labeled and incorporated into an appropriate essay, it would be entirely admissible in a journalism/news photography contest.

The problem lies entirely in the caption, which materially misrepresents the scope of the photo.

The very minor misidentification of the subject is truly a very minor error, because it's not germane to the story. Honestly, doesn't matter to the story and to 99% of the population whether he was a sniper or not. Happens all the time. Like mislabeling an “instructor” as a “professor” in an academic article-- it'll irritate the hell out of the academics, but it is not a major sin, just a trivial goof.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Before we make any hasty judgements on Mr Pellegrin’s behaviour, we should be aware that this year's WPP 1st prize winning picture has prompted some rather hostile reactions from people who blame WPP for having a political, “liberal” agenda. I can't help (although I might be wrong, of course) seeing this whole Pellegrin affair as an attempt to bring discredit to WPP awards. I don't think these allegations of fraud impending over Mr Pellegrin and WPP are innocent. The main effect of this controversy will be that many people will never give WPP and photojournalism any credit from now on, and that is wrong.
On the other hand, it's all too easy to condemn Mr Pellegrin and both POTY and WPP juries, but I don't like it when the press becomes someone's judge, jury and executioner. Ctein asserts Mr Pellegrin’s arguments are lame, and he’s half-right. But Mr Pellegrin is Italian, a foreigner with no obligation to know Rochester, NY; he was introduced to a former marine sniper who owned a gun by a local guide and portrayed said former marine holding a gun somewhere in Rochester, either in or outside the zone known as "The Crescent" (he probably had no way of knowing whether he was in "The Crescent" area or not). It may not be photojournalism as we know it (it isn't), but it is pertinent to the theme he depicted and, crucially, this picture was taken out of its context in what - in my view at least - is no more than an attempt to prove the WPP awards are a fraud. Mr Pellegrin's arguments sound plausible to me – or at least enough so to cast a shadow of a doubt – and, as any civilized person knows, "in dubio pro reo". Mr Pellegrin should probably be disqualified, but the kind of reactions this polemic brought to the photography world seem excessive and unjustified.
I wouldn't like to bring the kind of debate that can be found elsewhere (namely at a renowned mainstream photography website) to this space, but I believe even the most perfidious crook has the right to a proper defence. My comment is not politically biased, has nothing to do with condemning or condoning any part in any conflict anywhere in the world, and is most certainly not a delusion from someone who believes in conspiracy theories. It is an inclination of mine (I can’t help it: I'm a lawyer...) to take both parts' arguments into consideration before making up my mind. Mr Pellegrin is certainly not a crook, and it is possible that he had no fraudulent intentions. It is my belief that the whole thing is getting out of proportion for all the wrong reasons, and I fear many may be misled by it.

Right now the mob has found him guilty can we move onto the lynching?

I have no idea whether there is some vendetta against the POTY and WPP, as Manuel states. Its the first I heard of any such thing. However, even if so, it is largely irrelevent to the issues here. To say that Pellegrin has no responsibility to know where the Crescent is, is very wrong. Pellegrin was engaged in doing a photo story on the Crescent. He apparently even rode through the area with police patrols.He certainly had a basic reportorial responsibility to know where the Crescent is, and its boundaries (even if vague), and he seems to have had more than adequate opportunity to learn the geography. It makes no more sense for him to do what he did, than for a photographer in New York City to take a picture in Coney Island, and pass it off as being in Central Park. As for the POTY and WPP, they were probably ignorant of the misappropriation, as they probably don't know Rochester either. What they do about it now that they know, may be a separate subject of discussion.

The silence from Magnum is deafening.

"Hello, Magnum? This is your reputation calling. I would like me reputation back."

Manuel, you may want to re-read the article again, because you are getting your facts mixed up.

Shane was a Marine, but he never was a sniper. He also happens to be a student at the university. His garage is at least 6 miles from the Crescent area. Many years ago I was a student at RIT and believe me you are not going to mistake Shane's area for the Crescent, even if you are from out of town.

I travel a lot and I would not get disoriented to that extend. Pellegrin probably travels more in a year than than do in several. He's an old hand at this. Given his line of work, he would probably be dead if he had such a poor sense of direction.

Manuel, the reason people are not going to "give photojournalism any credit" is because one of the most successful photojournalists faked a photo. It is as simple as that.
His being a foreigner is absolutely no excuse for this. He got the obligation to know about The Crescent the moment he accepted the assignement to cover it.

Well, Manuel, from the pictures he took, Pellegrin was navigating around a pretty seamy part of Rochester. When I visit a city, I start figuring out the neighborhoods and things I want to see. If I were working a dangerous neighborhood, I think I would figure out where I was working pretty darn quick.

On the Reddit discussion of this topic, a user posted a link to a map of where the crescent is vs. where this photo was taken. It's not a subtle difference and should have been obvious, even to a foreigner.


A slight diversion, but still on the topic maybe of photojournalism. I've always been amused by the possibilities inherent in "judicial" selection of images to illustrate factual reports. The Guardian is good at this. Take a look at this random selection of images illustrating the life and times of Michael Gove...





Now I agree that they probably spent a lot of time trying to find images that made Gove look thoughtful, intelligent, statesman-like. But unfortunately they failed, with more than a little help from the subject himself. Misleading? Probably not in this case, but....

I'd just assumed that Pelegrin's response was a 'any publicity is good publicity' one. A lot of people who didn't know him before sure do now. Some people just love the camera. Call me a cynic...

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but why not? There is a difference between a documentary photographer and a photojournalist. Perhaps someone who is experienced in either could elaborate on those differences, and how they may or may not effect our interpretation of this situation.

This whole controversy seems to me to be another shovelful of dirt on the grave of what was once journalist ethics. As someone who once worked in the print media I can only shake my head in disgust over what "journalism" has become: the story is now more important than the facts.

This is why news journalists (photo and word) are now held is less esteem than our illustrious political leaders.

The real question is why a press photography contest is awarding prizes to photos taken for an art book / box of postcards, posters, and bumper stickers, printed in an edition of a thousand or less.

After reading the comments replying to mine, I feel like Atticus Finch.

Thanks for the response. I thought I understood the difference between staged and posed until you explained it.
I will freely stipulate that you know more about this than I, but here is my take on staged vs posed
If I'm reading a story about Violence in Rochester's Crescent and I see a picture captioned Marine sniper with his weapon I think the clear implication is that this is actually a marine sniper, carrying a sniper rifle, in the crescent district. If all those things were true and Mr Pellegrin asked him to pose for that picture, I'd be fine with that.
But since the person in the picture is not a sniper, he is not carrying a sniper rifle, and the location is not in the crescent, nothing in the picture is true to the implication of the story.
If that's not staged, i'm thoroughly confused.
All the best,

Ctein--I agree with much of what you said but...

The photograph was posed. Happens all the time, as you noted. Most photo essays include a posed photo or two. It's even pretty obvious the photo was posed and the photographic elements were arranged for visual effect. No problem thus far. But both before and after that point, misrepresentations were involved. Lots of misrepresentations, goof-ups, misidentifications, probable plagiarism and general dishonesty.

Going outside the scope of the story to obtain an actor/model, posing them in an arbitrary setting and representing that actor/model and the portrayed pose as an authentic element of the story is staging and it's just simply wrong on every level.

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