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Photo Contest Insider Blog

Forensic Investigation in to Manipulated Prize Winning Photo

May 14, 2013

© Paul Hansen


World Press Photo has responded to the controversy surrounding the winner of their 2012 award by calling in two independent experts to carry out a “forensic investigation of the image file”. Gaza Burial is the title of the photograph taken by Swedish photographer Paul Hansen for the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter. It depicts the bodies of two small children being carried by their uncles to a mosque for their funeral in Gaza City. The children died when their house was hit by an Israeli air strike in November. Their father was also killed, and their mother and four other siblings were seriously wounded. The scene in an alleyway was described by jury chair Santiago Lyon as a powerful image. “The combination of the small size of the children’s bodies combined with the variety of expressions – of pain, rage and sadness…make for an incredible collection of powerful motifs and imagery,” he said.

However, photography sites have been abuzz with speculation over the amount of enhancement Hansen may have used on the image. The photograph has a painting-like quality particularly in the way the faces of the main protagonists are lit. It prompted computer scientist Neal Krawetz to carry out a detailed analysis of the metadata involved in the taking of the photo to answer suspicions that the picture had in some way been faked. He concluded that the lighting may have been significantly enhanced since the highlights of the mourners’ faces do not match the position of the sun which he believes would have cast a dark shadow over them. Hansen doesn’t deny some enhancement in this aspect. He told us that “In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway – I developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger dynamic range.” He believes this is an acceptable practice that falls within the World Press Photo’s guidelines. Judging from comments on various forums, photographers are split on this interpretation.

The rules for the World Press Photo Award state, “the content of the image must not be altered. Only retouching, which conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry, is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards and may at its discretion request the original, unretouched file as recorded by the camera or an untoned scan of the negative or slide”. The submission of the raw file, which contrary to some reports is not a precondition for entry into the competition, World Press Photo now appears to be demanding.

This action may be because Neal Krawetz has gone much further by suggesting that Hansen used three separate conversions of the photo, making it a composite. If true, this would make it invalid under the World Press Photo rules. Hansen denies this charge, has stated that four experts from other juries have examined his photograph and that he is co-operating fully with the World Press Photo over its decision to examine it “to curtail further speculation”. World Press Photo have not given a timescale, merely saying that the results of their investigation will be announced as soon as they become available.