By Donald R. Winslow
News Photographer magazine
In the aftermath of the judging of the White House News Photographers’ Association’s "Eyes of History 2005" contest this last weekend at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the organization’s president and contest chair have set forth new contest guidelines "in an attempt to clarify what ‘digital darkroom’ tools and PhotoShop methods are acceptable for photographers who enter the annual competition."
The WHNPA executive board and the contest committee have agreed that the new guidelines become a permanent part of the WHNPA’s annual contest’s rules.
The rapid move to publish and draw attention to the guidelines came after internal WHNPA discussions regarding three separate issues that arose from the judging, including two entries that were disqualified – one for digital alteration, and one for not meeting contest rules – and responding to a complaint lodged following the judging about "overuse" of PhotoShop techniques in an image in the winning portfolio of the WHNPA Photographer of the Year, Andrea Bruce Woodall of The Washington Post.
It’s the second time Woodall, 31, has won WHNPA’s top honor; her first POY title came in 2003. She’s been a staff photojournalist at the Postsince 2001. This year she also won first place in the Picture Story/News, Feature, and Portfolio categories. Portfolio second and third place honors also went to Washington Post photojournalists, Jahi Chikwendiu and Michael Robinson-Chavez. Liz O. Baylen of The Washington Times won the Political Photo of the Year category, Pablo Martinez Monsivais of The Associated Press won the Presidential category, and Douglas Graham of Roll Call won first place in the On Capitol Hill category.
Carol Guzy of The Washington Post won first in Picture Story/Feature, Charles Dharapak of The Associated Press won first in Portrait/Personality, and Jay L. Clendenin of Polaris Images won first in Pictorial. Michael Connor of The Washington Times won first place in the Campaign 2004 category, Robinson-Chavez won first place in International News, and Juana Arias of The Washington Post won first place in Domestic News.
Chuck Kennedy of Knight Ridder/Tribune won first place in the Inauguration 2005 category, Gary Hershorn of Reuters won first place in Sports Feature/Reaction, and David Burnett of Contact Press Images for ESPN won first place in Sports Action.
WHNPA contest chair Pete Souza of the Chicago Tribune said that WHNPA contest organizers had three separate incidents to contend with in this year’s competition. One issue was the digital alteration of an image, the second issue was eligibility of an entry, and the third issue revolved around an accusation of "overuse" of PhotoShop in one of the winning photographs.
"We had a picture where someone had cloned – apparently, accidentally – where you could see a second, cloned, shoulder of a Marine. It didn’t improve the photograph, but it did alter the content. We disqualified it," Souza told News Photographer magazine today. "I called the photographer and told them about it, and they were surprised. I really don’t think it was intentional."
As a result of this picture, one of the newly adopted WHNPA contest guidelines reads, "The content of a photograph must not be altered in PhotoShop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. Only retouching to eliminate dust and scratches is acceptable. Any photograph entered in violation of these standards will be, at a minimum, disqualified."
The second incident revolved around the timing of when the photographs in an entry were shot. "Because we’re a member-only contest, there’s a rule that you can only enter pictures after you become a member. An editor entered a picture story for a member that was shot six months before she became a WHNPA member," Souza said, "And it won first place in feature picture story. It was beautiful, it deserved first place, but by our rules it was not eligible. After the judging we learned that it was not an eligible entry. It was shot during the year -– but it was shot six months before she became a member. Then we checked with the editor and found out that she knew it was not an eligible entry when she entered it. In a member-only contest, the photographer needs to be responsible for their entry, not an editor."
Discussions about this entry led WHNPA to adopt another new guideline: "All entry forms must be signed by the photographer. We will no longer allow a second party to submit entries and sign entry forms on behalf of a photographer. If an editor prepares entries for a photographer, it is still the photographer’s responsibility to submit the entry and sign the form. If a photographer is out of the country or on assignment, an eMail ‘signature’ from the photographer to the contest chair will suffice."
Souza explained, "We now have a profession that allows editors to enter contests for the photographers, and maybe the editors are not members of WHNPA. To me it's the photographer who needs to be held accountable for the entry, not an editor. In terms of toning, and PhotoShop too, to me this clause is almost more important than the other issues. We're writing a letter to the editor of the publication that knowingly entered an ineligible entry, because it was done with intent."
The third problem contest organizers dealt with stemmed from a complaint about one of the photographs in Woodall’s Photographer of the Year-winning portfolio. The complaint came after the judging was already done. "Someone brought it to my attention that maybe the PhotoShop ‘presentation’ had gone a little too far," Souza said. "The photograph is not altered. It does not meet the definition of ‘altering’ content. It’s by no means clear-cut. Did the image go too far with PhotoShop? I think that’s for us to discuss – and that’s why we’re doing this. We’re trying to be the first major contest to establish guidelines for what’s acceptable."
Woodall’s image of a fisherman in a blue denim shirt holding up a fish he’d caught along the Potomac River, shot from behind him, with the Jefferson Memorial in the background under a cloudy sky, was not questioned during portfolio judging. The judges "had gone home" before it was brought up, Souza said. "The pictures in a portfolio end up being projected on the screen for about three seconds. It wasn’t up there long enough to warrant any discussion during the judging. Even talking to the judges after the fact, it’s still sort of a gray area as to whether the ‘PhotoShop presentation’ was too much or not," Souza said.
The judges this year were John Kaplan, a 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who is now a teacher at the University of Florida; Colin Crawford, assistant managing editor for photography for the Los Angeles Times; and Annie O’Neill, a staff photojournalist for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There were also "rotating" judges who served as a "fourth judge" in judging some categories, including Bill Luster, a senior photographer and associate photography editor for The Louisville Courier-Journal; Leah Bendavid-val, a senior book editor, writer, and curator of photography books for National Geographic; Frank Van Riper, photography columnist and critic for The Washington Post; and former Associated Press photographer and editor Charles Tasnadi.
Joe Elbert, assistant managing editor for photography for The Washington Post, told News Photographer magazine today, "As far as The Washington Post is concerned, the photographer has done nothing wrong in terms of enhancing or improving an image for the WHNPA contest. She did not go beyond the bounds."
Elbert said Woodall is on assignment in Mexico this week.
"It comes down to taste versus ethics," Elbert said. "Ethically, nothing in the content was altered in the picture. But in toning, it was poorly executed by a picture desk technician when the photograph was published in January 2004. The picture was first published on The Washington Post’s Web site. And the way our workflow is established, a night technician then pulls images from a digital holding basket and tones them for use in the newspaper. Instead of doing the toning on a copy of the original, the technician toned the original file."
"So now it’s archived that way. For the contest Andrea didn’t have the original, so she pulled it from the archive and submitted it to the contest. Someone who saw the original on the Web site and then saw the one entered in the contest complained," Elbert said. "They assumed that Andrea juiced up the image to enter it in the contest, and that’s just not so."
Discussion of Woodall’s image after the judging led WHNPA to adopt another new contest guideline: "Reasonable adjustments in PhotoShop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Excessive changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning. The contest chair will inform the contest judges of these guidelines."
Souza added, "The important thing for WHNPA is that we have discussed it, and we chose not to disqualify it (Woodall’s image) because she did not alter the picture’s content. It's a murky area, what can and cannot be done in PhotoShop. In the time that I’ve been the contest chairman this has happened before. Usually, it's a black and white issue – either it's altered or it's not. I think we've done our part, and we’ve made our decision on this picture."
Woodall’s Photographer of the Year portfolio, along with the other winning "Eyes of History 2005" images and a complete list of winners, are online on the WHNPA Web site at www.whnpa.org.
In a written announcement of the new contest guidelines, signed by WHNPA president Susan Walsh of The Associated Press and contest chair Souza, it says, "Our intention is to be an industry leader in setting forth these guidelines for our contest. It has become too easy to digitally manipulate photographs. We are concerned that without parameters, people will push the envelope further and further."
Souza came up with some of the new guidelines more than a year ago when concerns arose about what’s acceptable and not acceptable use of PhotoShop. "It was the result of what happened because of Brian Walski’s cloned Iraq photograph, and with the contest photographs of Patrick Schneider in North Carolina," Souza said. "We were trying to stay ahead of the fray. We had some of these guidelines a year ago, but for this year’s contest I didn’t put them into the rules – and I should have."