World Press Photo Stands By Controversial Award

The photographer told World Press about this photograph, "My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange. There are parkings popular for the couples exchanging sex with others, also single men and women can watch anonymously the acts through the foggy windows of the cars. 'Shame has died,'" one says in Charleroi.
The photographer told World Press about this photograph, "My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange. There are parkings popular for the couples exchanging sex with others, also single men and women can watch anonymously the acts through the foggy windows of the cars. 'Shame has died,'" one says in Charleroi.

AMSTERDAM (March 1, 2015) – In the aftermath of a written complaint by the mayor of Charleroi, World Press Photo conducted an investigation into the photographs of Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo, which were just recently awarded First Place in the contest's Contemporary Issue Story category.

Troilo's photographs called "The Dark Heart Of Europe" included a photograph that was staged, and the city leader's complaint said the images distorted the truth of Charleroi.

This morning World Press Photo released a statement saying they have concluded their investigation and stand by the award. In part their statements says that there were no misleading facts because the caption information had been made available to the jury at the time of the judging.

Serious students of Ethics and Photojournalism may have a problem with the conclusion reached by World Press Photo based on this one sentence in today's statement's opening paragraph:

"The contest requires photojournalists do not stage pictures to show something that would otherwise have not taken place."

While World Press Photo describes itself as a photojournalism and documentary photography contest, this statement seems to grant permission to photographers to set-up or stage scenes that would "ordinarily" take place.

The World Press Photo statement says:

World Press Photo is a contest for photojournalism and documentary photography, established to cover a wide range of topics, styles and practices in contemporary reporting. The contest requires photojournalists do not stage pictures to show something that would otherwise have not taken place. 

Giovanni Troilo was awarded first prize in Contemporary Issues Stories for his 10 image story entitled “The Dark Heart of Europe.” The award to Troilo was questioned by the Mayor of Charleroi in a letter to World Press Photo dated 25 February 2015. The Mayor claimed Troilo’s story was a “serious distortion of reality that undermines the city and its inhabitants, as well as the profession of photojournalist.”

In response to the Mayor’s letter, World Press Photo conducted an investigation into whether the photographer had contravened journalistic ethics about staging in his work, or had mislead the contest jury. This investigation required Troilo to provide all relevant facts and background information about how his story was conceived, carried out and entered into the contest.

The process for investigating awards after they are announced requires, once the information from a photographer is obtained by World Press Photo, a discussion between the Managing Director of World Press Photo, the Chair of the General Jury and the Secretary of the General Jury. In this case, the Chair of the Documentary Jury was also consulted.

The conclusion of this investigation is that World Press Photo finds no grounds for doubting the photographer’s integrity in carrying out his work. No misleading facts have been uncovered in the caption information that was made available for the jury. As a result Giovanni Troilo’s award stands in the 2015 Photo Contest.

Giovanni Troilo explains his project:

 “It is above all a research, a realistic vision of the town by a photographer who knows it very well. I know it through my family who has been living there for 65 years. Charleroi is for me also a metaphor to talk about the European identity crisis. I believe this is definitely a ‘contemporary issue’.

One part representing a greater whole ‘La Ville Noire’ (‘The Black City’), a town so close to Brussels, symbolizes the whole of Europe. This crossroad city houses many diverse populations, brought together under the same roof of working opportunities, only to be left with nothing to share, as the work dried up.

The more interesting episodes, upon which my work is concentrated, take place outside of the central ring and I went to various different communities that comprise Charleroi. I photographed roads, houses, people in the streets, in their houses and in supermarkets. I spoke to the workers, to the pensioners and to young people. The shots chosen for World Press Photo are just a small sample of the entire collection of images taken.

I have been to Charleroi many times in my life and I have nothing against the city or its inhabitants; that would mean taking against my own family and myself. Before, during and after the shooting I always checked and looked for confirmation in the press in order to check if my vision corresponded to reality. I always asked myself if my vision was partial or particular. Every time I checked, my perception was proved to be right. Besides this, I always gathered the opinion of the people.

Some scenes just happened in front of the camera (policemen, clinic, pills, and buildings) and I just found the way to be in the right place, but without any dialog between me and the subjects. In other scenes, like in the cage for example, the presence of the camera was declared, there was obviously a dialog necessary to setting up a proper portrait session. All of the photos were taken with the utmost transparency and correctness. In instances where the subjects are aware that they are being photographed, the original caption says so.

I have been swamped with messages from people who live outside Charleroi city center. They support my work, recognize themselves within it and say that the Charleroi depicted in my photographs is indeed the real Charleroi.”

What World Press Photo concluded about the textual information:

In his letter to World Press Photo, the Mayor of Charleroi makes several references to passages in a text about Charleroi that he has discovered on the photographer’s personal website: “here are some facts that we have been able to establish on the basis of the images submitted to World Press and those appearing on the photographer's website.” We believe the Mayor has looked for connections, lifted certain passages and connected these to specific pictures in the 10-image story awarded in the World Press Photo contest. These excerpts are not the picture captions, they were not entered as captions to Troilo’s images, the jury has not seen them nor has World Press Photo published them anywhere. They can therefore not be regarded as falsified or misleading. The text excerpts quoted by the mayor are in no way relevant to the story entered, awarded and published online by World Press Photo.

The captions of the photographer are discussed in detail below.

What World Press Photo concluded about the claim images were staged:

Photojournalistic reporting and documentary photography often overlap, such as in Daily Life and Contemporary Issues in World Press Photo, and photographers can follow a variety of traditional and non-traditional styles and approaches without compromising their journalistic integrity.

In documentary photography consistent with the ethics of World Press Photo, the photographer follows his subjects in their environment. He or she does not fabricate situations from his own ideas, and he or she does not direct people to engage in activities that they would normally not engage in.

For many years, we have seen portrait photography as an approach in background stories of news events or in covering a variety of issues affecting people directly. For example, portraits of storm survivors, people in offices or series of portraits of inhabitants of refugee camps, are examples of this popular practice in contemporary documentary photography.

The images in the winning story are discussed in detail below. 

The photographer’s unedited captions and clarifications

1. Pictures of the woman and the medicine in an asylum

 Photographer’s caption BJ:

My grandmother used to live in this Asylum. Today her daughter, my aunt, resides there. The owner is very gentle, everyone working there seems quite proud of the structure’s hospitality taking care of the elderly and people with psychiatric problems. The woman leaning with her head on the table is my aunt’s friend.

Photographer’s caption CJ:

A box keeping the rationalized daily portions of drugs that are given to calm the asylum's patients.

Further clarification from the photographer:

[Photograph of the woman] This photo was taken in a nursing centre. It is the old people’s home where my aunt lives and where my grandma saw out her final years. The woman in the photo is a friend of my aunt. In the two hours I was there she didn’t lift her head once. [Photograph of the medicine] This photo was also taken in the nursing home where my aunt lives. They are the daily drug rations for each patient.

2. Picture of the couple in the car

Photographer’s caption DJ:

My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange. There are parkings popular for the couples exchanging sex with others, also single men and women can watch anonymously the acts through the foggy windows of the cars. “Shame has died,” one says in Charleroi.

Further clarification from the photographer:

I used a small flashlight in the car-scene. The couple was inside the car and I was about 15 meters from them. Every now and then I shot a photo.

3. Photographs of the policemen

Photographer’s caption for photo EJ:

In Charleroi the highest and newest building is the police station at 75 meters high. It was inaugurated this summer. It’s a real beacon of the law, with an intermittent light that come from the top of it. Almost all nights helicopters survey the city’s night life.

Photographer’s caption for photo GJ:

One of the thousand police officers, some minutes before charging the hooligans of Standard Liege for the derby with Sporting de Charleroi. The fans have attacked the police who have counterattacked with teargas and are mounted on horses. The night ended after 50 people get arrested.

Further clarification from the photographer:

“The police were getting ready to charge supporters after the football match between Charleroi and Liege. Charleroi’s police force boasts considerable resources. The newest and tallest building in Charleroi is the 75-meter-high police station.

We contacted the police of Charleroi asking to follow them in an operation. I was interested in documenting the capacity of the police force that stay in the new tall tower.

L'officier responsable du GSA (Groupe de Securisation et d'Appui) Sylvian Cavillot allowed us to follow them during the entire operation, starting from the briefing under the police tower, until the final arrests. 

4. Portrait of the overweight man

Photographer’s caption FJ:

Philippe passes most of his time in his beautiful house in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Charleroi. He cannot stand longer than one minute on his feet. Therefore he asked to be photographed seated. 

Further clarification from the photographer:

This photo was taken in the house of a man called Philippe at Marchienne au Pont, one of the most dangerous districts of Charleroi, which is characterized by bordered-up shops and not rented houses. The people there strongly advised against my going there at night. I was even threatened while taking photos in the street.

In the evening before the shooting my assistant and I met Phillipe in his house-wine bar (he was there with his friends) and I remember very lucidly that we talked for a long time about the project, about the concept of “Dark heart of Europe”, and he even showed us a photographic book by one friend of his about the decay of Bruxelles. He definitely knew the story of my work (we showed him other photos of the project that we shot in my previous visits to Belgium).

As I told you on the phone, his room looks like what you see in my photo. I wanted to have the wider possible view of the entire room (without using a wide-angle lens since I prefer using normal lenses that are nearer to the human eye), because it looked to me amazing: the sculpture of his face, the paintings on the walls, the cyber-statue on the left. The objects I removed were mostly boxes full of stuff (Italian pasta and other food or wine) that had arrived and was ready to be sold (the wine bar is also a food shop). This is for me a minimal degree of direction.

Regarding the portrait session with him, it lasted very little time because we were interrupted by a person coming in to buy some Italian pasta (from Marche region). We started the to shoot photos and Philippe was standing. After few shoots he decided to sit on his chair. Before the photo-shoot I met his husband, the city counselor of Charleroi.

Phillipe does, as he told me, spend most of his time in his house. His house is directly linked to the small wine bar (he does not even have to go out of his house to reach the bar), and here is where he meets his friends in the evening. The kitchen is surrounded by sofas and he told us that that is his base, the place where he eats/writes his books/works/receives friends.

Before meeting him I had found him on Internet when I was doing research and found many photos.

[Note from World Press Photo:]

In his own reaction, the subject Philippe G. objects to the claim (made by the mayor of Charleroi, not the photographer) that his portrait demonstrates “neurotic obesity”, which is one of the social problems affecting the city. The photographer does not describe Philippe as obese in his caption of the portrait. The mayor has found a text about a larger project on the photographer’s personal website and he is now linking excerpts from that text to pictures that the photographer entered as a story in the World Press Photo contest.

Philippe adds in his own response that he feels healthy, he is proud of his body and that he was happy to pose with his shirt off in the shoot. He himself prefers to be called ‘fat’ instead of ‘obese’, which to him is a medical term.]

5. Picture of the woman in the cage

Photographer’s caption IJ:

Maitre Doberman and Clara la Chienne, his wife, receive guests in a building that seems abandoned in a neighbourhood of Marchienne au Pont. In the picture he makes his wife confront her fears.

Further clarification from the photographer:

I try and describe better the situation around Le Doberman et Klara. They are husband and wife and they organize various kinds of "soirees" (most of all gang-bang, bdsm, training bdsm). The guests are more or less always the same and the atmosphere is very friendly\informal. I was there in occasion of a gang bang soiree and the atmosphere was extremely relaxed and totally uninhibited.

Le Doberman received us with chains around his neck, bare-chested, and welcomed us with extreme politeness. Several marvelous images impressed my eyes rapidly (marvelous scenes that happened in extreme simplicity and naturalness), so I talked to le Doberman about my project and asked him if I could portrait him and his wife. They accepted with pleasure and a few days later I returned in this three-floors building that looks abandoned from the outside. The portraits were shot in the basement.

6. Picture of the man with the gun

Photographer’s caption JJ:

J. keeps his arms in a box hidden in the woods of Bois du Cazier. This is more secure than keeping them at home since he gets regularly visits from the police.

 Further clarification by the photographer:

J is an initial used to protect the subject’s identity. In the course of this project I took photographs of many weapons, which were kept in people’s homes, and which in some cases turned out to be small arsenals. After numerous arms seizures by the police, the weapons are now hidden more discreetly.