WHNPA Disqualifies Altered Tracy Woodward Contest Photo, Award Rescinded

Feb 25, 2013 Ethics
Washington Post photographer Tracy Woodward's photograph as it appeared on the Post web site (above) and as it was entered in the WHNPA contest (below).
Washington Post photographer Tracy Woodward's photograph as it appeared on the Post web site (above) and as it was entered in the WHNPA contest (below).

By Donald R. Winslow

WASHINGTON, DC (February 25, 2013) – The White House News Photographers Association released a statement late Monday night saying that a Washington Post photograph that recently won an award in the WHNPA annual contest has now been disqualified for digital manipulation.

Washington Post photography director MaryAnne Golon was asked about the image on Saturday by News Photographer magazine. Golon replied at that time: "A Washington Post photographer entered an altered photograph to the WHNPA contest. Once Post editors saw that it had been altered from what had originally been published in The Post, we withdrew the photo from consideration. The Post's ethics policy prohibits the manipulation of photographs, and we have taken action in accordance with that policy."

Over the weekend Golon would not provide any information beyond that statement, nor would she identify the photographer on Saturday. Other than saying that the Post had informed WHNPA of the manipulation after Post editors discovered it, Golon would not say whether any disciplinary action had been taken yet. Digital manipulation of photographs is a serious ethics violation at The Washington Post, as it is at most American newspapers.

However, on Monday night WHNPA president Ron Sachs's issued a statement that identified the Post photographer. Sachs said, "It was brought to our attention that the image 'State Champion' by Washington Post photographer Tracy Woodward, that received an Award of Excellence in the 2013 WHNPA ‘Eyes of History’ stills photo contest in the Sports Feature/Reaction category, was digitally manipulated in violation of the contest rules."

Woodward has worked at the Post since joining the staff at the paper's Loudon County bureau in 1997. Before that he was a staff photographer at The Washington Times, and for three years shot for the Army Times, Navy Times, and Air Force Times. 

On Monday when News Photographer magazine asked Golon what action the Post might take against the photographer, she said, "I can't discuss his status at this time, but we are taking action that is consistent with our photo manipulation policy. It's an internal personnel matter at this time."

Golon also told News Photographer magazine today that the Post didn't enter Woodward's photograph into the WHNPA contest, that the photographer prepared and submitted his own entry. Then when Post editors discovered that the altered picture had been entered in the contest, she said, they informed WHNPA and the Post withdrew the image.

The WHNPA statement Monday night from Sachs concluded, "When we became aware of the altered image, the photo was immediately disqualified in accordance with our published contest rules."

Sachs did not say exactly when the manipulated photograph was discovered and disqualified, but News Photographer magazine was told about the incident last Friday at a time when news stories were being published about the controversy surrounding Magnum photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin's POYi and World Press Photo contest photographs and captions.

The WHNPA president's statement tonight continued, "The rules state: 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 and the image must be a truthful representation of whatever happened in front of the camera during exposure. Retouching to eliminate dust and scratches is acceptable. 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. Frames or borders outside the image area are not allowed nor is text—digital or otherwise—allowed on the image. 

"The judges and contest committee reserve the right to see the original (un‐retouched) raw image files, negatives and/or slides. In cases of doubt, any photographer violating these standards will be, at a minimum, disqualified from the competition."

Related: Photojournalism And Post-Processing: Should Contest Images Be The Actual Published Picture?