World Press Photo 2015 by Warren Richardson

World Press Photo 2015 by Warren Richardson

No copyright, no reprints allowed. Screenprint for single time use under fair use terms for a discussion of the photo and the genre of photos.

Words of Good Pictures Online


Anyone interested in photography will have their own opinion on what makes a good or a bad photo. Good Pictures Online respects every opinion. Photography knows a few genres. The rules that apply for each of them and that you need to heed in search for success are quite diverse. We can learn from any genre. We can learn from competition outcomes and jury verdicts for instance.

A short while ago, the Instagram photo of the year 2015 crowned the work of a female photographer involving in physical relationships with their subjects. She hereby overcomes the subject-audience gap by producing random pictures of dubious quality. I don't necessarily disagree with such decisions. But we need to listen and hear the message that photography as such is dead, it is not about content or form, but about context. It is about authenticity and about honesty. It is about creating the illusion of every day stories full of context. It is about happy random clicks. It is about telling good stories in vocalisations and context around rather than in the pictures themselves. It is a reaction to Photo editing and Digital photo art.

Photo journalism made headlines a while ago with Reuters not accepting RAW files any longer but wanting JPG straight out of the cameras. Obviously, fraud and manipulation is high on the agenda in this genre. The remedy is not sought in strictly punishing, detecting and prosecuting perpetrators. It is rather sought in camera technology, banning modern and a better file format. I personally think this is ridiculous. Why would you even assume that a file format could get you closer to reality? Why would you assume that anyone is able to picture an objective reality? Not even our own eyes and brains allow that, let alone zoom lenses or night vision cameras producing jpg-files. Photography will always be an interpretation and we can try to hide that fact.

If we believe the press (http://time.com/4227821/world-press-photo-warren-richardson/), an unbelievable amount of entries into last year's World Press Photo contest was disqualified for excessive manipulations and even attempted fraud. The signal was set that more honesty is wanted. But who are the judges, who decide what is too much postediting? As an underwater macro photographer, I can tell right away that every single picture needs colour manipulation. Under water, colours as we know them disappear for our eyes and the fabric of our vision and with increasing depth. So, what is a true rendition of 'reality'?

The winning World Press Photo of the Year 2015 worries me. It is perfectly crafted to avoid all sceptics thinking it is what it is. We see the same techniques that good photographers in the recent past had to become to master perfectly. It has become a meta skill, now moved to a different level away from photoshop but to the core of a good story. It is story crafting that sound so believable that neither judges nor an audience questions it. It is a story that we all want to hear and see. Everyone can help stories with photoshop these days. Now, the trend is back to nature, but with a formula 1 camera that pretends to be a trabi (East European Cars).

May I quickly remind of my friends of Museum of South Australia. In corporation with Australian Geographic they organise the ANZANG contest. The winning photo of 2013 was surrounded by openly voiced and backed claims that it might have been forged. The internet has forgotten about the story (gosh, it was hard to find the photo). After a lot of public pressure the committee allegedly investigated and posted a statement saying: "There have been questions raised regarding the authenticity of the winning photograph 'Near Miss' by David Rennie in the 2013 Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year. In response to this the South Australian Museum, as competition Organiser, undertook a formal review. The results of the review can be read on the ANZANG homepage."  The discussion has vanished. In short, the photographer admitted to have given wrong information but refused to give correct ones. That was good enough for two reputable organisations who - in true Australian style argued that the photographer had a long history of good photographs.    (https://www.facebook.com/AnzangPhotography/posts/677877785575730 the AusNat Geo photo).

Back to Warren Richardson's photo. Is it a good photo? Technically no. Is it a true photo telling a good story? I am not sure. Do we see a refuge being handed over a child from its mother through some barbed wire? How do we know without being told? It could be anything. Is the context plausible? I guess so. Why else would a photographer, stick his camera into the barbed wire to document a humiliating experience of some people's lives to get the perfect angle? Does the bad photo quality warrant authenticity? Absolutely. It is such a horrible picture quality that can only be justified by an extreme situation. You can literally see the camera sensor, a sign that ISO was up to the maximum. But wait, what sensor? Hmmm, what sensor would pick up the light, that prevents border control from using their night vision tools. No flash in order to protect those poor refuges, the photographer spent some time with camping outside on a cool night. There was no time, to get a model release contract with those poor souls. Only just enough time to take out a professional pocket camera and crank up the ISO, as you would assume. Only to get a grainy picture of a male looking non-caucausian. That is authentic. It is not staged, I assume, not coincidentally fabricated, just a true random moment. One of those moments that produces the ONE photo that is needed in the career of a photo journalist. It was the one photo that the photographer was mentored that could materialise.

Guys, I am not judging, just reflecting. I think a lot of my photos are not possible without making them happen through patience and anticipation of animal behaviour. I let go and stop in the very the moment I realise that my photography might harm them. Sadly, that is not always happening in time, I assume. We need to be aware that anything we do might negatively affect someone or something else. Heisenberg already told us that it is impossible to observe without influencing the observed. My approach is that we should try to be responsible and honest about it and don't pretend to be Mr. or Ms. clean. I do agree that the format, the grainy poor picture is part of its expressive and arty quality. It would not work in a coffee shop in South Australia. 

Frankly, I'd love to do portrait photography, try out photographing humans. Our lives revolve around humans, all our stories involve humans and their perceptive capabilities. However, taking pictures of people is too complicated because of privacy and legal issues. Street photography in many places has become a joke. I sneak such photos in occasionally but try to keep them private. Sharing of photos with people in them is a risky business. It seems that doesn't hold for public competitions with high price money. It would freak me out winning the 50'000 Moran Art Prize with a allegedly lucky snap picture of a boy (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-28/boy-in-boat-by-trent-mitchell/6892312).

My policy is to either have consent or be sure that those people produced themselves in public in a way that I can assume I had not only the right but almost a duty to document and publish. I would love to share one of my photos showing a homeless person sleeping on a park bench with a bottle of beer and some medication visible in a plastic bag. It is a great picture, that I can't share responsibly. In Australia, I am allowed to photograph any person in public, unless they are kids and you don't have the consent of a parent. Drunk underage kids with alcohol reminded me of that law when I photographed them while they were damaging my car on private property. Such is the practice in Australia.

Refugees operate outside of laws that we know or acknowledge. What counts is merely the law of survival. Outlaws crossing borders under cover of the night, without proper identification and travelling permits or visas are illegal aliens, rightless, helpless but properly cared for by an Australian photographer. I am flooded with pictures of drowning refugees. The Chinese dissident artist AIWW posed lying on a Greek beach. He put life vests onto a German landmark building. He doesn't even want recognition. All he wants is to help by creating awareness. I applaud Warren Richardson that he tries to find this man, this refugee that he caught with high ISO grain and finesse. How honourable. But what if the model doesn't like the attention? What if people more interested in laws and preventing illegal aliens from coming into their countries find this man and what we are made to assume is his young family? Will they be deported? Will they get a share of the financial bliss involved with winning an international press award? Or will they simply get a hand shake of a now famous and ethically double-checked photographer?

Posting a screenshot of this picture came hard to me. Is it asking for trouble? This picture has gained fame by taking advantage of a special situation that has drawn a huge international attention. Copyright laws under the Convention of Berne allow for discussion of matters of public importance. It is called fair use. Many people on social media either don't respect copyright or simply don't think they are applicable to them. Actually, they are.

But we are also seeing a development where it is becoming unclear what a copyrighted piece of work actually is. There are photographers out there specialising in what I call outright 'stealing' not only ideas, but other artist's work. Some of them (e.g. Richard Prince) belong to the highest paid artists in the world. Prince took a photo from social media, that someone had posted without the copyright information of a well known artist. Snap, it was copied, put on his own Instagram account. A print of the screen with the photo, some likes and letters was sold for a price well above what the true photographer had earned. (See http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jan/04/richard-prince-sued-copyright-infringement-rastafarian-instagram). The same 'artist' appropriated the work of Hannes Schmid, the Marlboro Man series etc. (Wikipedia attributes the photo to Sam Abell though) What can we learn from it? I am not quite sure. But I thought, if someone who takes photos under questionable circumstances but is not happy that I discuss them under fair use terms, while giving them full credit, I might be able to plead on having created my own piece of art by copying it and putting it in a different context. Nonsense of course. It is not my artwork and I don't claim any authorship for the picture, only for having taken and published a screenshot for educational purposes and not violating any copyrights.

It is not that I am earning anything from this site or anything involved in it. I do this for fun, trying to share my thoughts that I think might help a few people along their photographic journey. Photography seems to become as difficult as Opisthobranch science. So many rules and so many interests involved. Avoiding those hobbies and just minding my own business seems to be an easy alternative. Is it really? I think it is a shame that we have winners and losers in art and in science. It is not that anyone really cares about truth, authenticity and integrity. But we certainly need to claim that we do, if we want to belong to the winning team and don't want to end as refugees being objects that are being herded around fighting for the bare minimum and their dignity. So, let's pretend we don't notice or care and keep having fun enjoying our own work.

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