Swedish photographer Paul Hansen won the 2013 World Press Photo of the year with an image that flirts with the limits of alteration. The photo has sparked a heated debate in cyberspace, not because it captures a funeral procession of two Palestinian children killed by a missile attack in their home late last year; but because it looks like a movie poster.
So how far is too far in a world full of digital manipulation? Do the ethics that encompass photojournalism still apply?
What bothers me about Hansen’s image isn’t its content. It's Hansen choice to dramatically alter a perfectly fine image. Hansen knew the guidelines, and he ignored them and the judges chose to ignore the obvious alterations too. But his audience disapproved. Hansen knew his image would be scrutinised. So why did he do it? Honestly, I'm not sure. The problem for me is that the image has lost a large portion of its integrity because Hansen has surgically removed it through Photoshop. What gives him the right to alter the truth? Why strip a powerful image of its honesty?
I guess in the case of this particular image I should realise that any publicity is good – right? And that more people have seen this image because of the debate it has ignited. So isn’t it a good thing Hansen’s undeniably poignant image reached such a large audience than it arguably wouldn’t have if it weren’t altered? Well, almost. It demonstrates that we, as professional image-makers, are more capable of deceiving the public than ever before. Although, what frightens me more than this is the willingness of prestigious contests like the World Press Photo awards to grant misleading images first place.