Photojournalists prepping images for competitions often walk a fine line between the enhancement of a photograph and outright alteration. Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen, winner of the 2012 World Press Photo Award, has denied that his winning image of two dead Palestinian children in a funeral procession, is a forgery. A forensic image analyst named Neal Krawetz came forward on Monday with an allegation that the image is a composite, an egregious manipulation that may invalidate the award. Yesterday, World Press Photo issued a statement verifying the authenticity of the image.
On Monday, the web site Extremetech illustrated the analysis that Krawetz used in challenging the veracity of the image. The basis for the claim stems from the XMP data for the JPG which indicates that three images were combined on January 4, two weeks prior to the WP deadline. The second challenge to the image concerns the tonality in the faces of the subjects as they appear unnaturally warm and bright given the angle of the sun and the lack of light in the alley where the image was captured.
Hansen has denied any wrongdoing and addressed the allegations to news.com.au. "In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway, I developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger dynamic range.
"To put it simply, it's the same file - developed over itself - the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them."
According to Extremetech, Hansen has yet to provide the actual RAW file for the image in his defense. World Press Photo has yet to comment on the award and respond to the allegations. The image appears on the opening page of the World Press Photo web site and in the image gallery.
The ability to manipulate a photograph has always been a part of photography. Digital technologies, however, have fundamentally altered the landscape with tools far more advanced than the simple burning and dodging practices of the wet darkroom. As the National Press Photographer's Association's digital code of ethics makes clear, "accurate representation is the benchmark of the profession."
UPDATE: Yesterday, World Press Photo came out with a public statement online that defended Paul Hansen's image, confirming that post-production done to the file was consistent with Hansen's statement to news.com.au and within the bounds of propriety for the competition. Citing an analysis of the RAW and JPG files by Dr. Hany Farid, Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College and co-founder and CTO of Fourandsix Technologies, Kevin Connor, CEO of Fourandsix Technologies and Eduard de Kam, digital photography expert NIDF (Nederlands Instituut voor Digitale Fotografie), World Press debunked the XMP analysis, Error Level analysis and Shadow analysis claims used in Neal Krawetz's assessment of wrongdoing.
The experts concluded: “We have reviewed the RAW image, as supplied by World Press Photo, and the resulting published JPEG image. It is clear that the published photo was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone. Beyond this, however, we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing."
Do you think the image oversteps the boundaries of basic image processing?