We've become quite accustomed to unpermitted retouching damaging the reputation of photography competitions. In particular, press photography is especially susceptible to this. Strict rules on maintaining the sanctity of reality combined with environments in which outside factors frequently affect the ability to achieve clean and pleasing competition often beget a strong temptation for photographers to doctor images. However, such manipulation has now become an issue in a genre in which one normally does have the luxury of time and compositional choice: architecture.
Chicago is no stranger to striking architecture. I am by no means an expert in this genre of photography, but I find that whenever I visit the city, I frequently get drawn into simply wandering about for hours with my camera. One particularly attractive building is El Centro, one of the four branches of Northeastern Illinois University. Known for its boomerang shape with blue and yellow gradients, the building is hard to miss from the Kennedy Expressway. Unfortunately, the building's rooftop air distribution elements are often considered to detract from its otherwise sleek and unique aesthetic.
Those same rooftop units seemed to impede the entry of Tom Rossiter, whose four photographs of the building that were submitted to the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects all edited out the units. The entry was one of five that won the top award for design. When asked about the manipulation, Rossiter referred back to the building's architect, Juan Moreno, who acknowledged that he had miscalculated the effect the units would have on the design, but also deferred attention back to Rossiter, noting: "I never tell an artist what to do. That's their work. I never saw it as a misrepresentation. The truth of the matter is, in every photograph that takes place on any building, there is an artistic representation that occurs."
Of course, he's right: lighting, composition, lens choice, etc. — all of these are conscious decisions that influence the final look of a shot. However, digitally removing elements is an entirely different question. It's not uncommon to remove distracting elements; in fact, another of this year's winners removed streetlights, but judges of the contest contend that removing elements that distract from the building is less egregious than removing elements of the building itself. While the awards committee has not mentioned if the honors will be stripped, they have acknowledged that had they been informed of the manipulation prior to the judging, it would have affected their perspective. Nonetheless, in a competition meant to reward top design, it seems a bit strange, if not something more, that a building whose actual design was not captured received honors.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!
[via Chicago Tribune]