world press photo 2013 image alteration controversy
world press photo 2013 image alteration controversy
feb 20, 2013

world press photo 2013 image alteration controversy

world press photo 2013 winning image by swedish photographer paul hansenimage © paul hansen



the 2013 world press picture of the year, taken by the swedish photographer paul hansen shows the funeral procession of two palestinian children tragically killed by a missile attack on their gaza home in november 2012. the entry, awarded the first prize in the news category, is currently at the centre of a debate surrounding the practice of image manipulation in documentary photography.


when photography was first invented, its overwhelming power came from the fact that it recorded ‘moments’ or ‘nature’ more realistically than any other art form had ever done before. photography could just easily become a manipulated discipline – visual fiction!


the sophisticated reworkings of hansen flirt with the limits of alteration – the perfect framing, high saturation and artificial lighting all examples of creating an idealized artistic aesthetic. a warm lighting cast on the left side of the men’s faces illustrate this point more specifically – as the buildings line the street they effectively create a tunnel, rendering this type of illumination impossible in reality. another example of the work’s manufactured personality is the lack of suggested movement. the moment captured is one of motion and procession, however the clarity and definition of the details of the actual picture contradict this, instead rendering it static. in addition, the synthetic saturation of colors make it comparable to a painting, creating a ‘noble’ depiction of the scene.


jury president santiago lyon of the associated press, when asked about the subject during a press conference, reiterated the ‘rules’ of the contest: ‘we are confident that the images conform to the accepted practices of the profession.’he acknowledged that certain pictures were disqualified for excessive alteration, although he refused to say how many.the world press photo jury, in case of doubt, can request to see the original, raw file, the digital equivalent of a film negative.


véronique de viguerie, a getty photojournalist and member of the world press 2013 jury says :


‘for me, when the improvement misrepresents reality, when it conceals part of the context of the image, then a line has been crossed’.‘there’s no question that a raw image file has to be altered in order to produce a publishable image,’ says de viguerie. 
’the question is, to what extent. we decided to be strict. otherwise it opens the door to all kinds of manipulation.’


finally, after much discussion, paul hansen had worked in the acceptable limits, that is to say, he remained in the embellishment, without wanting to hide anything. what can be done in the darkroom, as darken and lighten the center angles, can be done with photoshop.


read more on the issue here and here in french, and here in italian.


this is not the first time hansen has been criticized for his retouching techniques, at the swedish picture of the year awards, hansen was also recognised and censured for his winning 2010 photograph of fabienne cherisma – a young girl shot dead by police in haiti.



world press photo 2013 image alteration controversythe background has been blurred to alter the perspectiveimage visualization of the area where image alteration has been applied



world press photo 2013 image alteration controversythe illumination moves away from documentary photography. it is artificial.image visualization of the area where image alteration has been applied



world press photo 2013 image alteration controversyhansen was also recognised and criticized for his winning 2010 image of fabienne cherisma – a young girl shot dead by police in haitiimage © paul hansen

  • And of course while criticizing others with inaccurate rationale, you refuse to publish a comment that accurately criticizes your post. Why am I not surprised.

  • We can safely assume there has been A WHOLE LOT MORE alteration to this photo, then pointed out in this article. Just take a look at another picture from the same (probably staged) event from another photographer:

    The outrageous aspect of this photo is not even the photoshopping of it, nor the pallywood-like setting of a probably staged event or at least wrong facts surrounding the picture – the outrageous part is that from 103.481 submissions the jury has again selected an iconography of the “terrorized Palestinians” despite the blood shed in Syria, the economic breakdown in South Europe, the hurricane Sandy, the starving in Africa, the AIDS crises in Africa, the genocide in Dafur, the increasing take over of governments by corporations and many, many more – and on top of this from a discredited photographer who made news of arranging a picture of a dead child in Haiti in 2010 for which he won the same price in 2010.

    Steven Morell (@3xperts)
  • The question is; would these pictures have been awarded prizes without the manipulation. And I would love to know what qualifies as excessive retouching, and who decides, and under precisely what criteria. I suggest Santiago Lyon of AP and his jurors make it up. They wouldn’t do that with the “news” would they? We know that AP is a completely unbiased and neutral news organization, don’t we? The thing is, this is not photojournalism but advertising. This degree of manipulation and more, is acceptable practice in advertising. Which is precisely what AP is practicing here. Advertising. Digital manipulation can be done so well in the right hands that even Mr Lyon would not spot it. A figure added here, a body there, placement in a different location, a background added from an entirely different place perhaps. Who is to say that was not the original scene at all? This is the age of Photoshop. I’m not suggesting AP changes its rules, such as verifying, in public, the raw file, I’m encouraging viewers to be extremely skeptical. Awards for “journalism” such as these, are a slippery slope into the world of total fiction. Let the buyer beware.

    Howard Stein
  • SriBill is talking about Pallywood. It has been observed that there is a comparatively large industry of faking Palestinian casualties by journalists/photographers/filmmakers and palestinians.

  • While I wouldn’t go as far as ThOmas anderson’s suggestion that these children were not dead, examples of providing corpse’s for the photographers are unfortunately not uncommon in the Middle East. Perhaps the most famous was the Green Helmet Guy in Lebanon. www who brought in corpses from another place and who paraded around with a dead baby that he had ‘discovered’ for the photographers.

    What strikes me about this photograph is the exposed faces of the babies. Checking the Internet for Muslim burial customs I found that the normal method is to shroud the corpse from head to toe. That suggests this shot was set-up. In addition the faces don’t seem washed – also against tradition but perfect for that extra impact in the photograph.

    That this might have been a set-up for propaganda purposes seems to me more important than if this was a little too enthusiastic use of Photoshop. After all some of the most famous press photographs have been heavily manipulated in the darkroom e.g. The famous busboy shot of the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

    When the award is considered do the judges demand to see the extra material to check whether this was a set-up, photographed several times with the assistance of the crowd?

    David Guy
  • I think any amount of retouching is fine for what is already a staged image. Those kids are very likely not actually dead, all of those people are there posing for that picture which is why they are so sharp. Google: Pollywood for more details on the craft of faking deaths in Palestine for a good media shot.

  • I’m glad someone has said something. These photoshoppings are amateur and art schoolish. I never liked it when people altered photos to look like this. It’s becoming a photographer fad. Making the contrast extreme in the light and dark spectrums so it almost looks like a colourized black and white photo. Everything looks artificial about it.

    ThOmas anderson
  • Most Photo contests allow minor adjustments, such as touch ups to lighting and darkness. Anything drastic or altered too much would be a disqualification.

  • I don’t mind the touching up on photoshop in general. The final image is the one being judged, I don’t feel the raw image from a digital camera is law in a creative field. People can make up their own minds if retouching feels excessive or forced, works for the image or takes away. In this case, I think it is a bit much, glossing up what is not much more than a snapshot of despair to unironically look professional. I don’t feel these are even good photos, just photos of grief. A dead girl, men running with dead children; go to the middle east and you can snap a dozen a day equally as ‘good’. It’s a ‘powerful’ image because the western world doesn’t see what they’re going through, but it’s not a good photo. That guy looking into the camera? Probably thinking ‘get out of here asshole’. There’s little artistic quality to begin with, and photoshoping it doesn’t change that. Entering the photo in competitions is exploiting poverty and war. I wouldn’t feel proud of the photos as a photographer in an artistic sense, retouched or not.

  • Regardless of the technique, the images themselves are powerful enough to warrant international notice. They convey the actual state of the world, with the unseen acts that resulted in the images he captured in real time as the actual subjects. Untouched, these photos would still convey the barbarity of The State’s killing of children.


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