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Caught 'in the black'

It seems that Stepan Rudik went a few steps too far when he submitted this photograph as part of a portfolio for this year’s World Press Photo Award. He was disqualified after it was found that he had digitally manipulated the image.
The latest edition of the British Journal of Photography (BJP) magazine – which has now been revamped as a top-quality monthly publication – has an excellent article about this case. It will be of interest to those who are concerned with the ethical implications of improper digital manipulations, particularly in the genres of documentary and photojournalism.
To be honest, now that I have seen the original image, I am absolutely shocked that Stepan Rudik submitted the doctored photograph. The online edition of BJP also has a page commenting on this photograph. Have a read here and judge for yourself.

Posted by author: Jose
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4 thoughts on “Caught 'in the black'

  • Very interesting. I can’t see properly from this but I assume the cloning out must have been rather heavy-handed for the judges to have had raised suspicions in the first place?
    I believe that the photojournalism must be uncompromising in this. Obviously cropping and the very act of image choice is some form of editing and whilst this alteration was in many ways ‘harmless’, what is acceptable or not in digital manipulation is so subjective that it is a real slippery slope!
    Thanks for posting this, Jose.

  • Fascinating post Jose.
    It appears that the cloning out of the foot (which would otherwise appear between the thumb and fingers) is the problem. Personally I think the vignetting and the addition of grain to the image – turning a daytime shot into one that looks like it has been taken in very low light conditions – is at least as problematic.

  • I agree with Gareth, I don’t mind limited editing in journalistic photographs since the accompanying written pieces can be heavily biased anyway; I don’t believe a foot is the end of the world. However, my impression of the ‘whole’ from the edited image was of a down-and-out fighter in a scrap of wasteland getting ready for an unregulated fight amongst rusted farming machinery (I imagine that comes from a diet of Jean Claude Van Damme films in my early teens). The original image goes completely against that grain, it could almost have been taken at a fun-run in the Peak District. This reminds me of the O.J. Simpson photographs used on the cover of Time magazine during his trial.

  • Well – rules are rules, and they say the content must not be altered. He broke the rules – and as far as the competition goes that must be the end of it.
    In a more artistic sense however, I can’t see that removing the little bit of foot behind the hand in the original is ‘unethical’. It changes nothing about the meaning of the photo. Tend to agree with Paul about the grain, exposure and vignetting being more of abn issue in changing the meaning – but even then it could have been achieved pre-digital with some work in the dark-room.
    This seems to me the crux of the digital re-touching debate. The fact that it could only be easily achieved digitally does not make it bad, and conversely the fact that it could be achieved with ‘darkroom’ techniques (which seems to be a rule in lots of competitions) doesn’t make it acceptable.

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