As now seems to be usual, this year’s WPP awards are mired in controversy, this time over the award to Iranian photographer, Hossein Fatemi of the second prize for his long-term project titled ‘An Iranian Journey.’ The same project also won Fatemi the 73rd POYi World Understanding Award, and it was the responses that Ramin Talaie received following this that made him begin an investigation into Fatemi’s work.
Talaie writes that he “was flooded with individuals claiming to have helped or witnessed Fatemi stage his subjects for this project. Others claim Fatemi had plagiarized their work and in some cases even copied images frame by frame.” and so “Over the following months I began compiling testimony and evidence and started verifying sources, locations, website and other information.”
You can (and should) see the evidence in his post 2017 World Press Photo Awards Fake News, and he supplied that same evidence to the WPP along with details of his sources. The WPP appointed Santiago Lyon, former director of photography at The Associated Press to investigate, and have now concluded “there was not sufficient evidence to declare a clear breach of our contest entry rules.”
Looking at the evidence it is hard to see how that conclusion was reached, and it reflects badly on the WPP as well as one of the finest agencies around, Panos, that they have not yet taken action against Fatemi. It isn’t necessarily wrong to stage images, and as Talaie states, it would be impossible to take many of the pictures in the essay without staging them, but it goes completely against our understanding of photographic ethics to then present them as ‘news’.
Plagiarism is a more difficult case to assess, and many of us end up taking similar photographs to other photographers when we were working in the same place at the same time. The examples given are perhaps more about a breach of trust between Fatemi and the photographers he was at the time working for. There also seem to be clear breaches of trust with some of those he photographed, who he assured that the pictures would not be made public. It also seems clear that some of the captions are deliberately misleading, ‘sexed up’ to make the pictures sell in a way that is completely unacceptable.
Talaie concludes his article with the comment:
Also there is simply not enough debate and discussions about ethics and ethical journalism in the Middle East. People learn how to make films and take pictures in Iran, but they do not always learn about ethics.