World Press Photo 2019 scandal

Once again there is controversy around the World Press Photo awards the 2019 results of which were announced yesterday. As well as seeing the results you can also read the press release, and the winning images are also in the newspapers.

The controversy surrounds some of the work of Marco Gualazzini, winner of the Environment, stories category for his ‘The Lake Chad crisis’.  The complaint made by ‘duckrabbit’, Benjamin Chesterton, is not to be about this particular set of pictures but about the his behaviour and attitude as a photographer, and about how this is encouraged by World Press Photo. As duckrabbit writes in And the award for World Press Photo predator goes to …:

My problem with Gualazzini winning is that he’s a liar and a cheat. Don’t take my word for it. Last year he was kicked out of the KL photo awards for exactly those reasons. And yet just a few months later he’s been awarded two of the top prizes in world photography. Photojournalism is an industry that rewards racist stereotypes delivered by cheats.

In a long and detailed article he goes on to give examples of the irresponsible (and sometimes apparently illegal) way that Gualazzini has behaved towards the people that he photographs, including Indian rape and sexual abuse survivors who he identifies and in at least one case has fabricated a completely misleading story about.

Aid agencies have over the past year or so had to look hard at the activities of aid workers, with various scandals emerging.  Oxfam in particular lost confidence of many supporters when details emerged about the actions of some of its workers paying women for sex after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. What I think these revelations by duckrabbit tell us is that charities, including ActionAid and AVSI who provided access for Gualazzini to the vulnerable people he photographed in India and the Congo need to take very much greater care and responsibility for the way in which photographers work and how they use the pictures they take.

Duckrabbit makes a detailed and convincing case obviously based on considerable research, against Gualazzini, but I think he is to some extent just an example. Often looking at those large panels in the touring WPP shows I’ve felt a certain unease about the kind of attitudes the pictures show, often wondered about how some of those people in them would feel about being exposed in the way they are. Often wondered about the view that some of these largely Western big names in photography largely funded by a capitalist often very right-wing press give us of the majority world.

It’s something that makes the work of Shahidul Alam and others in agencies like Drik and Majority World and organisations such as Pathshala so important.

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