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Wednesday 23 October 2019

The best photograph of the year – or a big fake?

Ian Burrell

THE World Press Photo Foundation has announced a review of the most prestigious prize in news photography after dramatic claims that the winning image may have been a fake.

Paul Hansen, the photographer who won the competition for his  picture of grieving Palestinian men bearing the bodies of two  children killed in an Israeli missile strike on Gaza City, has defended  the authenticity of his work. He  responded to claims by the technology website extremetech.com that forensic image analysis revealed that the photograph had been doctored and was a composite of several pictures. It was a “fraudulent forgery”, it said.

The photographer, who works for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, denied that he had done anything wrong, telling Australian site news.com.au that he had merely used post-production techniques for “toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway”.

The dispute caused such an uproar in the photographic world that the World Press Photo Foundation issued a statement  saying it would submit the winning picture to further scrutiny. “Paul Hansen has previously explained in detail how he processed the image. World Press Photo has no reason to doubt his explanation. However, in order to curtail further speculation – and with full co-operation by Paul Hansen – we have asked two  independent experts to carry out  a forensic investigation of the  image file.”

Nick Dunmur, a board member of the Association of Photographers, said he could see a difference between a version of the picture published in November by Mr Hansen’s newspaper and the image that won the prize, which appeared to be enhanced. “He has taken a very powerful photograph but  it starts to look like an illustration,” Mr Dunmur said. “I think if you are purporting to tell some sort of truth then you mess with the picture at your peril.”

The British Journal of Photography’s Olivier Laurent  said that Mr Hansen was being  made a “scapegoat” for post-production techniques that were now  widely practised by top photographers. “Even with film photography people would use different  techniques to alter the look of  the image.”

Adrian Evans, director of the Panos picture agency and a former jury member of the World Press Photo prize, said he was sure Mr Hansen’s image was not a fake. “You can argue about it on aesthetic grounds but not on the veracity of what you are looking at in the picture,” he said.

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