Image is a Thousand Words

World Press Photo 2013 winning photograph, Gaza Burial by Paul Hansen

The job of a photojournalist is by no means easy. I have always admired my colleagues who capture the images that compliment my stories. When words are not enough they must capture the event, emotion and context.

This year’s photojournalist award went to Paul Hansen for Gaza Burial and was met with some sceptism. Accused of being a fake, the touching up applied to it does make you look twice. The manipulation of tones and light does make some features accentuate and others drop back.

While the composition is real, the ‘touching up’ has impacted on how it looks in reality. It has manipulated its mood and tone, through an enhanced colour palette. Clearly there are men in this image who look like they have been cut and pasted in.

When I look at this image I think the award should be more for the touching up, rather than the actual image. The choices the photographer has made have taken an image set in real circumstances and given it a ‘hollywood’ feel.

Surprisingly I found the editor’s pick in the competition to have done the same.

Is there anything wrong with that? Well according to Peter Berner, not really. We’ve been touching up images for a while now.

Even last year when I did a short photography course as part of the Walkley’s Freelance Conference, we were shown how to use Lightbox. This software allows us to play with contrasts, tones, light etc.

During the course it was emphasized this was a natural process for photojournalists these days.

My partner is a photographer and I have seen him spend endless hours in front of an image, ‘lightboxing’ it to get it just right. He has done wonders on family photos, his fine art photography and for client’s corporate work.

So I can see some benefit to it. But I’m a factual kind of a girl and when I see an image of an event – be it tragedy, joyous or otherwise – I want it to be real, not touched up.

What concerns me the most about Hansen’s image is that the touching up has made it look like a film poster, or a glossy magazine ad. The people in it look almost like oil paintings and not so much mourners.

There is no grittiness to it and no rawness. It has been manipulated so much I just can’t get past the touching up. All I want now is to see the original before it got to Lightbox.

Sadly, that is with the photographer and I doubt it will ever see the light of day.

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