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Detail of one of the photos in question showing the photographer's cousin having sex in a car(Credit: Giovanni Troilo. iMediaEthics has blurred the window section to obscure details.)

The World Press Photo contest took away this year’s first prize award after discovering the photographer “misrepresented the location of one of the atmospheric images,” the New York Times reported.

“The World Press Photo Contest must be based on trust in the photographers who enter their work and in their professional ethics,” Lars Boering, the managing director of World Press Photo, is quoted as saying in a statement. “We now have a clear case of misleading information and this changes the way the story is perceived. A rule has now been broken, and a line has been crossed.”

The winner for the Contemporary Issues – Stories category was a series titled “The Dark Heart of Europe” by Giovanni Troilo. Troilo said he was “very sad” about losing the award. “it seems a big injustice,” he told the Times.

The Mayor of Charleroi, Belgium complained about Troilo’s photos, which he said were a “serious distortion of reality.”  According to the Times, the mayor claimed, “Troilo’s photos had cast Charleroi in a negative light and that several of the photos had been staged.”

The misidentification of where the photo was taken is what disqualified Troilo, although there were the other claims of staging several photos, Reuters reported.  “His work was disqualified because of breaking the contest rules by submitting falsified information,” World Press Photo told iMediaEthics.

Troilo confirmed that one of the photos in question wasn’t actually taken in Charleroi as he had originally said, but instead in Brussels. Troilo claimed that he wasn’t trying to trick the contest but instead “made a mistake” that was “out of distraction” while filling out the entry forms.

World Press Photo “initially defended the award for pictures that included an image of Troilo’s cousin and a woman having sex in a car, an old woman slumped on a table in a care home and a couple preparing to host a sex party with the woman sitting in a cage,” according to Reuters.

Troilo also said he transparently disclosed to World Press Photo that some of the photos were staged. For example, he said he used a flashlight and got his cousin’s OK before photographing the cousin having sex. But, he said the cousin was planning on having sex in the car anyway, so it wasn’t staged. The photo, at the top of this article, shows that the cousin left the car lights on.

World Press Photo agreed.

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After the accusations from the mayor, World Press Photo said it made Troilo tell them “all relevant facts and background information” about his photos.

World Press Photo said staging is not allowed, with the definition of staging as “something that would not have happened without the photographer’s involvement.”

Despite World Press Photo’s ruling the staging was OK, “the photo world grumbled,” photography news site Peta Pixel reported.

Columbia Journalism Review argued that throwing Troilo out for the one caption error when the accusations of staging were circulating was somewhat disingenous. “Miscaptioning is a definite violation of the rules, but it’s also an Al Capone-style solution — if we can’t get him on murder let’s get him for tax evasion,” CJR wrote.

The National Press Photography Asociation also criticized the decision in a March 1 report.  “While World Press Photo describes itself as a photojournalism and documentary photography contest, this statement seems to grant permission to photographers to set-up or stage scenes that would ‘ordinarily’ take place,” NPPA argued.

Columbia Journalism Review suggested that World Press Photo “stream their contests live” to “help clarify the discussion, allow the disqualified photographers a voice, and protect jurors from accusations of nepotism or bias.”

The New York Times noted that France’s Visa Pour L’Image photojournalism festival “said it would not show any World Press Photos this year to protest what it said were staged photos.”

World Press Photo revealed last month that about twenty percent of the entries that made it to its penultimate round were disqualified for photo manipulations, as iMediaEthics reported.

iMediaEthics has written to Troilo for comment.

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World Press Photo 1st Prize had ‘serious distortion of reality’

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