THE old adage that 'the camera doesn't lie', has been severely tested once again, after the winner of the prestigious 2013 World Press Photo of the Year was accused of being a "fraudulent forgery".
Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen's winning picture was taken on 20 November last year and shows the bodies of two Palestinian children killed in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City being carried down an alleyway. Gaza Burial is undeniably powerful, but shortly after it was declared the winner of photojournalism's top prize in February, rumours began to circulate that it had been extensively manipulated by image editing software. The most contentious issue was the "incredible lighting" on the grieving men's faces.
The controversy went public when a forensic image analyst called Neal Krawetz added a post to his blog claiming that his analysis of the image suggested it had been "significantly altered". Krawetz, who examined the history of changes made to the picture using Photoshop, concluded that Hansen had stitched together three versions of the scene to create a single, arresting frame.
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Krawetz's claims were picked up by the extremetech website, which suggested it was only a matter of time before Hansen was stripped of his award. Explaining why the photographer would have manipulated the image, the website said: "Later, realizing that his most dramatically situated photo was too dark and shadowy, [Hansen] decided to splice a bunch of images together and apply a liberal amount of dodging [brightening] to the shadowy regions."
Hansen vehemently denied accusations he had manipulated his picture in a way that contravened photojournalism's "currently accepted standards" of digital retouching. But World Press Photo, concerned by the growing controversy, appointed two experts to analyse the winning frame.
Dr Hany Farid, professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, and Kevin Connor, the CEO of the image authentication company Fourandsix Technologies, examined Hansen's RAW file of Gaza Burial – the original unaltered copy of the image captured by the camera. They concluded that Hansen had applied a "fair amount of post-production, in the sense that some areas have been made lighter and others darker". But Farid and Connor "ruled out" any suggestion the image was a composite. As a result, Gaza Burial has been reconfirmed as the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year.
Hansen told news.com.au he was pleased to be vindicated. "I have never had a photograph more thoroughly examined, by experts and different photo-juries all over the world," he said. "The photograph is certainly not a composite or a fake".
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