An Update

Alfredo Fierro (left, Eagle Eye Honey) and his collaborators Ubaldo and José wearing protective suits while tending bees in the Arizona desert near Wenden. For several years, the men have had to provide water for the bees in troughs, otherwise the colonies would not be able to survive since there has been less and less rainfall. Photo: Jonas Kako, Winner Singles North and Central America 2023

Many of my colleagues were troubled by World Press Photo’s (WPP) decision to open the door for generative artificial intelligence (AI) in one of its categories and promote images generated by AI on its Instagram feed. We could not let that stand.

Over the past 24 hours, we pulled together what is a very impressive group of photojournalists, editors, curators and others from the photo industry to rally behind cause. Our open letter includes World Press Photo of the Year Winners from Don McCullin (1964) over David Burnett (1980) to John Moore (2019) and many more. It includes recent category winners and nominees like Hannah Reyes Morales, Nanna Heitmann and Daniele Volpe. It includes dozens of former and current jurors. It includes more than 100 others and is still growing.

The changes to the Open Format Category may seem small, but they go to the core of what we do. Many of our colleagues take great risks to create photographs, many have lost their lives. Over the past six weeks alone, 50 journalists were killed in the Israel-Gaza war. In times of viral disinformation, we have to draw clear lines. Generative AI is a fascinating tool and a threat to public discourse and democracy. It should have no space within World Press Photo beyond discussions about its risks and implications. Speaking for me personally, I felt disrespected by the changes. Genrative AI images draw from exisiting work, but have nothing to do with what we do.

WPP has since revoked their decision. “In response to this honest and thoughtful feedback, we have decided to change the rules for the Open Format category in our contest to exclude AI generated images. Both generative fill and fully generated images will be prohibited in the Open Format category (as was already the case in the other categories). We will update the official rules in the coming days”, they wrote in a comment to our letter. I commend that. At the time of my writing, images generated by artificial intelligence are still up on their feed, though. Since they come with hundreds of critical comments, it is probably wise not to take them down.

Beyond the discussion about AI, there was also frustration about WPPs recent changes in the structure of catgeories in our group chat. Photographers now compete in regions, rather than within genres. While it is important to foster a more diverse regional background of entries, it almost entirely excludes sports, nature and environment, portraits and others. In regions with a major news event, it is close to impossible to have stories recognised that are not focusing on that event. WPP should have a discussion about that.

Our work is gettting increasingly harder. The changing media environment leads not only to less resources being spent on photography, but also less attention paid to it. But we do what we do, because we think it is important. The list showed that. It has immense value in itself. Or, as someone, wrote in our group chat: “We have so much working against us already — that it reminds me just how much I appreciate our shared values and the community that we have!”

Daniel

Go team!

P.S. There is no photography that is not lens-based.

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An Open Letter to World Press Photo

A group of photographers, editors, curators and educators advocating for the integrity of journalistic photography.