As a veteran photographer and, in more recent years, an advisor on the use of imagery in the campaign to delegitimize Israel, it came as no great surprise when World Press Photo named the “Gaza Burial” picture as Photo of the Year – an entry by outstanding Swedish photographer Paul Hansen, a staffer with Dagens Nyheter.
As for the reason it came as no surprise, my feeling on seeing the incredibly evocative and beautifully lit image was that World Press Photo, an organization founded in 1955 and known for holding the world’s largest and most prestigious annual press photography contest, had been motivated more by its own publicity at the expense of Israel, than by the integrity of many of the other images that it had received in this category. It seems the judges realized they would get a lot more mileage out of a picture depicting dead Palestinian babies in Gaza, much to the benefit of both their travelling photo exhibition, viewed by over a million people in 40 countries, and a yearbook published in six languages.
On first seeing the image, I just felt a sense of sadness at the circumstances that led to the picture being made in the first place and frustration at the bias and double standards that Israel faces on a daily basis by organizations like World Press Photo in relation to this kind of imagery.
At the same time that Paul Hansen was in Gaza – where photographers can only work if they are watched over by the terrorist organization Hamas – I was in Southern Israel photographing wave after wave of incoming rockets and their effects on the lives of the one million Israelis that were in the line of fire.
Following the direct hit on an apartment building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, where 3 Israelis lost their lives, I photographed as they were brought out of the building in body bags. These photos will never win any awards. Because dead Israelis, even babies, do not make for sexy images, unlike the kind Hamas set up for the international media.
As a human being, I am proud to live in a country that does not exploit dead bodies in the way others do, and secondly as a photographer and imagery advisor, I completely agree with the choice to not exploit these situations for sympathy.
In my opinion Paul Hansen is a superb photographer, who appears to have all the qualities to do a very difficult and heart wrenching job. He has more than proven this. The fact that he does tend to use a lot of advanced Photoshop techniques to enhance certain aspects of his images, including the burial picture, are really for his own conscience, and the experts to decide. Indeed there is a real need for clarity from the organizers of awards as to what is acceptable as far as the enhancement of these kind of images.
No, my problem is not with Paul Hansen. My problem really is with World Press Photo, which is by no means alone in their exploitation of these kind of images
Any loss of life is tragic. My question to the judges, however, is why they chose this image, having so many more powerful images from which to choose, especially from Syria where outstanding photojournalists have risked and lost their own lives over the past two years documenting atrocities, producing much less clichéd and certainly less ‘photoshopped’ images. Why was it the image that depicted Israel as the bad guy that they made their number one?