The striking image of grief-stricken men carrying two young boys to a mosque for their funeral in Gaza City was hailed for capturing a poignant human moment in an ongoing conflict.
The photograph was taken last November; it was named the World Press Photo of the Year on Feb. 15. And recently, in articles such as one with the provocative headline “How the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year Was Faked with Photoshop,” the photo’s authenticity has been called into question.
The photo, titled “Gaza Burial,” was taken by Paul Hansen, a photojournalist based in Stockholm, Sweden. According to his website, Hansen is on the staff of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, and has been named Sweden’s photographer of the year seven times.
Citing the forensic analysis of Neal Krawetz, ExtremeTech concluded that Hansen’s award-winning image was “almost certainly a composite of three different photos.”
Krawetz says he was intrigued by a Der Spiegel article that said the photograph “seems almost too perfect to be true.” The article noted that Hansen had forgotten to bring the RAW file of his image to the awards ceremony.
Hansen has maintained that the award-winning photo is genuine — speaking to Australia’s News.com site, he says it’s “certainly not a composite or a fake.”
Saying that he had never had “a photograph more thoroughly examined,” Hansen went on to describe his process of editing the image.
“In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway, I developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger dynamic range,” he said.
“To put it simply, it’s the same file - developed over itself - the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them.”
The World Press Foundation, which commissioned an independent forensic analysis of the image after signs of a controversy over its authenticity emerged, agrees with Hansen.
World Press announced the results of that analysis Tuesday evening.
“It is clear that the published photo was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone. Beyond this, however, we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing,” said computer science professor Hany Farid of Dartmouth College who studied the image with his co-founder of Fourandsix Technologies, Kevin Connor.
“Furthermore,” they said, “the analysis purporting photo manipulation is deeply flawed.”
Digital photography expert Eduard de Kam of the Netherlands, who also analyzed the image for World Press, said that he detected that there had “been a fair amount of post-production” on the image, but all of the pixels were “exactly in the same place” in the RAW file as they were in the JPEG submitted to the contest.
The debate over the photograph has touched on many things that are less easily quantified than the number of pixels in an image — such as disagreements on how conflicts in Gaza City should be presented in the media, and whether the standards of manipulating a digital image are fixed, or shift with time. Those debates are sure to continue.