Ethics Follow-up

A quick follow-up to my earlier post on Ethics, in which I suggested that the viewer’s response to a picture is invariably changed by knowing that an image was faked in some way. Consider, then, the case of the overall winner of last year’s BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in the UK, arguably the biggest and most prestigious of its kind in the world.

The winning picture – chosen from tens of thousands of entries – was of an endangered Iberian wolf, jumping over a fence at dusk. Because of the rarity of the animal, the action in the picture and the perfect pose and lighting, it was an easy choice in the view of the judges. The photographer was awarded a £10,000 prize.

Only later did it come out that the animal was a well-known captive wolf “model”, baited in with food, and the photo taken in a game farm.


This is a perfect example of how a picture’s “value” is directly tied to its authenticity. If, as the photographer argued, this animal was wild, and taken only with great patience and waiting – it would have been breath-taking. But once the facts became known, the same picture is diminished to being a fancy studio shot – a catchy, but forgettable, setup.  It is also a visual lie, and another blow to the “magic” of photography. Sad.

Oh yes, he had to return the £10,000 prize.