Organisers of the prestigious World Press Photo awards have revoked a major prize after the entry, which portrayed the gritty Belgian industrial town Charleroi, was accused of being staged in a deepening debate over manipulation of images.
World Press Photo (WPP) said in a statement that the Contemporary Issue World Press Award 2015 granted to Giovanni Troilo for his series "The Dark Heart of Europe" had been withdrawn over "misleading information".
"The story was not in compliance with the entry rules and therefore the award must be revoked," the statement said, explaining they had discovered that one of the shots was actually taken in Brussels.
"Troilo confirmed over telephone and email that the image had not been taken in Charleroi, contrary to what he submitted to the contest. This falsified information is a violation of the 2015 photo contest entry rules," it said.
The series, focusing on urban decay in Europe, had sparked controversy and anger in Charleroi, with the mayor claiming it was a "serious distortion of reality" and calling for the award to be withdrawn.
In a letter to the organisers, Paul Magnette disputed the portrayal of a photograph showing a bare-chested, obese man with the caption that he lived in one of the most dangerous areas of the city.
Magnette said the man was in fact a well-known local figure who ran a wine bar, and that the photo essay as a whole misrepresented Charleroi. "That is why we are asking you to consider withdrawing the award," he wrote.
- U-turn -
The series sparked a storm on social media and the WPP initially defended Troilo, saying they had no problem with his photo of a couple having sex in a car, which was criticised as staged as one of the people shown was the photographer's cousin.
An initial investigation concluded there were "no grounds for doubting the photographer's integrity in carrying out his work", but in a statement late Wednesday the WPP said it had disqualified the entry after receiving new information.
Elements of the photographic community had criticised the WPP for its defence of Troilo, especially considering it had previously disqualified 20 percent of images that made it to the penultimate stage of the contest because of excessive manipulation.
The photo body's latest probe concluded that Troilo's photograph showing a painter creating a work with live models had instead been shot in Molenbeek in Brussels, the statement read.
"Questions were raised about Troilo's work that led to an investigation of the circumstances and the photographer's work methods regarding a number of pictures," said World Press Photo managing director Lars Boering.
"Until this point, we had upheld this award because there was no clear evidence to prove a rule had been broken.
But Boering added: "We now have a clear case of misleading information and this changes the way the story is perceived. A rule has now been broken and a line has been crossed."
The second-prize story will be bumped up to first and third place will be awarded the second prize, said organisers, adding there would be no third prize in the category following the disqualification.