On this blog last week, I raised questions about the viability of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award jury process. The 2011 winner Jan Grarup is a colleague with one of the five jurors, Stanley Greene.

Grarup and Greene, with seven other photographers, co-founded the NOOR Images Agency, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in September 2007.

I emailed the offices of both the Leica Oskar Barnack Award and NOOR Images with the following questions:

Do you see this as a conflict of interest?
Did you foresee this as a problem before judging began?
Was Stanley Greene exempt from voting on entries by fellow NOOR photographers?
I am interested to know the jury process and if Leica Oskar Barnack Award believes it needs to defend itself against ethical questions.

The questions were designed to be relatively open and non-accusatory while getting at each bodies’ staked and defendable positions.

TINA WIESNER ON BEHALF OF THE LEICA OSKAR BARNACK AWARD

Leica Camera AG invited 5 jury members for the 2011 judging of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award / Newcomer Award.

The jury voted “unanimously” for the winner. There was no conflict of interest.

Please note that we received more than 2000 entries, representing photographers from 89 countries, many of them independent or working for renowned agencies. During the judging process, the jury concentrates on the editing of the series of 10 – 12 images and the information given about the story behind.

CLAUDIA HINTERSEER ON BEHALF OF NOOR IMAGES

One of our photographers was invited to be on the jury and another NOOR photographer was allowed to enter work according to the Leica Oskar Barnack entry rules.

The Leica Oskar Barnack organization has judging rules in place and a secretary to oversee these are being abided to. Like most other international photography competitions, their judging rules includes a clause that at crucial moments jury members have to announce specific working and/or personal relationships where there tends to be a conflict of interest. I know that Stanley Greene has made no secret of the fact that he, Jan Grarup and seven other photographers (and myself) founded a photography collective several years ago. Taking into account the professionalism of the other jury members of this year’s LOB competition, and trusting the fact that the Leica Oskar Barnack secretary does his/her duty, I trust that the multi-membered jury’s decision was made on the basis of the outstanding quality of Jan Grarup’s work, rather than on the basis of one jury member’s particular business interest.

In his career, Jan Grarup has been honored with some of the most prestigious awards from the photography industry and human rights organizations, including: World Press Photo, UNICEF, W. Eugene Smith Foundation for Humanistic Photography, POYi and NPPA.

Looking at other international photography contests you will be amazed how often jury members are professionally or – as is very common in our industry – personally (on the basis of friendships) related to photographers whose work is rewarded.

A few things:

I am still unclear as to whether Wiesner’s “unanimously” means Greene voted or abstained on Grarup’s work; whether his vote was important or not to Grarup’s win.

Hinterseer’s argument is a little more convincing than Wiesner’s, mainly because she explains the mechanics of the jury process.

Grarup’s past awards have no relevance to this issue.

Hinterseer softens the blow by saying pretty much that this sort of thing happens all the time. And it is this last point that I think is the take away. I’ve not given it any thought in the past. Let’s change that.

I took a quick look at the judging process at the World Press Photo and noted Stephen Mayes, managing director of VII Photo. I thought it a pretty safe bet that a VII Photo photographer won something at WPP. Sure enough, Ed Kashi won the Contemporary Issues: 2nd Prize Singles.

No judgement on Kashi, Mayes or VII; I’ve just used them to illustrate Hinterseer’s point. Besides, the labyrinthine WPP jury process probably rinses out much direct influence.

So, I’ll conclude with two questions. 1) Is this situation – as suggested – really unavoidable? 2) If so, what are we to make of this web of casual association and sanctioned incest when it comes to industry awards?

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