Gaza and the West Bank are a propaganda photographer’s paradise. It’s the Pallywood entertainment center where fauxtography thrives and anyone can make up their own Zionist War Machine photo by paying a few local lads to throw stones at a Jewish family or getting a bunch of the locals to parade some corpses around for the cameras.
Sadly Paul Hansen didn’t have the budget to get enough of the locals in the same place at the same time to get the “packed corpse mass” he was going for, so he had to do some compositing and then once he did that, he began playing around with the lighting to make his very own Photoshop Guernica.
On November 20, 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip, Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen snapped a powerful image depicting the funeral of two Palestinian children. Three months later, it was chosen by World Press Photo as its picture of the year.
“The strength of the [picture],” noted World Press Photo jury member Mayu Mohanna on the winning image, “lies in the way it contrasts the anger and sorrow of the adults with the innocence of the children. It’s a picture I will not forget.”
But the prize-winning photo, entitled “Gaza Burial,” was a bit too perfect, it seems.
On February 15, the day the prize was announced, observers started questioning the veracity of the photo. A commenter on the British Journal of Photography website pointed out that the lighting led her to believe the image was photoshopped.
Expert analysis followed. Forensic image specialist Neal Krawetz published a comprehensive study of the photo, finding that it was “significantly altered.” Looking at the size of the image, Krawetz states that, at the very least, the image was cropped considerably.
He then examined the save history of the photo, and concluded that, based on three separate conversions of the photo, it is actually a composite of three images. “This is what you typically see when a picture is spliced,” he noted.
Hansen insisted that the photo captured the auspicious lighting in the alley, and that he did not alter the image. However, he failed to present the digital original of the photo, or RAW file, to the awards ceremony on May 1, saying that he simply forgot to bring it along.
Boston University historian Richard Landes, who writes about media coverage of the Middle East at The Second Draft, sees this incident as part of a larger pattern. “These manipulations and forgeries — what I call ‘Pallywood’ — take many forms. In its most extreme, staged scenes, Syrian babies presented as Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression, make it into the Western press. This incident is more akin to the photoshopped scene of Beirut in 2006 when the Reuters photographer added plumes of smoke.” Landes called these instances “a systematic manipulation of Western empathy.”
“This incident is inexcusable,” added Landes. “The Reuters journalist was fired on the spot.”
Considering that Hansen was peddling his fakes for the notoriously anti-Israel Swedish Dagens Nyheter newspaper, the chances of him being held accountable for it are slim.