Belgian town wants World Press Photo award withdrawn

Paul Magnette, the mayor of the Belgian town, said that the photo essay as a whole misrepresented Charleroi and asked for the award to be withdrawn (AFP Photo/Virginie Lefour)

Brussels (AFP) - The mayor of Charleroi has said the award of a World Press Photo prize to a study on the gritty industrial Belgian town should be withdrawn as a "serious distortion of reality."

"I should like to express our surprise and deepest dismay to see that the first prize of the Contemporary Issue World Press Award 2015 had been granted to Giovanni Troilo's 'The Dark Heart of Europe" photographic series," mayor Paul Magnette said in a letter to the organisers.

The photographs amount "to a serious distortion of reality that undermines the city of Charleroi as well as the profession of photo-journalist," Magnette said.

Last week, organisers of the prestigious World Press Photo awards said almost a quarter of the pictures reaching the penultimate round of the 58th edition of the contest were rejected because they had been digitally enhanced.

Charleroi, about an hour south of Brussels, is an industrial town which has seen much better days and is now best known for its airport which many low-cost carriers use as a regional base.

Troilo photographed one 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, charging that the photo essay as a whole misrepresented Charleroi.

"That is why we are asking you to consider withdrawing the award," he added.

The organisers said on their website -- www.worldpressphoto.org -- that they had received the letter and were looking into the matter.

On his website -- www.giovannitroilo.com -- Troilo front-pages the award, saying his "feature is a journey to the roots of my family, which moved from Italy to the district of Charleroi in 1956 to work in the steel industry."

He then says the city is an example of urban decay typical in Europe.

"A perverse and sick sex, race hate, neurotic obesity and the abuse of psychiatric drugs seem to be the only cures being able to make this endemic uneasiness acceptable," the caption reads.

In November, World Press Photo released a report on standards and current practices concerning manipulation of still images in photo-journalism.

At the awards ceremony on February 12, managing director Lars Boering said "our rules clearly state that the content of the image should not be altered.

"This year's jury was very disappointed to discover how careless some photographers had been in post-processing their files for the contest," Boering added.

The competition drew nearly 98,000 photographs from 5,692 photographers of 131 nationalities.