Environmental Photographer of the Year - a more ethical approach

CIWEM has assembled a team of experts on ethics to look through this year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year entries. Their advice is helping the judging panel to pick this year’s winners based on tighter ethical standards. Marieke Muller reports

CIWEM launched the annual Environmental Photographer of the Year (EPOTY) competition 15 years ago, to celebrate people’s ability to innovate and survive. EPOTY’s winning images force you to stop and think about our impact on the planet and inspire us to try to live sustainably.

We expect these photos to be challenging and will raise tough, but important issues such as environmental racism and exploitation. But we also want our photographic platform to uphold the rights and dignity of the people who appear in EPOTY photos.

This year, for the first time, we’ve brought together a team of experts to guide that ethical commitment. This October, they met to view competition entries, to disqualify any photos that do not comply with our ethical standards.

The members of our first ethics panel come from a wide range of backgrounds. They include photojournalists, wildlife photographers, academics and thinkers.

Meet the panel:

Savannah Dodd

Anthropologist, photographer and founding director of the Photography Ethics Centre, an organisation that raises awareness on the ethics of taking and sharing visual media.

Shaminder Dulai 

A 13-time Emmy-nominated, award-winning photo and video journalist, writer, editor, educator, curator and creative technologist who crafts journalistic narratives that empower communities to make informed choices and understand complex issues.

Melissa Groo 

Wildlife conservation photographer and writer and associate fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers who advises on ethics in nature photography.

Vanessa Okoth-Obbo 

Journalist and communications professional specialising multi-media production and cultural criticism, with experience in post-conflict development.

Aidan White 

President of the Ethical Journalism Network, a global campaign promoting ethics, good governance and self-regulation in media, an adviser on media policy to the United Nations who has written extensively about media standards.

This year’s decision to introduce an ethics panel aims to establish good practice and to set the bar for ethics in photographic competitions.

The panel helped us to update the competition rules and guidelines, to ask better questions of entrants and filter out those that did not comply with our ethical standards – images that dehumanise people, or that exploit people or animals.

We asked the ethics panel to review photos that raised ethical concerns after we first screened them. The panel scrutinised all flagged photos, where necessary going back to the photographer to ask for more information. The panel then met and discussed the submissions based on this new information and voted whether to keep each of these photos in the competition.

Our 2022 competition banned images that use children, vulnerable people or communities. We asked entrants to describe how they minimised negative impacts on the physical, emotional and behavioural health of the people they photographed. We looked for entries that find other, creative ways to raise public awareness.

We hope that all these steps support a shortlist of photographs of people and wildlife that meet the highest possible ethical standards and that represent people with dignity and respect. Tighter standards encourage entrants to delve deeper into their own processes, to question approaches they may have taken for granted.

We will publish this year’s winning EPOTY images in December.

Watch this space…

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