These two photos were part of “The Dark Heart of Europe,” a winning photo essay in the 2015 World Press Photo awards. The series sought to illustrate “the collapse of industrial manufacturing, rising unemployment, increasing immigration and outbreak of micro-criminality” in the town of Charleroi, near Brussels.

The photo of an anonymous couple having sex in an automobile  was a staged. The subjects are the photographer’s cousin and his girlfriend, lit by the photographer’s remote flash inside the car. Staging a photo violates one of the core ethics of photojournalism, which is based on capturing real events as they happen.

WPP judges eventually rescinded the award after numerous other complaints surfaced and an uproar ensued from the photojournalism community; another photo in the series, the photo with the naked models, was found to be taken in Brussels, not Charleroi, as the caption originally claimed. Charleroi’s mayor and others complained that Troilo’s photos seriously misrepresented the town.

World Press Photo disqualified 20% of the finalists in the 2015 contest for manipulating, staging and altering photos in a variety of ways. “There was a huge amount of manipulation in the penultimate round. The jury was really shocked,” said one juror.

"The decision to rescind the award came a day after a leading photojournalism festival, Visa Pour L’Image, said it would not show any World Press Photos this year to protest what it said were staged photos. At a time when anyone with an Instagram account can become a de facto reporter, the controversy raises questions about what viewers should know about photos classified as journalism — and where one of the world’s most respected photo prizes draws the line between documentary photography and art photography."
- The New York Times, "World Press Photo Revokes Prize"

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Image copyright Giovanni Troilo