Yes, says image analyst Neal Krawetz, who believes the photo of grieving in the Gaza Strip may be three images melded together. No, say independent analysts contracted by World Press Photo, including a nifty tech outfit called Fourandsix.
But another start-up argues that there can be no definite answer once the process of image manipulation has started. Instead Scoopshot’s app transfers photos taken by users immediately to its platform, allowing it to guarantee that the photos that editors received are actually what the camera took.
The verification technology was added in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when false images of a shark and the Statue of Liberty made it onto social media.
Is it the path to authenticity? Among Scoopshot’s strengths is the fact that can identify the user’s location: you can’t say you’re in Syria when in fact you’re in Shoreditch.
But there are several limitations on Scoopshot’s technology.
1. All the editing in the publisher’s hands, rather than the photographer’s. Scoopshot’s chief executive Niko Ruokosuo thinks that avoids the unfortunate trend towards too much editing: “Where does an image quality adjustment become image manipulation? At best it’s guesswork.”
But in truth editing is now part of the photographer’s tool box. Preventing competition entrants from using Photoshop would be like banning athletes from using protein supplements.
2. Scoopshot can only work with camera phones, where users can install the app which immediately transfers the photos to an online platform. In contrast, professional cameras don’t support apps and aren’t connected to the internet (although some law enforcement agencies use image verification systems from Canon and Nikon that block any editing).
Ruokosuo is pessimistic that Scoopshot’s technology could ever work for professionals. “Have we looked at it? Yes. Have we come to the conclusion that it’s virtually impossible? Yes,” he told the FT.
So the company can’t solve the World Press Photo debate, and it’s unlikely to stop future disputes from emerging.
Nonetheless, in the field of citizen journalism, Scoopshot may have a role. To date around 270,000 people have used the app, leading to 250,000 photos being sold worldwide, the company claims.
It has raised €4.5m from angel investors and the Finish government. It’s now looking for venture capital funding. For its own technology, that would be, ahem, a verification of sorts.