Was the World Press Wrong to Choose This As The Photo of the Year?

Burhan Özbilici / AP Images

Earlier this week, the jurors of the World Press Photo of the Year chose the defining image of 2016: the dramatic assassination of of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey at an art opening in Ankara.

The image began to go viral within minutes of the attack, which was captured on live video, and critics noted that the staged quality of the event—the white walls of the gallery, black suit of the gunman, the triumphant pose over the slain ambassador, all captured in a split second by AP photographer Burhan Özbilici—was “like a scene from Godard or Tarantino.”

But The New York Times reports that the jury was “quite split” with the decision, and one dissenter, jury chairman Stuart Franklin, quickly took to the Guardian with a short post explaining his reasoning. According to Franklin, this is the third time the image of an assassination has been chosen as photo of of the year (a group which includes Eddie Adams’ iconic 1968 photograph of the killing of a Vietcong police chief), but he argued that to choose it in our present moment is “morally as problematic [as publishing] a terrorist beheading.”

Placing the photograph on this high pedestal is an invitation to those contemplating such staged spectaculars: it reaffirms the compact between martyrdom and publicity.

This debate’s not new. The Greeks probably started it, nearly two and a half thousand years ago, when Herostratus sought notoriety by torching one of the seven wonders of the world and the judiciary, in response, banned any mention of his name. To be clear, my moral position is not that the well-intentioned photographer should be denied the credit he deserves; rather that I feared we’d be amplifying a terrorist’s message through the additional publicity that the top prize attracts.

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