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Quilty until proven innocent?

Before media organisations and photojournalism associations reputationally executed Gold Walkley Award-winning Australian photojournalist Andrew Quilty due to allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’, fairness dictates there should have been an investigation to verify and flesh out the details.

Andrew Quilty. Photo: Balazs Gardi.

Swift and unforgiving punishment meted out to any individual should surely be accompanied by a statement informing both the person and the public why that punishment was justified. In this instance we don’t even know what Quilty has been accused of, let alone if the accusation has been investigated. It’s like a Franz Kafka novel.

Instead there’s a troubling situation where a range of organisations have thrown Quilty, one of Australia’s finest contemporary conflict photographers, under the bus, but are not willing to say why they have decided to do so. This virtue-signalling response is the exact opposite of transparency, and begs questions about the moral compass of World Press Photo, New York Times, Time, Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) and National Geographic. It’s baffling the upper echelons of journalism have approached the issue this way. Their treatment of Quilty indicates that they have scant regard for the notion of natural justice.

Are there unknown legal proceedings against Quilty making the topic ‘sub judice‘ and thus prohibited from public discussion? No-one is saying. Or is there insufficient evidence to justify publishing the allegations. Are they in fear of a Geoffrey Rush-style defamation lawsuit?

Background
Quilty came third in the 2019 World Press Photo Contest’s Spot News Stories category for his series, Ambulance Bomb.

From ‘Ambulance Bomb’ by Andrew Quilty, Agence VU. Shopkeepers, passers-by and residents run from the scene, seconds after an ambulance bomb explodes in Kabul, Afghanistan. 27 January 2018.

Freelance journalist, Kristen Chick, then wrote an article for CJR titled ‘World Press Photo disinvites photographer to industry awards‘ in April. The article states that WPP ‘received reports of inappropriate behaviour by Quilty’ from ‘reliable sources’, resulting in his invitation, flights and accommodation for the annual award ceremony in Amsterdam being cancelled.

‘Our protocol is that when we learn from reliable sources that someone associated with us has allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior we take action,’ Lars Boerring, World Press Photo Foundation executive director, told CJR.

So shocking was this inappropriate behaviour, in the view of the perennially troubled WPP, that it would also have liked to have stripped him of his latest award

‘…On the basis of the contest entry rules we do not currently have the grounds to do so. He received an award after the jury judged all entries anonymously, and the jury was not aware of his identity or his alleged misconduct when making the award. We will be reviewing our rules for the 2020 contest.’

(The WPP rules currently don’t venture into ‘inappropriate behaviour’ but rather focus on things like accurate captioning and excessive manipuation. Is the WPP now planning to insert a morals clause to which photojournalists must adhere. Really?)

New York Times, National Geographic, and Time also said there’s no current or future work planned with Quilty. Time was the only one to directly attribute it to the allegations.

Quilty’s Paris-based photo agency, VU Agence, didn’t comment or quietly drop him – he’s still listed on the website.

Quilty responded through his lawyer, stating that ‘no allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been made known to me’.

He then added he’s a supporter of his female colleagues and the #MeToo movement. It’s a strange response, and suggests WPP didn’t even provide the reason why his invitation was terminated.

Surprisingly, the general media haven’t run with the story. Only photo media picked it up with Dpreview, DIYPhotography, Fstoppers, and us filing stories. Maybe because photographers aren’t celebrities?

Related: Dumping Quilty mean-spirited, unfair, and lacking transparency

While WPP came out swinging against Quilty, the correspondence with Inside Imaging was pretty spineless and lacking the kind of conviction you would expect to accompany such harsh action against an individual.

Asked if there’s any intention to investigate the veracity of the claims, and why there’s secrecy surrounding the allegations, WPP told Inside Imaging: ‘The article in the Columbia Journalism Review came about because we were asked a question by Kristen Chick, who has been writing a lot about the #MeToo issue in photojournalism.

‘We can only provide you with the answer we gave to Kristen Chick.’ (So that would seem to be, ‘No, we will not bother giving the already punished person a retrospective fair hearing.’)

Inside Imaging put a couple questions to Kristen Chick, who responded with: ‘I put everything I wanted to say publicly in the story, and I’m monitoring it for possible followups’.

One of those questions is whether, in this sea of opacity, Chick was the ‘reliable source’ for the allegations of inappropriate behaviour, or simply an activist/journalist with an inside lead on a good story.

As mentioned by WPP, Chick has been exploring #MeToo issues in photojournalism, and wrote another article for CJR in 2018: Photojournalism’s moment of reckoning, a 9500-word ‘special report’.

Over 50 interviews were conducted to reveal alleged ‘serial harassment’ by renowned photographers Antonin Kratochvil and Christian Rodriguez, along with other unnamed photo editors and photojournalists.

Female photojournalists, named and unnamed, provided compelling testimonies to justify why an employer would cut ties to the photographers in question: Rude language, unwanted physical contact, using their position of power to target younger, vulnerable photographers – a variety of unsavoury behaviour that’s been called out by #MeToo.

Whereas Chick’s CJR story on Quilty’s ‘disinvitation’ (eww) doesn’t specify anything. It doesn’t indicate if there are several incidents against one or multiple individuals, or a single inappropriate act. Or whether the inappropriate behaviour is criminal or merely unethical. It doesn’t even reveal if the accusations are of a sexist or sexual nature – this is something that’s assumed given Chick’s previous work and Quilty’s reference to #MeToo.

The two articles are miles apart, with the first going in-depth and Quilty’s barely probing the surface – as if something is being deliberately held back.

A comment from DIYPhotography which sums up most people’s reaction.

Inside Imaging contacted Chick and WPP again in a final attempt to find out – well, anything.

She didn’t respond at all, while WPP’s communications manager, David Campbell, only said ‘unfortunately, I am not able to add to what we have already said’.

Andrew Quilty also doesn’t want to publicly speak about the matter, telling Inside Imaging he cannot comment.

DPreview comments from the admittedly mostly white male crowd.

Chick’s CJR ‘special report’ was welcomed by the photo industry. Many agreed that it was, indeed, time for ‘photojournalism’s moment of reckoning’ as the article claimed. But the reception isn’t so warm this time around. There is hardly anyone applauding WPP or the reporting on the Quilty accusations.

The historically macho photojournalism industry is well-overdue for its ‘#MeToo moment’, but it’s hard to support when it looks like this.
– William Shipton

(Credit to a Dpreview commenter for coming up with the headline)

3 Comments

  1. John McDermott John McDermott May 23, 2019

    Mr. Quilty should be outspoken in his own defense if he has been wrongly accused of something.

    • Tobie Openshaw Tobie Openshaw June 20, 2019

      According to him, no accusations or charges were made known to him. A bit hard to defend yourself against charges if you don’t know what they are. “Here, you have been found guilty of the charges brought against you, and here is your punishment. No, we’re not going to tell you what those charges are.” Travesty of justice, I’d say.

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