AIPP disqualifies Lisa Saad image from national awards, the APPAs

By Marc Gafen | 14 February 2019

Following an in-depth review by the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) into allegations that top Australian photographer Lisa Saad used elements of a photo by Dutch photographer Marcel van Balken in her 2018 entry into the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA), the findings of the AIPP Awards Committee and independent specialist advice have been released.

The image in question, which was submitted in the Commercial category, has been disqualified for breaches of a number of rules, including:

  • that all elements of an entry must be the work of the entrant;
  • that “the use of third-party imagery such as stock photography … is prohibited”;
  • that “Entries that have been plagiarised, either knowingly or subconsciously, will be disqualified”;
  • that digital manipulation is allowed … but not to create new elements; and
  • that, in the case of composites and digital manipulation, all entrants must be able to supply a copy or proof of each element used to create the final image (and that failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification).
© Lisa Saad

While the AIPP has not made a formal announcement, a logical conclusion is that Saad will also be stripped of her title of 2018 AIPP Australian Commercial Photographer of the Year, in relation to the aforementioned image.

Following the initial story alleging Saad’s actions, on 3 February on the Photo Stealers’ website, a significant number of additional allegations against her have been made, including the use of clip art in a considerable number of other competition image entries, both here and overseas. The AIPP’s investigation is continuing, and will now focus on these allegations which relate to State and National entries dating back several years. The AIPP has also communicated with other organisations around the world also grappling with similar issues, and AIPP President, John Swainston notes that “the ramifications are significant”.

While the AIPP has been repeatedly criticised on social media for the time they’ve taken to issue an announcement, Swainston says that “the Institute is committed to fairness and due process”.

A step proposed by the AIPP is the “formation of a joint taskforce to review rules and entry criteria for images involving digital illustration, to recommend a new worldwide standard from the overarching national professional bodies to prevent future occurrences of this nature”.

The AIPP had communicated their findings to Saad, and Swainston has stated that the “impact on her is significant and is highly regrettable. The AIPP remains committed to her continued wellbeing, which remains a key concern, not-withstanding the adverse findings against her.”

The full statement from the AIPP appears below.

The AIPP has released the findings of the AIPP Awards Committee and independent specialist advice into the alleged breaches of entry rules, including alleged plagiarism, by Lisa Saad into the AIPP 2018 APPA Awards. The complaint was raised by Dutch photographer Marcel van Balken.

The AIPP became aware of rumours just over two weeks ago and sighted public accusations on Monday 4th February. A media release was issued on February 5th to indicate the Institute’s intention to fully investigate the matter in the interests of due process and fairness to all. Members were also kept advised.

The Institute also instructed Legal Counsel with a view to advising on several aspects of the allegations. The Board also appointed independent experts to advise us on potential rules breaches and other matters. The Awards Committee sought RAW files from Lisa Saad, which were supplied. The Committee also made various enquiries about certain aspects and inconsistencies that were not self-evident from information provided.

As a result, regrettably, the image in question, submitted in the Commercial category of the AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards in 2018, has now been disqualified, for breaches of rules of entry that have only now become apparent. Those rules include, amongst others:

  • that all elements of an entry must be the work of the entrant;
  • that “the use of third-party imagery such as stock photography … is prohibited”;
  • that “Entries that have been plagiarised, either knowingly or subconsciously, will be disqualified”; 
  • that digital manipulation is allowed … but not to create new elements; and
  • that, in the case of composites and digital manipulation, all entrants must be able to supply a copy or proof of each element used to create the final image (and that failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification).

As many people will be aware further allegations have been made in the public arena in relation to earlier State and National entries dating back several years. Those allegations are now undergoing similar detailed study and analysis for compliance with rules of entry. The Awards Committee has further images being reassessed. Time is needed to complete that work.

The AIPP Board is very conscious that many photographers will have had Lisa as a Judge of their prints in the Awards. Some people may also have lost out with otherwise winning images in various categories, in relation to the images now additionally being reviewed. All of this is being considered along with the ramifications for prizes. As before, once the re-assessment has occurred the AIPP will detail specific actions resulting from that. The further investigation is well advanced and new RAW files have been requested.

The AIPP has also communicated with fellow organisations around the world also grappling with similar issues, including New Zealand. The ramifications are significant. One immediate action is that the AIPP will be proposing to these same bodies a joint taskforce to review rules and entry criteria for images involving digital illustration, to recommend a new worldwide standard from the overarching national professional bodies to prevent future occurrences of this nature. Australia’s participation in the World Photographic Cup (Being held in Norway in the Northern Spring) has enabled improved communication with the leadership of many of these organisations.

The Institute is committed to fairness and due process. It has been criticised for taking time to carry out the investigation. But with so much riding on a correct view, including the reputations of our Awards, the photographers, the AIPP itself and those directly affected by judging and results, had to be completely sure of the correct outcome for all parties.

The AIPP asks for continued patience to ensure once again that enough time is given to make the correct assessment on the added images being reassessed.

The Institute has communicated with Lisa Saad its decision on the disqualification of the 2018 image. Naturally the impact on her is significant and is highly regrettable. The AIPP remains committed to her continued wellbeing, which remains a key concern, not-withstanding the adverse findings against her.

The AIPP has run a national photographic award over four decades. Events such as this have occurred very rarely indeed. The Institute regrets that an image entered, in which all elements of originality could not ultimately be provided, made it through the stringent pre-assessment for compliance with entry rules. While category rules are already reviewed annually the AIPP will use coming weeks to strengthen processes to further reduce the risk of a recurrence in future awards.

John Swainston
National President
For the AIPP.

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