Magnum Photos Defends Photographer who Improperly Attended GW Inaugural Ball

Editor’s Note: The photo essay in question is not linked because the photographer published material without credentials from the event and without permission from the subjects.

After Magnum photographer Matt Stuart improperly attended The George Washington University’s Inaugural Ball and published risqué photos of students without permission, the photo co-operative is “standing by [its] photographer.” However, GW officials maintain Stuart did not receive credentials to photograph Friday night’s event and was not permitted to attend.

Stuart took revealing photos of student attendees for the French newspaper Libération, a Magnum client, which posted them online along with a misleading headline and introduction that implied GW’s Inaugural Ball, hosted at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, was held to celebrate President Donald Trump’s victory.

Following MediaFile’s initial report Monday, Libération has sinced changed both the headline and the introduction, explaining to MediaFile in an email that though “The original Headline [sic] was factual…we understand your point and don’t want to have any misunderstanding, [so] we modified it to avoid any wrong interpretation.” GW has requested the article be removed, according to a university spokesperson.

Stuart had no part in any editorial decisions made by the paper, said Magnum Photos global digital director Anne Bourgeois-Vignon in an email sent both to MediaFile and GW’s media relations department. According to Bourgeois-Vignon, Stuart sent his photographs to Libération with clear captions reading:

“USA. Washington, D.C. January 21st, 2017. George Washington University. The only university inauguration ball celebrating the peaceful transition of power and democracy.” 

Following GW’s request, Magnum Photos also removed a tweet on their account containing a link to the Libération article and Stuart removed an instagram featuring a picture from that evening.

GW stands by its original statement that Stuart never received credentials from the university to photograph the event in the first place, citing a media advisory dated January 16th requiring interested outlets to RSVP. The university confirmed that The GW Hatchet and university photographers were also at the event.  

Bourgeois-Vignon said Stuart identified himself as a press photographer and showed his official inauguration press pass and a Magnum Photos press pass and was simply led into the ballroom after he was given a blue wristband.

“We refute the idea he was there illicitly,” she said.

According to the university as well as numerous participants, the blue wristbands in question were given to every attendee over 21 to indicate they were allowed to purchase alcoholic drinks. Underage attendees received yellow bands.

GW’s inaugural ball was not an official Presidential Inaugural Committee event and therefore, press passes for any PIC events earlier in the day would not have been accepted by the university as proper credentials, a university spokesperson confirmed.

Libération also mentioned Stuart’s “official” credentials and blue wristband in their email.

Though Magnum is insistent Stuart checked in at the press table, a university spokesperson who sat at the table in question Friday evening said there is no record of him ever checking in.

“More importantly, some students portrayed in the photos have been complaining that Mr. Stuart did not have their permission to take or publish their photos,” the university said.

GW’s statement is consistent with what photographed attendees have said in interviews with MediaFile: that they were not asked their names and they did not see Stuart wearing any sort of credentials.

He did not specify who he was photographing for,” said freshman Maggie Meimen, who appeared in one of the photos. “And we assumed that he was with GW because of his lack of other press credentials.”

The incident has GW students questioning their right to privacy at university-hosted events. On Twitter, Peter Konwerski, GW’s dean of student affairs, responded to concerns, promising  “protecting student privacy is a top concern. #GWU contacted the publication & photog & asked them to remove the pics.”

As of the time of publication, the Libération article is still online.

Scott Nover contributed reporting.

Update: A previous version of this story said the university had not confirmed the presence of other media outlets at the event. This story has been updated to reflect university response following publication. 

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