September 06, 2013

Friday Round Up - 6 September

This week Friday Round Up is all about Visa pour l'image, the international photojournalism festival held annually in Perpignan, France. Now in its 25th year, Visa still attracts the best in the business.

Report on Visa pour l’Image – Part One 
Alison Stieven-Taylor 

Perpignan, France: More than 1400 people involved in the industry that is photojournalism – photographers, editors, agencies, journalists et al are here in Perpignan to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Visa pour l'image. Such a large crowd defies the notion that the industry is in decline however, this very topic is top of mind for many here. This year there is a real understanding that change is here and I’ve had many discussions along these lines.

There is still an unwavering commitment to the function of photojournalism in bringing issues to light that may not receive media attention in the course of daily news coverage, but there is also a sense of how this material will be communicated in the future in light of declining publications and budgets.

Yet there are more young photojournalists here than ever before, many who have come not only to pitch their work to the dwindling number of photo editors, but to also see their heroes – yesterday’s session “Photographing War” facilitated by Rémy Ourdan and featuring Don McCullin, John G. Morris, David Douglas Duncan, Patrick Chauvel and Yuri Kozyrev drew a packed house. Paolo Pellegrin, one of Magnum Photos’ most highly awarded members, whose oeuvre contains some of the most iconic images of the human condition in times of conflict, told me it was “an historical moment”. He sat on the floor along with many others to hear the stories of these men who are renowned for their skills in visual storytelling. 

In my interview with Jean François Leroy, the director general of Visa and its creator, he told me he had received more than 4000 submissions from photojournalists for this year’s programme. While he laments the fact that some of the submissions from young photojournalists lacked storytelling – a photo essay is not just a handful of random pictures, it must have a narrative otherwise it doesn’t fulfill its role to communicate – he was amazed at how much work is being made especially when much of it is self-funded.

Self-funding is nothing new, but this year there is an air of exhaustion from those who have been in the business a long time. Change is here, but it is without a solution, and it is impacting every aspect of a profession that has relied on the traditional media formats as its conduit. This was the topic of my thesis, "Has the Critical Mirror Shattered?" which I completed this June, and it is a subject that I continue to explore. My conclusion that photojournalism will in the future sit outside the traditional media environ gathers further momentum when I see the thousands of visitors to Perpignan who line up for the exhibitions and solemnly walk through ingesting the powerful messages these images deliver. There is clearly an audience. The key now is to discover how to work with that audience in a broader context.

When I asked Leroy about the role of the photojournalist as a witness, and the need for that witness to have an audience he said “look at the number of people who come here to see the exhibitions. There is an audience, the problem is that the media isn’t interested in these pictures anymore”. McCullin said the same thing. Celebrities and sports stars fill our pages in print and online. We are living in an age of trivia. 

Don McCullin

If the number of thinking people outweigh those who live vicariously through celebrity, will the pendulum swing and the media come back to creating worthwhile content? Will still photography have a place or will moving image, short sharp visual sound bytes, become the new norm? These are some of the questions being debated here in Perpignan.

Clément Saccomani, the editorial director of Magnum Photos told me last year he was “very optimistic”. This year while his optimism is no less, he is now more curious as to the future. He concedes he is working harder to maintain the business, right now it is not about growth. He tells that a photojournalist on a recent assignment used a Go Pro camera as an experiment. That short video drew more attention from the media than the stills, and in fact aided in selling the still images - there was little interest initially in the photographs. When the video was published on Le Monde thousands saw it, but when it went viral that number grew exponentially. Of course there was no income attached to the huge number of views on YouTube. And so the digital dilemma continues.

A Visual Feast 
Moving on from the business of photojournalism, and the exhibitions this year are no less extraordinary than in the past. Like a kid in a candy shop, choosing which ones to see is almost torturous and most days I’ve run between interviews and exhibitions crisscrossing the cobblestoned alleys of this southern French town.

The McCullin Retrospective – The Impossible Peace - curated by Robert Pledge of Contact Press Images New York, fills the cathedral spaces of the Église des Dominicans. This is the first time McCullin has exhibited at Visa, and the retrospective features not only his conflict images, but also his street photography, particularly his study of the homeless in the UK. McCullin said he is now too old in body to trek the streets of London with camera in hand, but that street photography was something he had greatly enjoyed. “Young photographers don’t need to leave their homeland to find conflict, it is in their own communities, they just have to look," he said.

McCullin Retrospective

(C) Don McCullin
In the labyrinth of Couvent Des Minimes the walls are hung with works by numerous photographers. “Pashtun Women – Second Class Citizens” won Sarah Caron last year’s Canon Female Photojournalist Award. Caron’s exhibition reveals the hidden world of Pashtun, a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan, where extreme religious views and cultural traditions oppress women relegating them to the shadows. 

(C) Sarah Caron

(C) Sarah Caron

John G. Morris’ exhibition Somewhere in France, Summer ’44 also hangs here along with this year’s World Press Photos collection, Muhammed Muheisen’s Life Goes On, and Andrea Star Reese’s disturbing Disorder revealing the inhumanity of Indonesia’s mental health system. And Australia’s Vlad Sokhin features with his exhibition Restaveks, which I wrote about on Friday Round Up – 19 April. In all there are 14 shows within the Couvent. 

(C) John G Morris

(C) John G Morris

(C) Vlad Sokhin

Not all the exhibitions portray the death, destruction and misery of humanity. Éric Bouvet’s Burning Man documents the bizarre festival of the same name held annually since 1986. In 2012 the Burning Man, now held in Nevada, attracted 60,000. I’m interviewing Éric later today to find out more about the motivations of those who attend this event premised on the radical self. 

(C) Éric Bouvet

Sara Lewkowicz, a young photojournalist I featured earlier this year on Friday Round Up - April 12, is also here with her exhibition Shane and Maggie: A Portrait of Domestic Violence. Donna Ferrato, a photojournalist of international standing and a veteran in the industry, said Sara’s images are shocking in the way that good photojournalism should be. Sara is this year’s winner of the Rémi Ochlik Award and also a newcomer to Getty Images Emerging Talent pool. I’m also interviewing Sara later today. 

(C) Sara Lewkowicz

So that’s it for today’s post. As you can see from this small selection of images diversity is the key word. Look out for next week’s Friday Round Up for Visa pour l’image Part Two coming to you from Berlin. Until then au revoir!

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