The show must go on!
Despite photojournalism facing uncertain times, as a career choice it has never been more popular. The recent World Press Photo Festival served as a useful opportunity to test the pulse of the profession and with a younger audience attending and a greater number of interested parties from outside the profession taking an interest in the winning entries, you might think that our industry has never been in ruder health. And yet despite the facelift given to its awards ceremony and the accompanying talks and workshops, some old debates were still raging…
World Press Photo celebrates its 61st birthday this year. With six decades of contests under its belt you’d be forgiven for thinking it was beyond reinvention, but statistics released by the organisation (https://www.worldpressphoto.org/sites/default/files/upload/world-press-photo_2018-technical-report.pdf) reveal that entries have declined year-on-year since 2016, and only 15 percent of entries this year were from women. Fifteen percent! That is absolutely ridiculous and even the team at World Press Photo were scratching heads, stating ‘One hindrance to clarity on this topic is the fact that we do not know what proportion of the professional photojournalism industry is female, so we cannot confirm whether or not the proportion of female entrants is reflective of the industry.’ To encourage a new generation to take notice of visual storytelling, and to determine a truer demographic, some key changes had to be made.
Previous awards and festivals have always been perfectly reasonable occasions: a feeling of bonhomie always pervaded, and among the presentations you’d encounter plenty of back-slapping, hugs and gentle networking among fellow peers. Not to mention plenty of good coffee. But times are a-changing and to extend its reach the organisers decided to opt for a new venue this year as well as a new approach to presenting the awards.
A new home for the festival
First, a quick word about the new venue for 2018. A former gas works, Westergasfabriek was redeveloped in 2003 and turned into a self-styled cultural hotspot for Amsterdam. It has that lazy, cool, slightly frayed look so beloved of creatives and with good broadcast-quality lighting for the awards evening the place was buzzing with energy. There was certainly more space to move around and listen to presentations, too, but perhaps rather perversely the downside of all that was that it made the event look less busy.
Unusually for this year, and in-line with plans to generate more of a buzz and a bigger splash on the night, the World Press Photo 2018 winners were announced live at the awards ceremony rather than at a press conference a few weeks in advance. This made the evening more of an occasion and – despite a few first night hiccups – was carried off with aplomb with news anchor Dionne Stax from Dutch public broadcaster NOS hosting the proceedings.
Some things stay the same
As is customary with the awards ceremony, the evening occasion was graced by HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands, along with his wife Princess Laurentien and various other dignitaries. As World Press Photo patron, the Prince maintains an interest in photojournalism and took his usual front row seat accompanied by the World Press Photo hierarchy. Dionne Stax introduced all the nominees and each category was - as usual - peppered with musical interludes. As a break from the norm, the lights shone on various nominees and winners throughout the evening, mixing between live announcements and pre-recorded ‘insights’ from awarded photographers. It worked reasonably well with a live unveiling of each winning image in the exhibition after each award was announced.
The festival talking points
More focus was given to women this year in the presentations and talks. And rightly so. The photojournalism profession is still dominated by men behind the cameras and quite why this anomaly continues is a debate that will continue to run and run. Although it doesn’t have the answer, World Press Photo certainly helped fuel the discussions with an excellent workshop given on female photojournalist safety while Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and filmmaker Stephanie Sinclair delivered this year’s well-attended Sem Presser lecture and showed the special sensitivity she has for her craft has rewarded her with a higher platform from which to have her stories heard.
Announced at the Festival were this year’s participants in the Joop Swart Masterclass (https://www.worldpressphoto.org/news/2018-04-12/announcing-2018-joop-swart-masterclass-participants). Each year a group of nominators select candidates for this prestigious World Press Photo masterclass from all over the world. These candidates are then invited to submit a portfolio of their work and then an independent committee selects 12 participants based on the submitted portfolios. Out of the 12 photographers announced this year, only three were men. World Press Photo revealed that for the 2018 Joop Swart Masterclass it received 219 nominations from 123 nominators, including the two runners-up from last year. The nominees came from 79 different countries from all six continents. And 40 percent of all nominees were women with 60 percent being men. So, hats off to World Press Photo for turning the stats on their head!
The real winners… are the stories
Despite fewer entries this year, there was still plenty of quality photojournalism on show at this year’s Festival. Expertly printed on large format printers, the winning images looked stunning in De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam’s Dam Square on the opening night. You can catch them there until 22 July, after which time they begin a world tour, taking in 100 cities and 45 countries, reaching a global audience of some four million.
The power of storytelling in visual form remains one of the quickest and most effective ways to make a point and bring an issue to world attention, and all the photographers who took part in World Press Photo this year (and every year) are experts in their fields; full credit must go to them for their tireless pursuit of the story. Credit, though, must also go to World Press Photo for daring to move with the times and produce a Festival that looked better, more dynamic and somewhat slicker that before. It was filmed this time for a television edit later in the year and I’m told that next year’s effort might even be broadcast live. Here’s hoping these extra efforts to secure a newer, wider, audience pay off.
After all, it’s in all our best interests that it does.