World Press Photo exhibition
Life through a lense
This article is from 2007.
Ruth Hedges introduces this year’s World Press Photo exhibition, which runs throughout August at the Scottish Parliament and powerfully documents people and places from across the globe
The media fetish for nonentity has made its visual mark more than anyone could have foreseen a decade ago. And while Posh, Paris and Britney have had their mugs in the press far more than is decent, thankfully that’s not the whole story.
The World Press Photo Award seeks to reward the best press photography from across the globe. The panel scrutinised 78,083 images, and after two processes of elimination, 63 clinchers were chosen. From the freaky Peter Crouch scissor kick, to the fight of a Jewish settler woman for her home, the power of photography is shown off with full exposure. The exhibition of these winning images, which visits Edinburgh as part of a global tour, serves as a stunning reminder that not only is photojournalism flourishing and vital, but that human experience across the world is complex, impassioned and physical in all its shades of strength and weakness.
Take Arturo Rodriguez’ image from La Tejita beach in Tenerife. Holidaymakers in bikinis and trunks rally round, roused from their day in the sun to attend to thin and near dead-looking migrants from Africa who have turned up on shore after travelling across seas for up to 1000km. A woman calls out for help as her friend supports a man wrapped in a blanket, huddling with exhaustion, trauma and dehydration.
Take the image by Peter van Agtmael where a young Iraqi boy, silhouetted by the warm, cosy glow of home, leans with his hands in pockets, looking downwards with a weariness long before his time, as US soldiers search the next door room for possible insurgents.
Or what about the ladies of the Ms Senior Sweetheart Pageant in Fall River, outside Boston? Captured by Magnus Wennman, a Liza Minnelli lookalike points an arch finger in practise of a routine, while the dumpy fairy godmother behind looks sideways on, hand-on-hip, less impressed.
The World Press Photo Award started in 1955 and has stuck to its core values and aims to represent the best of press photography in all its forms. ‘You have so many different kinds of photographers working for so many different kinds of employees,’ says Michiel Munneke, managing director of World Press Photo, an independent non-profit organisation based in Amsterdam. ‘There are different kinds of requirements. If you’re working for wire services – Reuters or AP – and you’re working in a conflict zone, they need images fast with a certain kind of impact, and on deadline. That’s a very different approach to a photographer who has decided to tell in-depth stories about a subject and spends, if possible, two or three weeks in a certain kind of region. For World Press, it’s important for us to accommodate all these kinds of traditions.’
The organisation puts money into workshops and education for photographers in less developed areas. Munneke says he is particularly happy with one of the winning entries for this reason: ‘It’s a picture taken in Nigeria and it’s a man with a blue bucket. In the background you see that there has just been a blow from an aerial oil pipeline. The colours in the pictures are amazing, the composition is superb and it’s a devastating story – there’s a kind of desperation in the man. If you look, it’s like someone is fighting with a ridiculously small basket an enormous fire.’ The Nigerian photographer, Akintunde Akinleye, had been on a World Press Photo workshop in Lagos the month before; he is now a regular for Reuters.
To tell a story; that is the purpose of every journalist. The trick of these talented individuals from around the world is to do so in a simple click, to arrest our attention, stop the pages from flicking and focus just for a minute on the story that fills their frame. Here is your chance to see them up close.
The Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Road, 0131 473 2000, 3–26 Aug, free.