Gallery: World Press Photo exhibition 2013 visits Edinburgh Festival
Free exhibition of some of this years most important photographs
This article is from 2013.
Jay Richardson sidesteps the gore and the grief by exploring a different side to this year’s World Press Photo exhibition
Founded in 1955, the annual World Press Photo contest has showcased some of the most striking, shocking and memorable pictures in photographic history. But as visitors will discover when the exhibition of winning entries returns to Edinburgh, the world’s largest and most prestigious photojournalism competition has adapted to reflect our shifting values as media consumers, with a growing number of images devoted to sport. Last year’s Olympic Games in London offered constant drama for photographers and it is hoped that Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games will supply more of the same for talented Scottish snappers.
‘We’re constantly looking at what this contest reflects,’ explains World Press Photo’s managing director Michiel Munneke, speaking from the organisation’s headquarters in Amsterdam. ‘And it was our impression that if you look at the media nowadays, there’s much more focus on portraiture and sport. If the competition was to stay relevant, we felt we needed to embrace that and put extra emphasis on those categories. Our competition is still very much perceived as a platform for hardcore photojournalism, and about people in conflict zones. But we try to encourage the telling of these different stories because they’re also very important: a great conceptual story can be told just around the corner. You don’t always need to go to conflict areas.’
Capturing these intense moments of sporting triumph and despair certainly throws up its own challenges. A Moscow-based staff photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency, Sergei Ilnitsky’s series of 12 black and white pictures of fencers competing in the Olympics, beginning with the ecstatic moment of South Korea’s Jiyeon Kim kissing her gold medal during the ceremony for women’s individual sabre, earned him the silver in the Sports Action stories category.
‘Sports photography works to the same rules as other photography,’ he observes. ‘It has decisive moments, a golden ratio, a combination of light and shadows, and obeys rules of movement and rhythm. But during sporting events, you don’t have the opportunity to converse with the people you’re shooting. Normally, to speak to them before or after is very important for me to understand their situation.’ Taking at least a day to study a sport’s rules, he spends a further two analysing how athletes might react in different situations in competition, so that he can respond instantly and instinctively when there’s any kind of change to usual practice.
Roman Vondrous of the Czech Photo Agency agrees that appreciating the intricacies of the sport you’re shooting is indispensable. But he also points to the relatively mundane matters of access and accreditation as crucial too, in order to get right into the centre of what’s really happening. He did just that with his winning Sports Action stories series, chronicling the Czech Republic’s gruelling Velká Pardubická cross country steeplechase through grimly rendered mud, sweat and tears.
The event satisfied his desire for a story’s dramatic drive, but he viewed it through a different lens. ‘Although I prefer colour shooting, in this series my subconscious was working right from the beginning with black and white. I admire these tough, devoted jockeys for their desire to win but also that they have no fear of injury. A jockey is a winner, then in the next race he is amongst the beaten. I was very satisfied with my story, beginning with their concentration in the weighing room, through the ceremonial parade, following the race itself and at the end, the personal disappointment of the jockey who fell with his horse on the fence.’
One of the exhibition’s most arresting images is Wei Seng Chen’s ‘Joy at the End of the Run’, which shows a rider crossing the finishing line in the bull race of Batu Sangkar, West Sumatra. In this 400-year-old tradition, competitors yoke themselves barefoot to two bulls using a wooden harness and drive the animals by gripping their tails. Dirt, spray and elation fly forth from the picture, ‘like a 3D image with a very art-like feel,’ the Malaysian photographer proudly proclaims. ‘There’s also all that relief: it’s a very dangerous sport.’
A photographer with 35 years’ experience, Chen humbly took first prize in the single image Sports Action category. ‘I wouldn’t say that I’m the most skilful or have talents that set me apart from my peers; I was just in the right place at the right time to capture that shot. In sports, everything happens in a split-second and there’s no chance of a re-shoot.’
World Press Photo, Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Road, 0131 348 5200, 30 Jul–25 Aug, Mon–Sat, 10am–8pm, free.