World Press Photo not about world or press photos

American Girls by Ilona Szwarc

American Girls by Ilona Szwarc

Its World Press Photo 2013 time. Discussion amongst press photographers about the images chosen for awards is in full swing and, as usual for a group that rarely agrees on anything, is getting a little heated.

Personally, I’m disappointed that some very clichéd images were chosen. Photographing a young girl with a doll has been done a thousand times before. But at least it wasn’t a guinea pig.

The image provoking the most debate is Early morning‘ by Danish photographer Søren Bidstrup, or ‘Woman on toilet‘ as its been dubbed. Photography can be highly subjective but whatever the merits of this image I can’t for the life of me work out how it has anything to do with press photography. What story could it possibly be used to illustrate?

The problem is not the image, but the fact it was chosen by the World Press Photo jury as second in the Daily Life Singles category. For a press photo the caption is very short and gives little information other than time and place. Just who are these people? Why was the photo taken? What is the relationship between the family and the photographer? Is the family pictured actually the photographer’s own? I’ve asked World Press Photo for clarification of this last point as an affirmative answer would significantly change the interpretation of the image. Until then the photographer deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Early morning by Soren Bidstrup

Early morning by Soren Bidstrup

The issue I have is what the category is doing in the competition in the first place. Daily life might be an interesting category but one unlikely to produce the sort of image that makes newspaper front pages worldwide. The only place some of these winning images are likely to be published is in photography magazines. This is only press photography in a the most broad, loose sense.

The competition also continues its obsession with the latest conflict in the Middle East. Of the 13 award winners in the news categories, six were about Syria, four were about the Palestinians/Israelis. There was just one each about the Japanese tsunami, war in Sudan and a high crime rate in part of New York.

The list of major events in 2012 not represented is long. Hurricane Sandy jumps out as a glaring omission but what about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt or Somalia to name just a few? Do over 75% of the best press images of 2012 really come from just two places? Unlikely. Its hard to escape the conclusion of a bias towards ‘trendy’ photojournalism and that does nothing to justify the ‘world’ tag.

Gaza Burial by Paul Hansen - WPP version

Gaza Burial by Paul Hansen – World Press Photo version

In the past few years the overall World Press Photo winners have been controversial but fortunately this is not the case this year. ‘Gaza Burial‘ by Swedish photographer Paul Hansen is a powerful image and full of emotion. Its a shame though that the post processing necessary to win an award has made it look like a Twilight movie poster. Desaturated colours and HDR style toning are almost compulsory these days. To my eyes the rawness of the original published version has much more impact. It just looks more real and authentic. But either way it is an image that I wish I had taken and a deserved winner.

Gaza Burial by Paul Hansen - original published version

Gaza Burial by Paul Hansen – original published version

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