Last week World Press Photo announced this year’s winners of their annual photo contest. World Press Photo could be said to be the Nobel Prize for photojournalists, and for 2012 Samuel Aranda from Spain brought home the most prestigious prize, the World Press Photo of the year. Kudos to Aranda for a very strong image. The photograph shows a woman holding her wounded son in her arms. It’s captured inside a mosque used as a field hospital by demonstrators against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, during clashes in Sanaa, Yemen.
What actually surprises me of this year’s awards is the fact that a whole lot of great images have been picked by the jury. Of course you may say, it’s the most prestigious photojournalistic contest in the world. But surprisingly often I have found the many winning pictures to be quite boring and definitely not long-lasting in my memory. At least for me. So my delight seeing the result of this year was even more exuberant because of my lowered expectations from previous years.
I have often wondered by which criterions the pictures for the World Press Photo have been selected. For me it looks like pictures of war, destructions, grief and pictures taken during excess danger to the photographer would be picked as winners, no matter what other photographic qualities they lack. Going back to what I believe a good photograph is about (you may want to have a look at my post A Good Photograph, What is that? to find out about that) usually the winners would have some stopping power, but hardly anything more. They would often play on a one-dimensional level, lacking depth and lacking openings to other interpretations – thus being very literal and boring. For me it seemed like there was no evaluation of artistic or creative qualities as part of what makes a photograph stand out to excellence.
So what made the jury pick those pictures the previous years, which for me clearly wasn’t the best of the best of all photojournalistic work? I had no clue, until I read a blog posting by Alex Garcia last year, a rewarded photojournalist at Chicago Tribune. In his post 2 Essential Ingredients of Contest-Winning Photos he states that access and intimacy are the two qualities that triggers juries of photojournalistic contests. Access simply means how hard it is to get a photo and intimacy provides the personal connection for which we strive with other human beings to create, according to Garcia. I believe Alex Garcia to be absolutely right. Finally I understood what made previous winners of World Press Photo winners. The intimacy part I recognize being important, but access? I don’t really care how hard it has been to take a certain photograph, even if the photographer was shot during the process. For me it just doesn’t make the photograph any better how much hardship the photographer had to withstand. Whatever it can’t tell me while watching a photograph, doesn’t matter. Of course I might be curious about how a certain picture was taken, but that is all.
So I believe Alex Garcia’s evaluation is spot on, but it makes me a little sad on behalf of photojournalism and documentary photography. There is so much excellent work being done out there, and these are the criterions they are judge by!? No wonder I have more and more move away from pure journalistic work. Don’t get me wrong I am deeply passionate about making important stories, but the superficial news coverage has just become less and less interesting for me. I want to know why, not only if something happens.
All the better judging the result of this year’s World Press Photo. I don’t know if it signifies a change in mentally from the organizers, but I am just delighted that some really good pictures have been awarded this year. Aranda’s picture isn’t necessarily the best of the year in my opinion, but that doesn’t matter. It’s only my opinion anyway, but there can be no doubt about the fact that it is a very good photograph. If you are interested in having a look at more winning pictures from this year’s contest have a look here: 2012 World Press Photo. And here are two of my personal favourites: