The debate over the use of Photoshop in photojournalism is set to become an integral part of this year’s largest photojournalism festival, as Visa Pour l’Image announces its programming for this year’s event. Olivier Laurent talks to Jean-François Leroy, the festival’s director
As photojournalists prepare return to Perpignan in early September for the 22nd International photojournalism festival, Jean-François Leroy, Visa Pour l’Image’s co-founder, has hit out at Photoshop abuses in the field, vowing to ask for raw files for the festival 2011 edition.
In an interview with BJP, Leroy echoes comments made by Roberto Koch, director of the Contrasto agency in Italy, who, at this year’s Sony World Photography Awards, warned that photojournalists are in danger of producing images aimed at competitions and awards instead of the press. “We are in a very uncertain and difficult situation,” explained Koch, who was a judge on the Photojournalism and Documentary panel at this year’s SWPA. “Photographers have to try to find other approaches because magazines have reduced the assignments they are able to produce and the market is dominated by a small group of agencies such as Getty and Corbis. They set up global deals with magazines worldwide and let them pay on a global subscription basis, regardless of space usage. That, combined with the difficult times magazines are experiencing these days, is threatening the work of independent photographers because they earn much lower fees as a result.”
Awards and competitions can be a very lucrative alternative – the Sony World Photography Awards, for example, offered $25,000 to the overall winner. But, Koch said, this can make subtle and not so subtle differences to the type of photography that is made. “Take the World Press Photo winner [Pietro Masturzo’s shot of women shouting their dissent from the rooftops in Tehran after Iran’s disputed presidential election]. That image wasn’t published before it won the World Press Photo, it was too complex to be published in a newspaper. It was directed at awards.”
As a previous World Press Photo judge, Leroy declined to comment on the merits of Masturzo's work, but he admits that “knowing that they have little chance of selling their work to newspapers and magazines, photojournalists do have a tendency to look at awards to get recognition”. And, he adds, that can have grave repercussions on images themselves. “It drives me mad to see the amount of Photoshop manipulation there is now. Juries have to be careful,” he warns. “ For example, I’ve recently received a project on Afghanistan. It’s magnificent, but I personally think that without the diverse Photoshop filters used by the photographer, the images would have been even better. The framing of the action and of the subject was just perfect. He didn’t need to change anything in post-production. But now I can’t show these images at Visa. I just can’t.”
As a result, Leroy has already announced that, as of next year’s edition, he will request all raw files from photographers, to ensure they haven’t been heavily manipulated.
This year’s festival will take over, for the 22nd time, the city of Perpignan in the south of France from 28 August to 12 September. More than 30 exhibitions are planned with photographers such as Cédric Gerbehaye, Kazuyoshi Nomachi and Stephanie Sinclair on show.
A retrospective dedicated to National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard  will commemorate 50 years of an impressive career, that established Allard as one of colour photography’s pioneers. Gerbehaye, an Agence Vu photographer, will present his latest project on Congo, which this time looks at the country’s legendary river. Second only to the Amazon, the Congo river is central to the African country’s economy. Gerbehaye sailed from east to west ahead of Congo’s 50th anniversary.
Back at Visa is Munem Wasif , a Bangladeshi photographer discovered at Perpignan two years ago when he won the city’s Young Reporter’s Award. This year, Wasif will show a reportage on Islam in Bangladesh, far, he says, from occidental prejudices.
Joining these photographers will be Roberto Schmidt and Olivier Laban-Mattei of Agence France Presse, Craig Walker from The Denver Post, Justyna Mielnikiewicz, who won last year’s Canon Female Photojournalist Award, Grégoire Korganow, Stephen Dupont and Michael Nichols, as well as Andrea Star Reese, who Leroy says is one of this year’s revelations. “This American photographer looked at people living in New York’s subway tunnels. It’s extraordinary. It’s a project she’s worked on for months, years even. So, of course, it has a soul, consistence, and proximity with the people she photographed that we couldn’t achieve if we spent three days [in these tunnels].”
Star Reese’s reportage goes to the heart of what Visa is all about, says Leroy, who has been fighting for the printed media to continue commissioning photographers. However, recent events confirm the long and steep decline in commitments for high-quality photography. The Haitian catastrophe is emblematic.
“In January, it took one week for Time and Newsweek to send photographers in Haiti,” he says. “Time dispatched James Natchwey eight days after the earthquake. Times have changed, that’s the least we can say. Thirty years ago, when a famine hit any part of the world, magazines would assign photographers to cover it, and a few pictures would be shot for NGOs. Today, it’s the other way around. At least 90% of the images highlighting a humanitarian cause are released to the media by NGOs. We’re lucky because we can trust these NGOs, but it shouldn’t be this way. It’s not their role. There’s almost a conflict of interest here.”
But, there are some encouraging signs, Leroy tells BJP. “CNN sent five photographers, and it used their images on the air. They realised that video can be fleeting. Look at what happened with the little Kiki who was rescued in Haiti.” Kiki, a young Haitian, was pulled out of a collapsed building eight day after the earthquake hit the island. His rescue was televised. “The video exists,” says Leroy. “It’s there. CNN showed it for a few hours, but nobody remembers it. What everyone remembers is the still image shot by Matthew McDermott [of Polaris] with Kiki spreading his arms as he is rescued. It’s a powerful image. It brings us back to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment.”
But video, which is now available to most photographers in their digital SLRs, can pose a threat to still photography, Leroy admits. “The problem now is that, faced with an extraordinary situation, the photographer with a [Canon] 5D Mark II will think twice whether he should shoot stills or video. I know a photographer who was in Fallujah when a bomb exploded. If he had taken stills, no one would have cared, no one would have bought his images. He shot a video and sold it to networks all around the world. That’s where the dilemma lies.” BJP
Current economic models no longer reflect the state of the industry
“Today’s economic models are outdated,” says Jean-François Leroy, Visa Pour l’Image’s co-founder, in an interview with BJP. New ones need to be found, he says, citing the example of Apple, which revolutionised the music industry. “Ten years ago, everybody, even myself, I’m ashamed to say, would download music from file-sharing sites. Then came Apple. They developed an economic model, and now you would be stupid to waste your time downloading music from these sites when you can find it on iTunes for less than €1. Someone needs to come up with a similar idea for photography and for the news industry. I believe high-quality information can’t be free online. But are people willing to pay for news and photography? “They said the same thing about music five years ago – ‘It’s too late, it can’t be changed, people will never pay’ – and look now, everyone’s paying for music.” BJP
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