Ladies and gentlemen,
I will come to the critical part of this evening's event later, but please allow me first to introduce myself as I am new to World Press Photo.
By way of introduction, just to show you how intimate my relationship with photojournalism has been ever since I was very young:
In 2008 World Press Photo decided it needed a patron. I must admit, my initial reaction was to be a little embarrassed that this esteemed organization would turn to me for support. So as the chairman did today, I asked the question: Why? World Press Photo replied with a counter question (after all, they are journalists...): Why not? And, on what ground would you accept? As I intend to remain patron for some years to come, I thought you might want to know right from the start what I replied and thus what my reasons were for accepting.
First and foremost, World Press Photo is one of the most powerful global advocates of free speech and freedom of the press. What words and print cannot express, the photographed image can convey. Pictures presenting the hard facts, the subtle emotions, the contrasts and hypocrisies to a global audience have changed history. The World Press Photo Awards celebrate those photojournalists who have often risked their lives to tell us these stories. And the traveling World Press Photo exhibitions tell them to unexpected constituencies in unexpected parts of the world.
Second, World Press Photo strives to safeguard quality, integrity, and creativity in photojournalism. For me personally, these are some of the most important values we should aspire to in our lives and work. We live in a world where speed, quick fixes, and short-term effects are increasingly the norm - trends that also threaten the profession of photojournalism. And World Press Photo makes a case against mediocrity, hollowness, and sleaze. I had the privilege of sitting in on a jury session, and can testify that every single photo is viewed and reviewed, discussed, assessed and finally judged on the story it tells, its artistic and technical merits, as well as the strength of its image. World Press Photo rewards only the best and actively invests in new talent through its masterclasses and workshops.
Third, I find photography fascinating as a medium of journalism and art: for its creative power, as well as its targeted recording of our reality; for alleviating the ordinary through the perceptive eye of the photographer; and its ability - as Tim Hetherington so eloquently put it - to tell a visual narrative.
Fourth, I am proud to be associated with this organization which is rooted in the Netherlands and has established itself as a global reference point for the profession. Like the Netherlands, World Press Photo is small but has managed to make an impact throughout the world. World Press Photo represents some of the best qualities that the Netherlands has brought to the world since the founding of the Dutch Republic: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, tolerance and an open mind to what is new and foreign. Through its Dutch base, World Press Photo continues to make the link between this country and these values, which should never be taken for granted.
My fifth reason is World Press Photo's integrity and quality as an organization. World Press Photo continuously questions itself, its role and the profession of photojournalism - as demonstrated by the chairman of the board and the chairman of the jury today. This self-reflection is the hallmark of a dynamic and forward-looking organisation.
Finally, my late grandfather was patron of World Press Photo for many years. It took a while after he stepped down for World Press Photo to turn to one of his grandsons. What this tells me is that World Press Photo's choice of patron was not an automatic one. World Press Photo has proved over the past few years that it is faring well without royal patronage, or any patronage at all, for that matter. For me, this makes the honor of following in the footsteps of the last patron that much greater. I thus feel comfortable in accepting this role and gladly leave the question of ‘Why' to the board to answer.
Obviously, I have come here, not to speak about myself or World Press Photo, but to celebrate the work of the 2008 World Press Photo laureates, and Tim Hetherington in particular.
I think the jury has captured the essence of this photo, by stating that it represents much more than a tired soldier in a bunker. It is the dilemma between the means and the end of armed intervention. This soldier expresses the West's fatigue whilst accepting that there is no easy way out with no ready-made solutions in sight.
Looking at many of the award-winning pictures, I find myself wondering where the photographer was when the picture was taken. How did Yvaylo Velev capture Phil Meyer as the avalanche was licking his heels? How close was John Moore to the blast that killed Benazir Bhutto? How did Roberto Schmidt manage to hold out in a Kenyan mob brandishing machetes?
We see the heroes, the victims, the subjects, but we hardly realize that the images are being captured by people running the same risks as the subjects of their photos. Armed only with a camera, they accept these life-threatening situations to tell the world a story.
Tim Hetherington will have felt the exhaustion and fear that he captured in his award-winning picture. He decided that it was worth it. It is precisely for this and similar efforts by Mr Hetherington and his colleagues that we have World Press Photo. But the main prize can only go to one winner. In this case, Mr Hetherington managed to shoot the best picture out of a total selection of over 80,000 candidates. It is a great honor to ask him to step on to the stage to receive this award.
The floor is yours!