Excellencies, dear guests,
As the tragic events in Apeldoorn are so fresh on our minds, please allow me the opportunity to say a few words. First and foremost, our thoughts are with the people whose loved ones have been torn away so suddenly and with those who were injured. The images keep passing before my eyes and the sounds echo in my ears. There is no "why", no reasoning; there is only devastation and a useless, tragic loss of life. A senseless, horrific act ripping apart lives, shocking a nation, which feels like an attack on much that is dear to the Dutch as represented in Queen's Day: a joyfulness that is inclusive, open, unifying, friendly and innocent, which I hope ultimately will remain intact.
Tomorrow is Remembrance Day in the Netherlands; the day on which we remember not to forget. We retell the stories and review the powerful images that have become part of our collective memories. These photos have captured our past and continue to do so for the future. Photography has certain advantages over film, as it is easier to store and review. Moreover, we need these 'stills' to project the news into, to have a peg from which we can hang our own memories and associations.
World Press Photo has contributed to this by giving us each year a lasting image to record a year's event(s). Pictures are the access points to the wealth of information on the actual events. They surprise us and remind us again and again of things that were and that should never be repeated, but also of events we want to cherish, the banality of power and of daily life, the forces of nature and how we treat our planet. They are mirrors of our world and ourselves. For this quality alone we should embrace the importance of photojournalism.
But - as Mr Broertjes World Press Photo chairman already expressed - photojournalism is particularly concerned with the future; hoping to make a difference by documenting current affairs. If executed well and with the integrity that Mr Broertjes called for, photography can contribute to more transparency and increased responsibility among those that can influence the course of history as well as the lives and prosperity of individuals. Photojournalism thus plays a critically important role in our societies by investigating all that fears to be exposed.
Today's event is particularly relevant as it coincides with World Press Freedom Day.
It is exactly this crucial function of 'exposing what fears exposure', for which this day asks particular attention. To provide the images of injustice, suffering and cruelty, but also of hope, beauty and diversity; many journalists and particularly photojournalists (who are physically more exposed) risk being oppressed, incarcerated, tortured, and sometimes been killed.
Today we remind ourselves - like World Press Photo does every year - of the importance of an independent press. We pay tribute to those who were killed doing their work. Since our last Awards Ceremony, we mourn the loss of more than 70 journalists worldwide; one of them was the Dutch cameraman: Stan Storimans, who fell in Georgia. In addition, at least 670 journalists were arrested and 125 remain in prison today according to the World Association of Newspapers.
World Press Photo focuses our attention on the sacrifices that are made by the many professionals in the field. Too often we take for granted the pictures in daily newspapers and easily overlook what mental and physical effort it takes to provide these. Photojournalists are the most exposed to the events they report on, as they have to be on the spot to get the image and they have a second chance. From the events in Apeldoorn, I still hear the echoing sound of an aluminum step-ladder being swept away. It had supported a photo journalist only a tenth of a second earlier - twenty meters from our bus; in the middle of the street. Luckily he managed to jump off and remains unharmed.
World Press Photo rightfully also points to the responsibility that the photographer bares, given the conveying power of the photograph. In shooting and also reworking the image, the photographer makes deliberate choices how to portray the visible world and what metaphors to draw. Again, it suffices to refer to the words of World Press Photo's chairman, who emphasized this duty so eloquently.
But today we come together to celebrate the photograph and the many photographers we saw on stage. The single image as well as the reportage, capturing and telling stories: big and small; in colour and in black and white.
As I was driving to the jury meeting to sit in on their last, long night of viewing and reviewing the final rounds of pictures, I asked myself: what would the theme of this year's winner be? An obvious one was the financial crisis. But how can you capture a phenomenon that is global, complex, and intangible. I thought of images of Chinese workers losing their jobs because exports to the US stalled; or traders screaming on the trading floor of Wall Street; bankers, staring in disbelief during a congressional hearing. I came to the conclusion that all these images were too familiar. Moreover they portrayed elements of the whole story, but missed a lot of the complexity of what this crisis is really about.
I could have never imagined the image we see before us today, while it is also an obvious one; at the root of the problem: a poor man overleveraging himself to buy a house in Ohio, USA. We go after the cause of the crisis with all the power we have, but find that this crisis cannot be fought with guns. Even though - as Anthony Suau describes - this looks like 'a particular type of war zone'.
The evicted house owner as the menace to our society, but evicting him and his family solved nothing; in fact the eviction lead to a family being homeless, looting and further destruction of property - still what else can the system do? We act mechanically, fight symptoms, and hope for the best - at least we can be seen to act.... This picture does not only show the grief that the crisis has caused; by means of the destroyed empty home; it also shows our inability to deal with it.
One can only hope that it makes us realise that the complexity of the situation does not allow for finger pointing, as we are all involved - house owner, consumer, banker, policymaker, journalist, trader, politician - having profited in the past and suffering today. Maybe the absurdity of the image helps us realize that for solutions we need to go beyond the traditional instruments and look over the horizon, to where we cannot aim a gun, but where we need trust and must tread together.
This winning image today tells a powerful story. It invites us to project our ideas into it. It becomes detached from the factual context, a policeman checking an empty home. It makes us stop and think, and that is what a good picture does. It is my great pleasure to present this year's award to Anthony Suau, winner of the World Press Photo of the Year 2008.