Sun, 05/01/2011 - 16:42
At the 2010 Awards Ceremony in Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands, World Press Photo's patron, gave the closing speech in which he discussed how new forms of data gathering have influenced (photo)journalism and the importance of defining and maintaining professional standards.
Speech by HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands:
As Patron of World Press Photo, I have the honor to take this stage and share it with the very best photojournalists of the world. It also allows me to make my trivial ponderings part of this ceremony. Inspired by conversations during the last jury sessions, I would like to use this prerogative as patron to explore some of the challenges and opportunities that the internet is posing to the sector.
Recently I attended a meeting with representatives of the Association of Print Journalists in Europe, they are making a plea for the future of their trade. Whilst acknowledging the changing realities, they warned of the end of quality journalism. With such an abundance of images and news sounds on offer, even available for free, who is going to fund investigative journalism, they asked. Who is going to invest in a means to select, filter, and process information to distil facts from fantasy, to distinguish real imaging from creative manipulation? Without the professionals, who will uncover the truth and serve the purpose of democracy and open society?
The enabling and disruptive power of information technologies and especially the internet is starting to permeate all sectors of society and the economy, and nowhere more so than in the media. The internet has certainly changed how traditional media are produced, distributed, and consumed. Technological progress offers the opportunity to anyone to produce real time pictures and opinions for distribution on a global scale.
The two real changes are the massive increase in amateur imaging and the unbundling of content and distribution. As such, these changes do not necessarily also imply a reduction in demand for quality content, but it is evident that the traditional paymasters of journalism have less to spend and guarding journalistic values of quality and independence are no longer the prerogative of editorial boards. But does this imply that democracy is on the brink of losing one of its main pillars?
I believe not. To quote the media theorist Clay Shirky, their argument sounded as: "You're gonna miss us when we're gone" ...of which he concludes: "but this has never been a very good business model". Crying fault at what is unavoidably changing or trying to resurrect models of the past, will not bring us forward. There must be other, new ways for ensuring the availability of high quality, independent news content. The future of photojournalism will lie in the hands of those who are able to embrace the power of the internet and digital technology and combine it with the unique strengths and values of traditional photojournalism. The digital photograph itself offers many opportunities as a portal to other information sources. Each pixel could open a gate to new information, giving context and depth to the primary image. The most important advantage however is that repackaging of images and distribution over different platforms and at different times is now possible at great ease. Visual journalists are working with a variety of media, mixing and separating for individual audiences and platforms.
A good example: Tim Hetherington who won a World Press Photo of the Year with his photo of the soldier resting in Afghanistan. During his time in the Korengal Valley, he also made a multimedia presentation and documentary film 'Restrepo' about US soldiers in Afghanistan together with Sebastian Junger. The film won the Documentary Award at 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Hetherington says he is interested in finding various forms for his documentary work in an effort to reach as many audiences as possible.
When it comes to photojournalism, quality is better than quantity. It complements amateur imaging, by giving context and meaning and by suggesting objectivity and independence. Not only are we flooded with often poor photos. Pictures are now easily and regularly manipulated. In a world of abundance, we are increasingly craving for what is real and authentic. But how do we determine what is genuine? Through the ease of manipulation, photography has lost much of its reputation as an instrument for recording fact. When anything can be digitally altered, the perception of the journalistic profession itself can come under question. Now, more than ever, there is a need to retain the highest levels of quality and ethics in photojournalism. This profession can only survive if it builds on its reputation for delivering real and authentic accounts of the news.
This year's prize-winning photo presents a great example. The post-election protests in Iran were widely reported through Twitter, mobile phones (video and SMS), blogs and Facebook. However, Pietro Masturzo's image of the solemn cries of women from the rooftops in Tehran adds another voice to the cacophony of information; another layer to the story. Direct reporting through millions of mobile phones serves as a new real time data source for unfiltered, de-contextualized information. The photojournalist adds context and provides the nuance that the masses cannot.
It is stating the obvious that these new forms of data gathering have influenced journalism. But as we search for authenticity, these new forms pave the way for photojournalism to continue exploring the depths of visual storytelling. Kent Klich, created an image of light entering a hole in the roof of a house that was hit by a tank shell during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008. Taken two months after the war, as the photographer went back to look for signs of what had taken place, this image asks us to pause and reflect on the story within and around the image. A story of family, displacement, home and loss. Fang Qianhua's photo story of the contaminated oranges offers us a unique viewpoint of a complex situation. Wrapped up in the images of these disturbingly beautiful oranges transformed by cadmium, it asks the viewer's attention for illegal factory practices, environmental disregard and lacking government regulation.
In today's relentless avalanche of images, why would photojournalists go out hunting for stories and images that can be completely reworked and even produced in a studio? Ultimately the general public, all of us, we want to recognize news images as genuine. We want to be able to engage emotionally and rationally. For this we need to be able to trust that what we see and read is real. For this we need both the mass and the articulated.
I am very proud to be the patron of World Press Photo. This is an organization that is uniquely positioned to provide a worldwide platform for professional photojournalism; and to help define and guard the highest standards in professional ethics and the promotion of excellence in visual reporting. Tonight we have seen many examples of this during the presentation. It is now my great honor to invite Pietro Masturzo, winner of World Press Photo of the Year 2009, to accept his award.