Speech by HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands at the 2013 Awards Ceremony

HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands, World Press Photo's patron, during his closing speech.© Michael Kooren / Hollandse Hoogte

At the 2013 Awards Ceremony in Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands, World Press Photo's patron, gave the closing speech and presented the World Press Photo of the Year award to Paul Hansen.

Speech by HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands:

Looking at all the winning images of this year’s World Press Photos, it made me wonder. What does it say about what is actually happening in the world? And more specifically, our way of looking at the world and what we think is important to report and reward. 

What do I see:

  • It seems to be a year of 50 shades of black and white
  • The only bright colour is provided by nature.
  • And even nature is politicised, as plastic trash diverts attention from a beautiful whale shark.
  • Most dominant is the massive human suffering and man-made destruction

It strikes me that this selection seriously questions the role of humanity in its relationship to the world. There is a feeling of despair about how mankind is destroying itself, societies and its habitat; how kids’ space to develop and play is restricted; with very little space for hope or humour. 

There also seems to be a trend towards more abstraction, and aesthetics. With all the horror portrayed the artistic quality of many images is striking; e.g. reflections in mirrors and windows, a shadow torturer, rays of light through bullet holes, jockeys in black and white.    

2012, the year that these awards honor, has also been a tragic year for the profession, in loss of life. 89 professional journalists were targeted and killed with an additional 48 citizen journalists adding to the terrible toll that is the highest in the last decade.

Shrinking publishing budgets put tremendous pressure on the freelancer, deferring the security risk and accountability to the individuals.  Basically, freelancers now need to cover all the costs of running a one-person media business, including security and training. 

This has an even bigger impact on young photojournalists, who are taking ever bigger risks for a scoop, which affects their personal safety but also the quality of their reporting. They lack the opportunity to train in traditional newsrooms where senior reporters would imbue them with the skill and judgment to filter and process information for its importance and impact.  This is learned over years and cannot be easily taught in a crash course. 

Therefore we now often see examples of work that is distinguished mostly by the drama of the event without proper attention to the significance of the actions represented.  Increased access to online distribution, adds another dimension to this, where rumour is reported as news, and political misinformation being put out as facts. 

World Press Photo is very concerned by this trend, which is why it cannot be stressed enough that these awards are not incentives for dangerous or careless behaviour but a recognition for achieving the highest professional standards. 

Tonight’s award winners carry extraordinary responsibility for themselves and for their subjects.  The decisions you make govern the stories that are brought to public attention; you and your editors select the information that is included and excluded. Paul Hansen embodies this. In a recent interview he stated ‘Not taking a picture can be as important as a good photo.’ Thus demonstrating an acute awareness of ethical boundaries and responsibilities of the photojournalist.   

Some of this year’s award winning images are strong examples of work by photographers who have taken courageous positions that challenge the simplistic orthodoxy of the mainstream. Notable is the image by Emin Ozmin that represents brutality inflicted by the anti-government militants in Syria that gives real-world nuance to the usual portrayal of heroic good versus evil in the conflict.  Other sometimes controversial examples can be found amongst the prizes, proving that in the hands of a skilled and inquisitive photographer, the camera is still a powerful tool for truth.

Laureates honored tonight are the leaders in the field. Your work sets the standard for others to follow and your personal stories offer inspiration to those who want to join the profession.  At the same time these reflect some of the harsh realities of the new media environment and hold warnings for photographers, publishers as well as consumers of news.

This is truly the lesson of these awards.  We salute those outstanding photographers that continue to prove the relevance of professionalism in the way they capture and present the news in a changing media landscape. Your integrity and dedication (and of people like you) will maintain the backbone of our information systems.  Where, given the deluge of information and everyday trivia;  journalism’s essential purpose lies in the quality, reliability and interpretation of the information.  

Paul Hansen, I invite you to the stage to receive the award for the winning image of 2012 and congratulate you for your ability to provide nuance to complex stories, to create space and time for reflection in rushed events, and to put the people back at the center of the news.