Fri, 04/25/2014 - 17:34
I recall a moment in the jury process a few years ago. Viewing a colourful photograph of a female cellist behind a thin plastic wall in the bustling streets of Kinshasa. A number of jurors expressed the hope that one day such a photograph could win the main award. With subtlety, it told a deeply human story. It emphasised the positive, not the suffering. One could wonder if there was any news in the picture, but it touched everyone in the room.
This year the jury came close, by choosing an exceptional photo, which is free of violence and sensation.
Therefore, before congratulating all the award winners allow me to congratulate Gary Knight and his team for a brave job, conducted at the highest professional standards. Though I am not supposed to unveil any secrets about the jury process, I can say that the discussions went far beyond the news, and the photographic quality of the images. They went deep into the ethics of the profession of photo journalism and the conditions under which an image was shot, the possible impact on the subjects and their awareness of the consequences, especially in the case of vulnerable groups like minors. It has been a huge privilege to sit in on this most exclusive and intense master class.
This year's selection once again shows the striking power of still photography, also in a time of multimedia overdose. The jury selected images that share high quality in visual storytelling. At the same time, they seem more abstract and contextual than in previous years: a picture of darkness in blacked out Gaza; clothing of missing persons; but also stylised black and white sports photography, with wide landscapes. There is a strong cinematographic quality in the reports on the typhoon disaster in Philippines, the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, and Westgate killings in Kenya.
Showing great diversity of angles, providing depth as well as breadth. Even in the era of reality soaps the closeness of some of the series is scary. In particular Sara Lewkowicz' series on domestic violence is remarkable in how it goes deep under the skin of society.
I first saw the winning photo on my smart phone and i couldn't believe it. Every year the question is which photo, but also what news item makes it to the first spot. With the horrors in Syria, unravelling of order in Libya, turmoil in Egypt or the horrific effects of the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; these seemed the stories most likely to be rewarded. The sheer volume of photos, but also the intensity of the suffering, and the complexity of these crises make them the obvious candidates.
But the jury dared to choose a photo, outstanding in its own right. There is nothing sensational about it except the photo itself. Poetic, artistic, aesthetic and multi-layered. Of a daily occurrence. No big news in itself but reporting a big 21st century issue, which at the same time is as old as mankind itself: people moving to better places. Notwithstanding its universality, it is also a very current image. This picture could not have been taken a few years ago.
It reminded me of the picture of people taking photos with smart phones at the investiture of Pope St Francis which went around the world. Thousands of lights of the little screens that are our 21st century eyes. In Stanmeyer's picture the screens are not capturing an image, but are held up to seek connectivity. These casual silhouettes could have been youngsters at a New Year's Eve beach party texting each other. In fact they find themselves at the edge of different worlds at a dramatic juncture in their lives. On the verge of embarking to an unknown destination, leaving family and friends behind but trying to stay connected.
The brilliance here is that it quite literally connects the world's most desperate and its most affluent, as we all use modern telecommunications. Whenever and wherever we are. Seeking connectivity. Whether on a desolate beach in Djibouti before transit, or in Amsterdam airport sending a last message to a spouse or kids before a business flight.
This is what good photojournalism is about. It does not simply discover and unveil the untold, but it shows us different dimensions or layers to a story that needs to be told. And the prize today will make sure that this primary goal will get an extra boost.