Aiming for Change
For Lars Boering, 1 January 2015 spelled the start of a new challenge as managing director of World Press Photo. In a bid to strengthen the organization’s relevance to today’s visual journalism, he discusses his goals, the issues facing him, and about not shying away from taking a stand.
Lars Boering (45) is quite open about it: being managing director of World Press Photo is his dream job. Echoing the words of Pieter Broertjes, who until recently chaired the foundation’s supervisory board, he points out that the organization needs new blood to enable it to face the future with confidence. He joined from outside but has a strong track record: he led the Dutch Photographers Federation, owned a photo gallery and worked as a photography curator.
Boering approaches his new position with a sound knowledge of the photography field, a critical attitude and a taste for change – all reasons why he was appointed. Other qualities he brings to the job are, he says, an analytical mind, trust in the people he works with and a firm focus on the future: “I like forward thinking. I analyze, decide, and follow through. A lot has changed in photography and there’s much to be done at World Press Photo. I want to remain fresh for as long as possible.”
Turning World Press Photo into a platform for discussion and debate – a kind of think tank – is perhaps the most important change Boering is aiming for. “What do today’s photographers expect from the industry? What do they bring to the table? What opportunities does the rapid change create? Our communication with our network should be an exchange, so that we can be part of the solution. We have been neutral and have sometimes shied away from the key issues for too long.”
“We can’t keep everyone happy,” he continues defiantly. “We should participate in the debate about ethics and not be afraid to voice strong opinions in our pursuit of the free flow of information. There’s no need to become activists, but we have to redefine our goals and ambitions – become a thought leader and continue to be a beacon in the profession.”
Boering thinks there’s a lot to gain from the changed approach. “Having chosen our direction, we must express and accept our leadership and the responsibility that goes with it.” The think tank he would like to create is a broad one, including not only people from visual journalism but also from fields like data research – World Press Photo has already published its first two research project reports. Boering also wants to make the foundation more entrepreneurial. While it doesn’t have to make a profit, a more business-oriented organization could provide the funds for grants and educational programs.
On Boering’s watch, education remains one of the pillars on which World Press Photo rests. “We live in an age of lifelong learning. Our Joop Swart Masterclass is much admired and has considerably extended the network we’re building for the new generation. Making that network more accessible will require a new structure and a lot of organization. We’re learning from the storytellers for whom we work, and they in turn learn from their audiences.”
For World Press Photo and its new managing director there was much to learn during the 2015 annual competition. Around 22 percent of the images that got through to the final round had to be withdrawn for being manipulated, and a first prize winner was stripped of his award for providing incorrect information. Boering: “We applied the rules very strictly, which produced insight into what’s going on in the industry. This will help us decide where to draw the line in future. We need to be more forthright in addressing these issues.”
Photographic manipulation and the ethical standards in the profession will be among the issues addressed during the upcoming Awards Days at the end of April. “Storytelling is getting more personal; opinions are shifting,” asserts Boering. “The new generation of visual journalists is often less strict about post-processing. We’ll revise our entry rules this year. We will not necessarily change them but will certainly explain them better. Our long-term goal of being at the forefront and of being influential and relevant will make us more vulnerable. That is something we have to accept.”
By Terri Kester
About World Press Photo
The World Press Photo Foundation is a major force in developing and promoting visual journalism. Through one of the most prestigious awards in photojournalism and multimedia storytelling, an exhibition seen by more than four million people worldwide each year, and extensive research and training programs, we strive to inspire, engage, educate, and support both visual journalists and their global audience with fresh insights and new perspectives.
Founded in 1955, the World Press Photo Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The foundation receives support from the Dutch Postcode Lottery and is sponsored worldwide by Canon. There are also a range of collaborations with the World Press Photo Associates, the Friends of World Press Photo, and other partners.