Speech by HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands at the 2016 Awards Ceremony

HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands during his speech at the 2016 Awards Ceremony. (© Frank van Beek / Hollandse Hoogte)

HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands with World Press Photo of the Year 2015 Warren Richardson and Managing Director Lars Boering at the 2016 Awards Ceremony. (© Frank van Beek / Hollandse Hoogte)

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

I find it increasingly hard to write a speech on photojournalism that is relevant. Developments go so fast and are pulling in many different directions. Traditional and new forms develop, as communication is reduced to a Vine of 6 seconds and tweets of 140 characters; and various internet platforms and services feed us simultaneously with information, entertainment, and personal messages.

The world news literally streams in and out of our lives, and we find it hard to make sense of it all. We get more information, see more images, but they don’t seem to make us more knowledgeable. Instead they make us more nervous, as our ability to consume and digest the news and see it in its right context is not evolving at the same pace.

How we trust media is also evolving. It used to be based, at least in part, on codes of conduct, ethics and professional standards enforced by the strong and reputable brands in the industry. Today we hardly know what/who to trust anymore. We seem to be close to distrusting or believing everything leaving us vulnerable to opinions, hypes, and interests.

The World Press Photo Foundation has endeavored relentlessly to uphold the quality, the rigor and accountability of the profession in order to strengthen trust in photojournalism. Its views are deeply rooted in the Western journalistic norms and notions, where facts must be facts, sources checked, manipulation avoided and independence cherished.

There is comfort in this strict view, but it is not sufficient to ensure or restore trust. Alternative journalistic traditions are emerging; using story telling, focusing on impact, or presenting subjective personal views, where the author and the photographer’s personality and interpretation of the ‘truth’ is valued. The internet is accelerating these trends, with its personality cults, its hypes and outrages, communities and the cacophony of opinions and information sharing that make up social media. The link between professionalism, presentation of facts, and trust as we knew it, is being redefined.

But HOW? How can an organization like World Press Photo react to these trends without jeopardizing its integrity? The risk is that trust is lost, and if that happens professional photojournalism will become just one media among many. Instead of it’s distinct quality as eye witness to big and small news.

But how is trust generated, if not solely through professional codes and rules? Can it also originate from other sources like authority, transparency, reputation and accountability, or even technology?

In other sectors, like banking, new ledger technologies like blockchain and are now decentralizing trust. There is no normative framework nor institution, but the internet commons that determine the reliability and authenticity of a party and a transaction.

There is a parallel in media. Many incidents now get covered by many sources, mostly amateurs with smartphones live streamed or posted on the internet, and also CCTV footage. Stitched together by information technology the registration of an event can be a composition of all these sources to have a near 360 picture, which no photo journalist can provide.

At the same time it is void of any interpretation, or context, or follow up. What comes after the event, how the impact manifests itself, remains the domain of the trained eye, the informed mind, the professional journalist.

This is where professional ethics help underpin the desired subjectivity of the photojournalist. We want stories, colour, insight, nuance, and even amazement and outrage, but we need to know where it came from, how it was gathered and presented.

The integrity of the profession is as important or maybe even more important than ever.

Away from the headline grabbing beaches of Greece, in the dark of night at the Hungarian border the story about the refugee journey continues. Without a flash. What first seemed like a package was in fact an infant: hope passing through barbed wire. Representing the future; an uncertain future for parent and child; and for the receiving continent that it is smuggled into. The picture puts a human face on the refugee statistics, showing the fear and despair as well as the will to survive. It did not change the world, but in its subtlety it touches anyone with a conscience, willing to accept and feel the human suffering in this drama. (This is photojournalism at its best.)

I’d like to invite Warren Richardson who gave the world this image, to come on stage and receive his prize.

Posted April 23 2016

About World Press Photo

The World Press Photo Foundation is a major force in developing and promoting visual journalism and visual storytelling. Through one of the most prestigious awards in photojournalism and digital storytelling, an exhibition seen by more than four million people worldwide each year, and extensive research and training programs, we strive to inspire, 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.