New design for the flagship World Press Photo Exhibition in Amsterdam

Interview with Sanne Schim van der Loeff, Exhibitions manager and curator

The premiere of the World Press Photo Exhibition 2019 in De Nieuwe Kerk has been redesigned for greater impact this year. Learn more about what’s new in this behind-the-scenes interview with Sanne Schim van der Loeff, Exhibitions manager and curator at the World Press Photo Foundation.

Above: A render of the new exhibition design by NorthernLight. 

What is your role at the World Press Photo Foundation?

Along with my colleagues in the Exhibitions team, I'm responsible for our traveling exhibitions - the World Press Photo Exhibition travels to over 100 locations worldwide, every year. In addition, I focus on the exhibitions that require a customized element or present new content. This includes the flagship exhibition in Amsterdam, but also exhibitions that show work from the 6x6 Global Talent Program and exhibitions highlighting past World Press Photo of the Year winners.

Why is the exhibition at De Nieuwe Kerk referred to as the ‘flagship’ exhibition?

We call it the flagship exhibition because Amsterdam is the home of the organization, and it is the premiere of the World Press Photo Exhibition every year. We also really look at the space, and curate the exhibition specially for De Nieuwe Kerk. The location is a historic, huge church in the centre of Amsterdam, and we really want the space to be a feature and to play a role in the exhibition too.

Can you share more about the process of redesigning this year’s exhibition in De Nieuwe Kerk?

We had our first conversations about wanting to do something different with our Amsterdam exhibition partner, De Nieuwe Kerk, in October last year. We were looking for more interactive elements to engage the audience, more context for the winning stories and World Press Photo, and presenting the photos in a better way. NorthernLight, our exhibition design partners, presented the new concept in January. Once the judging was finished and the nominees were known, we could work on the plan with specific photos and stories.

So what can visitors expect from the presentation of the winning photos and productions in this new design?

The photos will be bigger and printed on a higher quality material by Eyes on Media. We have eight different categories in the photo contest. So this year we divided the photos up into four themes - news, portraits, sports and environment - that guide the layout. It allows you to better understand what kind of stories and information you'll be seeing when you go from one work to the next.

After you've seen the winning photos and productions, there's a space dedicated to the history of the World Press Photo Foundation. We’ve realized that some people don't know that we're a Dutch organization, or know much about our rich history. Among other changes, we created a space with iconic prints where people could walk through, and reflect on what the stories mean to them. There is a 14 meter-long timeline giving more context to every World Press Photo of the Year.

For the Digital Storytelling Contest, we wanted to create more of a cinematic experience for the short and long categories. We also wanted to spotlight the winning productions of the new major awards - the World Press Photo Online Video of the Year and World Press Photo Interactive of the Year.

Above: The Last Generation, 2019 Digital Storytelling Contest nominee, and one of three World Press Photo Interactive of the Year nominees.

Is curating the digital storytelling exhibition different from the photo exhibition?

With a digital storytelling exhibition, specifically with the range of categories that we have, installation is much more complex. It's a great opportunity for us to develop our knowledge when it comes to technology, and to reach out to experts in the field when needed. We want our visitors to value digital storytelling as much as they do the photos, and to understand these media better. 

Above: From Pieter Ten Hoopen’s ‘The Migrant Caravan’, one of three World Press Photo Story of the Year nominees and 2019 Photo Contest nominee in the Spot News, stories category. 

Why should people see this exhibition at De Nieuwe Kerk?

The stories in this year's exhibition really invite the audience to be surprised. The stories range from those we know well, such as the migrant caravan, which was documented by several nominated photographers, to those that highlight something new, such as Nadia Shira Cohen’s work on beekeepers on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. In the De Nieuwe Kerk exhibition there is a big installation of a world map showing where every winning photograph of the 2019 Photo Contest was taken, which really highlights how extensive the selection of stories was this year.

After the premiere at De Nieuwe Kerk, the exhibition will start its worldwide tour. What is shown in the World Press Photo Exhibition 2019?

What you see in the World Press Photo Exhibition is all of the awarded singles and stories that were chosen by the 2019 Photo Contest jury and, in some locations, the 2019 Digital Storytelling Contest jury. For practical reasons, we make a selection from the stories of the photo contest because photographers can enter up to ten images for one story. We work with the graphic design agency Heijdens Karwei who take the lead with the first edit and who also work on the design of our Yearbook. It's really a collaboration between a big team, Heijdens Karwei, the contest jury chair/s, and World Press Photo staff.

The winning stories can sometimes be challenging to view. How do you work with this when curating the exhibition?

Most of our visitors expect there to be difficult images. What this year’s jury did very well is award several stories that have a more constructive, or solutions-based approach. The jury also took the issue of representation to heart. While all photos are judged anonymously, it’s important to consider what stories are being told, by who and why. Lastly, we take the diversity of these stories into consideration when curating the exhibition. Ideally we want our audience to leave with a feeling of hope, rather than despair, so that’s one of the reason we don’t end our exhibitions with the harder news stories.

Above: From Jasper Doest’s ‘Meet Bob’, 2019 Photo Contest nominee in the Nature, stories category. 

What are some of your favourites from this year’s exhibition?

‘The Last Generation’ in the 2019 Digital Storytelling Contest humanises and illustrates the impact of climate change in a way that means you cannot close your eyes to the issue. Jasper Doest's ‘Meet Bob’ is an amazing story. It's visually very strong and the photographs are beautiful. You have funny scenes of Bob the flamingo being taken everywhere on Curaçao, but with the important story of his role in conservation education. It has all the elements of the type of journalism that I like to see. I also love Pieter Ten Hoopen's story, 'The Migrant Caravan'. He brought an aesthetic and thoughtful approach to a very complicated news situation. He focuses on day to day moments, and it's this kind of approach that resonates with me. They pull you in and then hit you in your gut with the information.

Do you have any tips for exhibition visitors?

I would say pick your favorite picture of the day, whether it's a photo you find beautiful, or one that has a great impact on you. It's one of the new interactive elements of the exhibition, and we want to know what the audience’s experiences of the stories are. My second tip is the audio tour. It really contextualizes the stories and you hear from the photographers themselves about their work, why they were there, and what they were doing. It offers a behind the scenes of how the photos came to be.

What do you want visitors to take from the exhibition?

What I want visitors to leave with, from any World Press Photo Exhibition, is the feeling that they learned something new or that they have been triggered to do something different. When it comes to the De Nieuwe Kerk’s new exhibition design, I hope it gives people a chance to experience not just the photos and the digital storytelling elements better, but to really engage with the content in new ways.

What do you want visitors to know?

The visual journalists in the exhibition have often gone to great lengths, sometimes at great personal risk, to document these stories, to connect them with a greater audience. I want our audience to know that. In addition, I would like World Press Photo exhibition visitors to think about what they’d like to take away from the exhibition before their visit. Of course, there are challenging stories, but there are also beautiful, hopeful and hilarious stories in there, that deserve attention.

The World Press Photo Exhibition 2019 will be shown in De Nieuwe Kerk from 13 April 2019 - 7 July 2019. Buy your tickets, and find out more about the exhibition.

Join us at the Opening Night of the exhibition, on 12 April, to be among the first to see the exhibition, and to meet the winners of the 2019 Photo Contest and 2019 Digital Storytelling Contest.

World Press Photo Festival tickets, for 12-13 April, will also give you access to the Opening Night, and to the De Nieuwe Kerk exhibition during the Festival. Find out more about the exciting Festival program of presentations, meetups, and workshops that showcase the best visual journalism and storytelling.

See when the World Press Photo Exhibition 2019 will be at a location near you, or get in touch to find out how you can partner with us to bring the exhibition to your city.