Photojournalism Exhibition in Perpignan
March 1, 2022
It's been some dozen years since my first exposure to World Press Photo and the photographers represented in the exhibition. Since then my view of and approach to photography has changed. I was completely captivated by the stories told by the images themselves, with their accompanying captions offering a deeper glimpse into the subjects present in the images, of the events preserved in those moments, of the emphasis on the truth of those situations.
A small Catalán town in the south of France, Perpignan is host to Visa pour l'Image, the premier annual festival celebrating and profiling the most evocative and compelling photo-stories of the prior year. Visitors to the city of just under 120,000 inhabitants are inundated with signs and banners advertising the annual photojournalism festival which adorn the main thoroughfare, directing interested attendees to the exhibition site in the old town district. It's a photogenic setting for a visual display of some of the world's most recent and relevant current events.
My inaugural newsletter profiled this celebration of photojournalism; and today I wanted to again make light of this event, for two significant reasons. The first, more personal, is because this exhibit has probably influenced my photography more significantly than any other exhibit since using a camera to capture images in a more thoughtful, purposeful manner. Second, because much of the photojournalism that will most likely be presented at this coming Visa pour l'Image has been dominating the front pages of virtual, physical, and social media news sources since mid last week as a result of the tumult in Eastern Europe.
When I first came across these "conflict photography" images present at the festival back in 2009, I felt a connectivity and emotional awareness that I had previously not experienced when viewing a collection of photographs. There was an extra level of beauty and story present in these photojournalistic images beyond human aesthetic (Annie Leibowitz), beyond the technical mastery of composition (Ansel Adams), beyond the capturing of the decisive moment (Henri Cartier-Bresson). It was an incorporation of all elements of photography into the capture of a true and fleeting moment, telling a story relevant to the happening of a significant event in single frame or short series of images under extreme circumstances. I realized that this style of "documentary" photography aligned with how I aspired to record my own travel experiences, incorporating an honest portrayal of everyday life in places I visited. These images of my visit to Perpignan representing an early example.
For the moment, however, I was content appreciating the work of others within the safety of this quaint French ville. While most modern galleries present photographs against neutral backdrops, the organizers of the Visa pour l'Image festival have chosen surroundings which more closely reflect the situations and moods where the images were taken, of the experience of the subjects being portrayed. Perpignan's buildings, with crumbling walls, dark crevices, evidence of years of stories past, coincide well as an environment for exhibiting of the most poignant photographs of 2009 with relevance to world events. It creates a more immersive, authentic experience for the viewer, helping transport the viewer to the scene of the story as it was being told.
If ever you get a chance to view a World Press Photo exhibit - as it travels to various cities throughout the year - I encourage you to plan a visit. Many of the scenes we are being presented with daily from the Ukraine / Russia conflict will undoubtedly be displayed in a future exhibition. I hope that you may feel as I do an appreciation for the situations many photojournalists put themselves in to bring us images of the various incidents taking place in the world. And that their work enhances the impact current events have on our everyday lives, and an empathy for those involved, regardless of how distant they may appear.