Visa Pour L'Image

Today I had an interesting conversation, part of which centered around payment for photographs, support from editors and commitment from publishers and the lack thereof that unfortunately occurs a little too often. Though it is true that there are many people in the industry that support good photography and fascinating stories, it is also true that there are a lot of people who make it very difficult for photographers to work on their own terms, meaning that photographers are - much of the time - at the mercy of the industry machine.

After I got home I read an interview with Jean-François Leroy in the post over at A Photo Editor on whether Visa Pour L'Image is still relevant, (to which my obvious reply would be 'yes, of course'). Rob Haggart does make the good point that the quality photojournalism that is often showcased at Perpignan is hardly ever seen beyond the limited circle of attendees. This is put down to the notion that the media is in thrall to the consumer, who does not demand this kind of content. This doesn't quite tally with the philosophy that the media controls - or at least directs - the opinions of the people.

Perhaps more likely is the fact that the media is in thrall to it's advertisers, who don't want their brands to be associated with stories of the ills in this world by their simple proximity to them on the printed page. Perhaps this also explains the growing trend for documentary and journalistic imagery to look more like fashion and style photography than it used to. I could reach out to the pile of magazines near me and find a clutch of examples. Also look at the internet, where advertising is prolific and 'going viral' has become the aim (when I log into my yahoo email, the advertisements load before my inbox - what does that tell me?)

But back to Visa Pour L'Image. Although It is highly unlikely that I will be able to attend the International Festival of Photojournalism this year, I thought director Jean-François Leroy had a lot of interesting things to say in the interview, conducted by Claire Baudéan, Caroline Laurent & Lucas Menget. Here is one of my favourite exchanges, which had particular relevance to some of what I have been discussing and thinking about today.

Without mentioning any names, some of the top ten photographers in the world today, including war photographers, “live in a garret”, surviving on less than 1000 euros a month, struggling to make ends meet.

Yes, it’s a real problem; I’ll give two examples. Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for Time Magazine, and has been going to Baghdad a couple of times a year for the last five or six years. Now look at his work, at what he produces, then compare it to what you see in Time. There is a gaping abyss between what his real work is and what gets published. Another example is Stanley Greene who wanted to do a report in Afghanistan and needed to find 8000 euros to get there, but couldn’t raise the money. I’m sorry to have to say this yet again – everyone’s getting sick of it, and I’m told that I’m biting the hand that feeds me– but we have to stop saying that the press doesn’t have any money! The press can find the money to buy exclusive rights to celebrity photos. A couple of years ago, one weekly magazine paid 150,000 euros for the exclusive rights to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s wedding; and they can’t fork out 10,000 euros to send Stanley Greene to Afghanistan for a month! It just makes me wonder. Fifteen years ago, when a newspaper commissioned a report, the paper would insure your equipment, pay for 150 rolls of film, cover all the lab development costs, and so on. Nowadays, you do digital work, your cameras aren’t paid for, you’re not even given a memory card – nothing. A digital camera costs a lot more than the camera you had fifteen years ago. And we’re not supposed to voice any criticism? Over the same period, the price of a page of advertising has gone up by a factor of 2 or 2.5; compare that to the prices paid for photos which have gone down by a factor of 2 or 2.5! Christophe Calais told me that he wanted to go to Kenya to report on the events there; he called a magazine he often works with, and was told “Listen, if you get the chance to take a shot of Obama’s grandmother, and if we do a double-page spread, I’ll give you 300 or 400 euros.” Hell! He wasn’t going there to do a Grandma Obama celebrity shoot! That’s the real problem, you see. Everything has become celebritized, everything is nice and clean, and we’re told that we mustn’t show any violence, but celebrities instead. Yet when you look at “real TV”, you’re shown violence! Lucas Menget, a top reporter with France 24 and a member of the Visa pour l’Image team, did an excellent 26-minute report on Iraq, and you can see violence there in his report. Just talk to Stanley Greene, Christophe Calais, Enrico Dagnino, Paolo Pellegrin, Noël Quidu, Laurent Van der Stockt, and so many others whose names I haven’t mentioned; they see violence out there in the field, in the events they cover. That’s the real story!

When we ask our parents and grandparents what they did about the Nazi concentration camps, they tell us that they didn’t know about them. And it’s true that many people only discovered what had really happened in the camps when they saw photos taken by Lee Miller and Margaret Bourke White. Today we’re lucky enough to be able to see everything. No country is completely closed off; it might be difficult to take pictures in Burma or North Korea, but you end up getting something. With modern transmission facilities, satellite phones and all the advances of communication technology, it’s much easier than it used to be. So what will we say when our children and grandchildren ask us what we did about Darfur? It’s a philosophical problem. Photographers and journalists, whether with the written press, radio or television, often run the most extraordinary risks so that they can show what’s really happening. For years we were told we had a duty to history, then a duty to remember, so let’s now say that we have a duty to see and to look! I don’t want to live in a virtual world, a nice little, cuddly, fluffy world where everybody’s happy, where everyone is sweet as sugar candy and where everyone has heaps of money. People often say that Visa pour l’Image is a festival with commitment; I would say that we are activists, that we want to be militant because we, the organizers and photographers at the festival, are journalists.

Read the rest here.

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