Whatever you do, not everyone will be happy. In fact, some will actually go a long way to find something wrong with what you did. It’s a small price to pay for success. That is the certainly true of the World Press Award. However hard they try to diversify the members of the jury, never the same year after year, they cannot escape controversy. This year is no different.
The winning image is always the first and primary recipient of the flak. While the vast majority are always in awe of the selected images, others, mostly blasé professionals, always find something wrong with it. Too altered, too vague, to general, not strong enough, there is, and always be something wrong with the winning image. This year, the main criticism is that is too aesthetically pleasing and not linked to any of the major events of 2013 ( at least, those being defined by an overwhelmingly western based press). Some even complained it didn’t carry enough blood and drama, because, after all , photojournalism only has to be about blood, drama, death and destruction. Some others said it didn’t deserve to win because without a caption, one couldn’t figure out the image. In other words, it was not the right image. Not that those who criticize would ever offer you an alternative image as a replacement. They bitch and they leave.
Picking the best photojournalistic image of the year is doomed to fail. Mostly because, unlike the Olympics, images do not compete with each others.And why would they ? One can find one photograph great and a few second later see another one that is as great but if asked, would be hard pressed to tell you which one is better. It is not a function of photography to be better than another. Photojournalists do not go covering events thinking ” I have to beat that image Nachtwey took last week”. Photography, and photojournalism, is not a competition. So why would the resulting images be ?
What the World Press should be doing is change its name from Award to Magazine. The winning image would be the cover, and then all others inside. Because, what it is really good at achieving is showcasing really strong images to a very vast public that hadn’t seen them before ( look, even Perez Hilton wrote about it). And for that alone, whoever the winner is, it should be celebrated. If every year photojournalism dies, every year it is reborned with the World Press Awards. Along with all its controversy.
Because it seems that photojournalism today cannot live without controversy. Not so much about what is being depicted but more about how the photograph has been achieved. Whether it was taken by a free lancer being paid pennies, or retouched, or taken with the wrong (cell phone) camera, or not properly captioned, or stolen, or not about the right subject and so on. No controversy, not really photojournalism. And thanks to the internet, those critics are amplified beyond the realm of professionals and into the wonder world of the concerned everyday man/woman. Not the best way to promote photojournalism. In fact, it has become so prevalent that most people now start to doubt every photo they see under the suspicion that something surely must be wrong with it. The effect of constant controversy. Not that it is wrong to question everything. It’s just that the questions should be formulated properly.
The winning image of this World Press is a fantastic photograph, technically, visually and rich in information. It is 100% photojournalism, even if it doesn’t depict a “major” 2013 event ( again, who decides?) and there are no blood or dead people in it ( albeit if you wait long enough, someone in the picture might die later on). Yes it needs a caption to understand it, and I have no idea who wrote the rule that photojournalism needs no caption. Sorry that Capa image of WWII you love so much, well it also needs caption ( or context). Yes John Stanmeyer’s image is certainly pretty, but then again, studies show that aesthetically pleasing images have much more impact than ugly ones. Finally, well at least until another controversy pops up, it was given a prize by some jury members that happen to work with the winning photographer. I have news for you, if you are going to select photojournalists to vote on photojournalism, there is a very good chance that they either know each other, work, or have worked together or even are brothers ( or sisters). It’s just a very small community. The only way to alleviate that would be to have a People’s choice category, something we have written about already. Once we decide that photojournalism is not a competition, that it is impossible – if not ridiculous – to define a best photograph, then we will finally be able to accept that whatever images win certainly deserves it. Because it really doesn’t matter that much. It is just a great celebration of photojournalism. And that is what should matter.
See all teh winning images here : https://www.worldpressphoto.org/