Boring. Blaaaaah. That is the first word that comes to mind when looking at the winner of the World Press Award, circa 2015. Don’t get me wrong, this year’s committee, led by Michele McNally, probably the best photo editor of our generation, was full of talent. But it was just that, a committee. And time and time again, we have learned that nothing of quality comes out of a committee’s decision.
Maybe that is part of the problem with the World Press Award. It is trying so hard to please everyone that, in the end, it pleases no one. The world of photojournalism is pack full of very opinionated people, some smarter than other, and trying to make it fit in a box of group approval is just counter nature. In other words, it would have been more interesting to see what each individual chose as the best image of the year rather than what they agreed would be the best image.
The winning image by Mads Nissen is fine. There is nothing wrong with it. It reflects a topic that has been recurrent in the 2014 news – and it is still in some countries – with a clear emphasis that it shouldn’t longer be an issue. A very politically correct winner, in other words. Those who will get offended probably do not care about the Word Press, nor do they probably even know it exists. So there is little chance of massive riots, just maybe a little explosion of indignation by a mid-afternoon FOX News anchor, at best. In other words, boring.
There is no rule that dictates World Press Awards photos should depict war. In fact, I would be the first to applaud a Politics, Sport or Environmental image as a winner. There are fabulous images taken every year that certainly deserve it. But it is not necessary to show independence by selecting a carefully lit, properly composed image of a PC topic. In fact, it is counterproductive. If this is really the best press photo of the year than I will stop looking at press photos.
The jury mentioned they were searching for an iconic image. Very few of the past WPA images have become icons and if they did, it was not because they had won. They were just that strong.
So, with a lack of controversy, the controversy turned to the evergreen topic of image manipulation. 20% of the photos submitted were altered and turned down, we are told. How they did know ? Well, they asked for the raw file. Great. However, that doesn’t mean that does that made it throughout were not. For example, the winning image could have been entirely staged – I am not saying that it is – with the subject instructed how to pose and the lighting carefully set up. The raw file would not reveal that. Does that mean it wasn’t altered?
This year’s winning selection is otherwise impressive, with its mix of expected winners ( Jerome Sessini, Bulent Kilic, Tyler Hicks) and its lot of question marks ( see images with a dominant faded green). Glad to see pure talent like Al Bello, Amy Vitale or Lu Guang amongst others, receive a well deserved nod.
Let’s see what the WP announced crusade against image manipulation brings in the upcoming year, if anything. As their focus is entirely on post processing, they will probably fail, as it will remain a never-ending policy race trying to catch up with new technologies. We spoke at great length about it. They would better off bring the competition to the XXI century by allowing a people’s choice award as well as allow the submission of non professional images. After all, with 1,8 billion images uploaded daily, there must be one that deserves an award. It would also bring the ceremony out of its club status and on a level a wider audience could connect with.