Some of you will have been following the debate about why JF Leroy (Director of the Visa Pour L’Image Festival) has gone to such lengths to give the Haitian photographer Daniel Morel a kicking for uploading 15 of his pictures to Twitpic on the night of the Haitian earthquake.

I recommend that you read the posts in order.

Two days ago I put these questions to Mr Leroy:

  1. Isn’t it true that Visa has a business relationship with Getty, one of the companies who distributed Morel’s photographs and then refused to compensate him?
  2. Do you yourself derive benefit from that relationship?
  3. Given that Getty are one of the key sponsors of Visa is it possible that some of the money Getty received from the sale of Morel’s photographs could benefit Visa

This is the response (printed in full)

I’m not a fan of slanderous implications. And I will not answer them, other than say that I haven’t personally profited from the infringement, through Getty (AFP is not a sponsor) or otherwise, in any substantial way that I can think of. My income is none of your business, and the funding of my festival is none of your business. But the independence of my festival is mine. It also happens that at the time of my comment to the BJP, I didn’t know that Getty was involved, because I was two months out of getting 27 shows (3 of which by Getty photographers) and over 100 projections (7 by Getty photographers) ready to welcome almost 3000 accredited attendees, something that leaves no time for browsing around looking for the last scandal. Knowledge of Getty’s involvement would not, and has not, changed my opinion of the matter. If you’re unconvinced, there’s a 22-year record of independence and advocacy for photographer’s rights to prove you wrong.A part of the “facts” that was used to attack me also slandered all of the photographers that were shown at Visa this year, by implying that their work was shown not because it was good, but because I was bribed to show it. I am not anyone’s whore, and neither are they. Anyone who came to Visa this year, or has the intellectual honesty of fact-checking what they publish would have seen a very simple thing : out of 27 shows this year, 3 were by Getty photographers. Out of the more than a hundred projections, 7 were by Getty photographers. It is elementary to realize that this is a consequence of Getty’s position in the industry, both in terms of volume of production and quality of this production, and not the result of a conspiracy.

If people have concrete ideas as to how to make anything at Visa or around Visa better, more engaging, more relevant, or more interesting, they should get in touch with us. Think the work we show is bad ? Send us your own, better work. Think Visa is irrelevant ? Come and make it relevant. Think Visa sucks ? Come and make it good. We don’t care who distributes your images, and we won’t show your work because it was published in a prestigious magazine, even if that magazine is our sponsor. We won’t show it because it wasn’t published in a prestigious magazine, either. We will show it because we think it is good, and that others will, too.

It’s that simple. We’re a small team, and we have limited ressources. But we’re listening. And we also have next year’s festival to prepare, so I’m sure you’ll all understand if I have better things to do than respond to often anonymous, slanderous, and unsubstantiated accusations in the meantime.

In his response below JF Leroy does not deny that he may (inadvertently) profited from ‘the infringement’, but what he does say vehemently is that he didn’t profit in any ‘substantial‘ way.

Mr Leroy complains that duckrabbit has ‘slandered‘ both himself and the photographers who appeared at the festival.  Of course technically it’s not possible to ‘slander’ Mr Leroy because slander is spoken, not written, but I think we can all get his point.   You can be the judge of whether this debate was worth having and whether, given the evidence and opinion presented both by duckrabbit and Mr Leroy, our response to the attack on Morel was justified.

Journalism is dependent on asking questions.  It was not duckrabbit but William Klein who suggested  that  Visa resembles ‘a festival of shanty towns without context.’

I would not be the only one who believes that often what is missing from photojournalism is the ‘journalism’ part. The industry is unsurprisingly fixated with awards and festivals that celebrate aesthetic and style over all else.  In the end the result is sadly that more often than not it is the  ‘poor black’ people featured in many of the photographs that are ‘slandered

The photographer Stuart Freedman recently nailed this idea in a blog post:

‘I see so many photographers making work that purports to show an explanation of a subject but actually is little more than graphic cliche of a situation. That, at a time of crisis for visual journalism, isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to simply point a camera at someone and say ‘how terrible’. It says much that everybody has a camera and thinks that they have a right to call themselves a journalist by photographing the nearest horror without context or understanding. We earn a dubious and tenuous ‘right’ to report the world to itself by entering into a dialogue with it: an impossible covenant with a subject that tries not to perpetuate stereotype, easy answers or sloppy conclusions. It isn’t enough to go and photograph beggars on the streets of India for example to further our own purposes under the cover of journalism. We had better have a damn good reason to invade people’s spaces and lives.’

I can think of no other industry where racial stereotyping is so celebrated, and no other festival more than Visa that has a reputation for celebrating those stereotypes whilst people sit round in squares, drinking red wine and drowning in images of poverty set to music you wouldn’t even put your enemy on hold to. Of course that in itself is a trite stereotype of the festival, taken from a prejudiced position.   It’s just a point of view and there is much great photography out there that struggles with the complexity of the world, Stuart Freedman’s work being a case in point (which has been exhibited at Visa, along with a lot of great work).

I would like to thank Mr Leroy for taking the time to reply. No doubt he has been a greater supporter of photography over the years. No-one but himself can take away from that.

He says that he is listening, which is great.  I’m not sure how he can demonstrate that since Visa is yet to embrace the web and really enter into an open conversation with audiences about the festival. We will start one here. I will put up a post and invite you to put your comments for Mr Leroy to read (and hopefully respond to). The only rule will be that those comments are constructive. Then we can see if Mr Leroy is sincere.

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

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