This afternoon the winners of the World Press Photo Multimedia awards will be announced.
Last year the panel was chaired by Ed Kashi from the photo agency VII (great choice) and another member was Andrew De Vigal, multimedia editor at the New York Times (another great choice). I think there was just six judges.
First prize went to the New York Times. Second prize went to a VII photographer. (both strong work)
You would presume that the laws of the contest would require both Kashi and De Vigal to at the very least abstain from voting or commenting on their own companies work? Anything else would just be two fingers up to any normal definition of fair competition. So when I put this question to World Press Photo they responded by saying that it would be ‘unfair‘ to stop Andrew De Vigal or Ed Kashi voting for their own companies work.
What does that say about how much (or little) respect World Press Photo have for the hundreds of people entering work who I’m sure have a very different understanding of what is ‘fair’ in a competition?
When governments put in place systems like this we call it corruption. That’s the kind of corruption (bad governance) that photojournalism presumably, in part, exists to expose. Mmm.
Last year Jan Grarup was awarded the Oskar Barnack Leica Award 2011 for Haiti Aftermath.. Pete Brook (Prison Photography) pointed out that Danish photojournalist Jan Grarup is a member of the photojounalism collective NOOR and who was on the judging panel? Yes, Stanley Greene, another member of NOOR. Once again you would presume he would have been forced to abstain from the vote. Nope. Because, and I kid you not, the organisers put out a statment saying that
‘The jury voted “unanimously” for the winner. There was no conflict of interest.’
‘No conflict of interest’ in voting for your own agency? I’m beginning to wonder what in the world of photojournalism actually would be considered a ‘conflict of interest’?
Speaking for NOOR images Claudia Hinterseer was kind enough to explain to Brook how the photography competition scene works
‘Looking at other international photography contests you will be amazed how often jury members are professionally or – as is very common in our industry – personally (on the basis of friendships) related to photographers whose work is rewarded.’
Once again its staggering that an industry that makes so much of exposing corruption seems to be completely oblivious to how this looks to everyone outside of the scene that as Hinterseer points out quite literally celebrates itself.
Last year VII’s Stephan De Luigi was awarded first prize (multimedia) in the Hope For A Healthy World competition, for his excellent work on blindness. There was three judges on the panel. One of them was Scott Thode– editor of VII THE MAGAZINE who pretty much heads up VII’s multimedia efforts. It’s not made clear whether he cast a vote or not. It should be.
When Pete Brook pointed out just how daft things have become in the world of phtoography comps (which is practically an industry itself’) he asked these pertinent questions:
1) Is this situation – as suggested – really unavoidable?
2) If so, what are we to make of this web of casual association and sanctioned incest when it comes to industry awards?
I don’t expect he’ll get an answer anytime soon.
The industry only behaves in this way because it’s allowed to by us.
There seems to be a widespread belief that the only way to get on in photojournalism is to play the game, and then if you’re really lucky one day you might be on the judging panel voting for your own company. That’s a crap way to plot your career. Personally speaking I’d rather win a week in a madrasa than an award voted for by another member of duckrabbit. It’s embarrassing.
If you’re nodding your head and would like things to change, you know what to do (like on Facebook and retweet at the bottom of the post). I assure you the people at World Press Photo and other photo comps are not blind to criticism. They are reliant on both you and their sponsors.
Let’s end on something positive. Irrespective of whether this photofilm wins a World Press today (good chance it will), Melanie Burford‘s The Monster Under The Water is for me hands down the most impressive journalistic photofilm I have watched in the last year. It’s a film that tells an important story, in a compelling way, with great skill and integrity. A photofilm that sits easily in the great tradition of documentary storytelling and one that will stand the test of time irrespective of any awards it picks up along the way.
The Monster Under The Water by melanie burford
Story by Kim Barker/ProPublica
Jason Melerine was born to the water. His father fished, his grandfather fished, his great-grandfather fished. At age 11, Melerine drew pictures of the boat he would someday own. The day he turned 16, he quit school to go crabbing. Now 28, he can barely read and write. Fishing off Delacroix Island, a sliver of land alongside the Louisiana coast, is all he knows.
In the first weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded last April 20, Melerine, like most Louisiana fishermen, feared the worst: that the cocktail of oil and dispersant would immediately kill the state’s already fragile fishing industry. His worry consumed him. He pulled patches of hair from his chin and his leg. He landed in the hospital with migraines. He contemplated suicide.
“For us, it’s a life, it’s what we love to do,” said Melerine, whose four children eat crab so often they complain about it. “It’s what we know to do. Water is my life.”
The story of the Gulf oil spill has often been told through numbers: more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled, more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersant dumped on top, more than $16 billion spent by BP on cleanup, claims and other spill-related bills. The human toll is more difficult to pinpoint, which is why ProPublica took a longer look at what happened to the fading fishing community of Delacroix, an island romanticized and mispronounced in Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and treated as a nostalgic touchstone by writers who marvel at people who continued to live off the land and the water, passing skills from father to son.
Despite the fishermen’s fears, the worst didn’t happen. The oil never coated Delacroix Island, and it didn’t hit the surrounding parish waters nearly as much as predicted. The well was capped. BP seemed to pay whatever money was asked. Scientists declared the seafood safe. The country moved on.
But for the fishermen of Delacroix Island, moving on hasn’t been so easy. All the old uncertainties about their declining community — hurricanes, erosion, the intrusion of modern life, falling seafood prices — are still with them, but now new uncertainties are piled on top, underscored by the recent deaths of dolphins along the coast and crabs off Delacroix Island. Even if nature somehow rights itself, the BP money that has flowed to the Delacroix Islanders may have inadvertently hurt their community and market by encouraging some fishermen to stay home. The fishermen ask themselves about the future and worry that they may be the last of their kind. Some have taken anti-depressants and sleeping pills to cope with the stress.
“I guess they been taking care of us all right, but they done tried to cover it all up with money,” Melerine said in November. “Money don’t take care of everything. We might be living it up now because we got money. But three years from now, we might not have nothing. We might not be able to sell nothing. This oil’s gotta affect something.”
To view the rest of the story at ProPublica, please visit http://www.propublica.org/article/gulfs-delacroix-islanders-watch-as-their-world-disappears