Friday, March 6, 2015

On winning awards or the World Press Photo fiasco

Little Isla demonstrates how Santa tells a little mouse to keep quiet on Christmas eve.
Find a dark topic, illustrate it with dramatic photos and you may have an award winning piece of work. Tackle a more upbeat story and the chance of having a winner drop off dramatically.

Placing a puzzle piece correctly, Isla reacts.
This morning I learned World Press Photo disallowed photographer Giovanni Troilo’s first-prize for the Contemporary Issues story titled ‘La Ville Noir - The Dark Heart of Europe.’ The photo story examined life in the Belgian city of Charleroi. Some pictures were set-up, others were stage-directed and the one that resulted in the disqualification was not even shot in Charleroi.

In the photographer's defence, he was pretty up front about all his transgressions. World Press Photo ignored many of the criticisms of their choice of Troilo but I believe found itself in an increasingly impossible situation. When it came out that one photo was not shot in the town itself, World Press saw an out and took the exit.

I have been documenting my granddaughters early years and I am learning little children are remarkably capable. I believe that my images plus some excellent in-depth reporting with interviews with university researchers looking into the talents of babies, toddlers and little kids should be an award winner. It should be but I doubt that it would be: Too upbeat, too positive, with images too bright and all lacking the prerequisite dark mood and dramatic lighting.

Walking the line challenges the little toddler's sense of balance.
I believe we seriously underestimate children. I don't believe for a minute that my three granddaughters are geniuses and yet all three seem to be at the head of their class. That is if there was a class. The story here is how well little children do when given love and affection on a constant basis from caring grandparents. Isla is not yet twenty months and yet she understands a massive number of words and concepts.

Tonight I asked Isla to place some Play-Doh on a can. She did. Then I asked her to move the Play-Doh to beside the can. As my wife watched, the little girl followed each order to the letter. Isla understands not only frequently used nouns and verbs. She understands prepositions.

Isla was clipping together colourful foam numbers when she was maybe a year and a half. Her other grandfather watched her taking the tops off bottles and then screwing them back on at 12 months. He decided then and there that his little granddaughter might well be an engineer in the making.

The grandchildren are flourishing under the care of their grandparents and the old folk seem to be responding well to the demands of late life parenting. It seems to be a win-win situation that to an imaginative writer could yield a number of great personal interest stories.

Years ago I chaired a news photographer seminar held annually at the local university. To paraphrase one prize winning shooter, the winning entries in monthly clip contests are the disaster of the month images. Shoot tears, shoot grief, shoot people on a bad drug trip and shoot a winning photo essay.

The photographer admitted he too shot this stuff to win awards but he still shook his head: There's more to life. I believe he would agree that choosing Charleroi to depict the dark heart of Europe was an easy call. In recent years the city has gained notoriety for being the home of paedophile serial killer, Marc Dutroux. Another notorious resident was Muriel Degauque who gained eternal infamy as a female suicide bomber. In 2005, she blew herself up in Baghdad. An opinion poll in nearby Holland voted Charleroi the "ugliest city in the world."

I have discovered that there are boosters of the once successful city. Charleroi reminds me of Detroit, Michigan. Kicking a city when it is clearly struggling and taking no note of its successes should not be award-winning photojournalism. Balance, so important here, is all too often clearly lacking in these murky pictures accompanied with dark prose.

Note: This is not to say there are no happy, upbeat images being published. Of course, there are. But all too often the images and stories are dark, manipulated dark, and are more reflective of an award winning mindset than any attempt to depict life in all its complexity.

1 comment:

  1. Agree, if t does not contain drame, it is not real. Kudo, s for encouraging the gr children in their development, it is so important. Our 21 month gr daughter has learned counting to 13 , sofar, when going up or down the stairs. By being engaged with them, the bond grows and we benefit by staying young at heart.