Valuing responsible photography or privileging immediate spectacle? The case of World Press Photo
CES Centre for Social Studies Coimbra, Portugal
During the last 54 years, the World Press Photo (WPPh) Foundation has been one of the most important institutions in promoting high professional standards in press photography from all around the world to the general public. As one of the WPPh activities, the contest brings together the social and cultural relevance of its themes with the aesthetics in picture making, therefore valorising the photographer?s work beyond the traditional use in newspapers and magazines. The itinerant exhibition, composed by the award winning photographs, is visited by two million people over 45 countries worldwide annually (www.worldpressphoto.org), an estimate that mirrors its relevance at a popular level.
As widely discussed, nowadays photography is more than a means to document an event, rather it is an instrument to expose and generate intense debates over specific subjects, such as poverty, war, immigration, gender issues, environment, science, etc. The winning photo of the 2001 WPPH Edition, ?The Uncounted? by Lara Jo Regan, which brought to light the situations of thousands of Americans, is just one of the multiple examples. Photography?s ambivalent role, at a time regulatory and/or oppressing, possesses an undeniable influence in today?s society. This undefined character demands some questions to be asked, such as: as a global cultural actor, does the WPPh lead to the establishment of relevant articulations between photography and social critique? Do the awarded photographs appeal to reflection on a specific subject? Can photography in general and the WPPh in particular have practical effects in denouncing suffering and social injustice?
The purpose of this paper is to expose the perceptions/assumptions/convictions/ideas that become embedded in WPPH?s awarded photographs and following exhibition, considering its hypothetical practical utility in valuing social justice and human rights. To that intent, interviews to visitors of the exhibition will be analysed, as well as the commentaries left in the exhibition?s guestbook, the testimonials of the awarded photographers, staff from the WPPh and the selected jury from one edition.