24 oktober 2013
What a depressing place the world is
”FOR HELVEDE hvor er World Press Photo deprimerende”.
Even those of you who don’t read Danish might get the message? Anyway, the above was my spontaneous reaction last Saturday, after having walked through the exhibition with all the winners from this year’s World Press Photo contest. What a terribly depressing experience.
I posted the sentence on my Facebook wall and the immediate responses let me know that I might not be the only person feeling that way.
Well, the world is like that, my good friend Lars Pryds commented. To which my just-as-good colleague from the gooder-than-good old Politiken days, Helle Hellmann, responded: ”But it is also so much more … which apparently is not worth photographing”.
IN MY OPINION, they are both right. The world is indeed filled with sorrow and injustice and our media would ignore their obligations if they didn’t show that to us. But there is a limit to how much misery one can bear watching before developing kind of an immunity towards the dreary impressions, becoming ”comfortably numb” as Roger Waters once put it.
And press photographers do in fact produce other kinds of images.
Go through any issue of your daily paper, or a magazine, or a website, and you are likely to find a much more diverse, and much less dispiriting, selection of photographs than the dreadful horror parade of WPP. However, most of these pictures don’t enter photo contests, and those that do very rarely win.
At the exhibition in Politiken’s old print factory, this reality was exposed with almost brutal clearness as one exhibition wall was devoted to not-awarded (and probably not participating) photos by Politiken’s own photographers, all of them so much more life-affirming – yet far from bland or naïve – than the international winners. Like this one by Finn Frandsen, illustrating the feelings of a child whose dad just came home from war:
ONE COULD WISH that future WPP juries would try to send a message to photographers around the world that picturing cruelty and suffering is not the only path to winning awards. But I figure there may be no other way to effectively send that kind of signal than to completely refrain from awarding this kind of entries, if just for one year.
TO BE FAIR, even in the 2013 contest, there were a few positive exceptions to the gloom-prevails-rule … and not exclusively in the Sports and Nature categories which (although steroid freaks and endangered animals still appear to be judges’ darlings) serve as kind of sanctuaries where not everything is grief and anguish.
JAN GRARUP’s feature series with Somali women who insist on playing basketball under the constant threat from Al-Shabaab and other radical Islamist groups (who consider women playing sport to be un-Islamic) show glimpses of light in the bleak surroundings. These pictures are indications that there might still be hope, after all; something I know Jan is always trying to look for, even in the most desperate situations.
Yet my personal favourite is this little everyday scene from the camping holiday of a Danish family. The photographer’s own wife and kids, by the way. His name is Søren Bidstrup.
And yes, I honestly do believe it’s a coincidence that my three ”good” examples are all Danish :)