“As an old dinosaur I am feeling very young...”
Visa pour l’Image’s founder and festival director Jean-François Leroy is in an upbeat mood as the professional week gets underway. CPN Editor David Corfield gets chapter and verse from the man who’s embracing social media to reach out to a younger generation...
“I don’t have anything against social media.” Jean-François Leroy is quick to react to a recent accusation that he doesn’t recognise how photojournalism is changing.
“You want the proof?” he counters. “I am exhibiting David Guttenfelder, one of the biggest Instagram photographers in the world. I pay Kyla Woods as my Community Manager who manages my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. I pay for that! So I know what is changing. The most important thing is that every year for the last five years, 25 percent of registrations were from young photographers coming for the first time. So if I was such a dinosaur, Visa would not be attractive to so many young photographers.”
“And again, my second point, if I was such a dinosaur, why are all the biggest picture editors in the word accepting my invitation to come and review portfolios? I have The New York Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, National Geographic, GEO, The Washington Post... they are all here. Look at the audience! An hour ago a huge line of young photographers were queuing up to get appointments with all these agencies and organisations on the Agency floor. So as an old dinosaur I am feeling very young! The real problem I have, is if a picture is published on a social network then nobody will buy it because it is not an exclusive. So yes, that’s my problem. ”
“But what disturbs me most is that people are saying ‘don’t use the word photojournalism’ any more. They say now we should call it visual storytelling? Pah! Why should we reinvent it?”
This year’s festival
With many of the world’s best photojournalists in town and with another strong selection of exhibitors on the walls of Perpignan’s most historic locations, does he have any personal favourites? He sits back and contemplates.
“You know, I love the three migrant stories from Yannis Behrakis, Aris Messinis and Marie Dorigny. And Marc Riboud of course is quite exceptional. But I love all of the exhibitions, of course.”
He continues: “But I was scared a few weeks ago because I thought security would shut us all down. But thankfully they didn’t touch anything but you will see, however, that we are secure. These terrorist attacks we have had this year, it’s upset a lot of people that we have no tributes at Visa pour l’Image to the attacks in France. We are an international festival, so why should I consider doing something on the Paris or Nice attacks when three days after Nice, 297 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul? Nobody cares because they are Afghan. So I decided that we will mention all the attacks all over the world as a long rolling list at the end of the screenings.”
The close-knit team that works with Jean-François has been with him for all 28 years of the festival. They research stories and put together the chronology of the year with fervent detail.
“I have an amazing team who research all these stories,” he explains. “We start in October to plan the next Visa pour l’Image and we start to work on the list. We contact all the big agencies like AFP, Reuters, SIPA, Getty and so on and they send us the list and they send us the material. And we have more and more freelancers too that were on the ground first at many events.”
Commenting on the general vibe this year, Jean-François is optimistic. “Five years ago everyone was crying, saying the profession was dying, but now I have NOOR coming back, MYOP coming back. Not bad for an old dinosaur!”
“Why should we reinvent photojournalism when it is working better than ever? After all, it is all about one eye, one heart, one picture...”