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Joop Swart Masterclass:  20 years of talent

Joop Swart Masterclass: 20 years of talent


October 2013

It’s one of the most prestigious boot camps in photojournalism, taking place this year from 2-8 November in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and is attended by a hand-picked group of young photographers who have each been recognised for their emerging talent and promise. CPN Editor David Corfield looks forward to another promising intake, and remembers the last 20 years of the Joop Swart Masterclass...

I never had the pleasure of meeting Joop Swart (seen above, right, with the late Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands), but if I had, I’m told I would have been in the company of a man who was inspirational, with a clear vision about the place of photography in the media and who was passionate about giving young photojournalists a chance to shine. The former chairman of World Press Photo – who died in 1994, aged 69 – left behind a legacy of hope and the masterclass established in his name has served to aid the careers of many well-known professionals including Stephanie Sinclair, Paolo Pellegrin, Sarah Caron, Peter Dench, João Silva and the late Tim Hetherington, to name but a few.

Managing Director of World Press Photo, Michiel Munneke, remembers Joop Swart with affection. “He was, in my opinion, the Godfather of World Press Photo and was really instrumental in its development,” he remarked. “He was inspiring, and had an amazing commitment to photography.”

© World Press Photo

The format of the Joop Swart Masterclass has remained largely unchanged in the event's 20-year history. Here is an image, from the first-ever event in 1994, showing the founder of Contact Press Images, Robert Pledge, assessing participants' work.

Remembering the early days

“I was involved in the very first Masterclass, back in 1994, when I was an intern at World Press Photo,” Munneke remembers. “For me, it was a great experience and it’s interesting to see that the actual format of the programme hasn’t really changed. The concept remains very much as we originally planned, which essentially focuses on giving as much attention as possible to the students. There is no photography; it’s more about personal development. The age of the participating students is always between 25-30 years old, which is a critical period in life where big life questions are asked. This is also the age where photographers really start to come into their own.”

The masterclass this year runs from 2-8 November and is held, as usual in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The week consists of a series of lectures given by six experts or ‘masters’, ranging from picture editors to renowned photographers.

This year the experts are:

  • Devika Daulet-Singh (Director Photoink, India)
  • Manoocher Deghati, (Photo manager, The Associated Press, Iran)
  • Meaghan Looram, (Deputy Editor of Photography, The New York Times, USA)
  • Max Pam (photographer and lecturer in Photomedia at School of Communications and Arts, Edith Cowan University, Australia)
  • Ramón Reverté, (Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director, RM, Spain)
  • Donald Weber, (photographer, VII Photo Agency, Canada)

During the week’s activities, individual portfolio reviews are held with the experts, who will evaluate the participating photographers’ work and discuss their working methods.

Next#03: “Hope”

In preparation of the 20th edition of the Joop Swart Masterclass, the 12 selected photographers were asked to give their interpretation of the theme of “hope” and this work forms the refreshing and sometimes surprising collection of stories in Next#03 (seen here on the left), the third edition of World Press Photo’s ‘Next’ series containing 160 pages and more than 110 images, with a foreword written by Mariko Takeuchi, a photography critic, independent curator and associate professor of Kyoto University of Art and Design, Japan. The book was designed by Teun van der Heijden of Heijdens Karwei, published in collaboration with Schilt Publishing and will be distributed by Ingram (North America) and Thames and Hudson (rest of the world). The English-language book will be available online at World Press Photo here as of 7 November.

Meaghan Looram: A multimedia ‘master’

One of the ‘masters’ this year for the Joop Swart Masterclass is Meaghan Looram from The New York Times. She is the newspaper’s deputy picture editor and oversees a staff of 40 photo editors and has been involved in many of its most ambitious photography projects, including “A Year at War”, “One in 8 Million” and the annual Year in Pictures.

© Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Meaghan Looram will bring her experience as a picture editor at The New York Times to this year’s Joop Swart Masterclass.

Her inclusion as a ‘master’ is recognition from World Press Photo that the multimedia age of photojournalism is well and truly upon us, and here to stay. As a picture editor first and foremost, she warns of the dangers of getting carried away in this developing area of storytelling and urged photographers not to forget the basics. “Multimedia can be used in such a broad way and I am a supporter of any movement that develops our visual storytelling ability,” she told me.

“I advise photographers to think about ‘what is the best vehicle for the story first’ rather than use multimedia just for the sake of it. I think that when done well and when done intentionally, a multimedia approach can really augment our ability to reach people. Obviously, given the mediums that we’re working in now there is a lot more room for expression – we don’t have to worry about how many column inches or how much space we have to tell a story, for example. All that being said, however, I get concerned that the rush toward multimedia can sometimes result in overlooking the power of the still image and photo essay.”

She continued: “It’s a really exciting time to be in this business and in trying to tell stories visually there is a way for both disciplines – multimedia and stills – to exist together as we move further in these rapidly changing times.”

On working with this year’s intake of photographers she remarked: “I am thrilled and slightly intimidated by the designation of ‘master’ to be honest! I’m incredibly impressed by World Press Photo’s commitment to photojournalism and helping young photographers. The way they go about things is really reassuring. On a personal level, it’s really nice to be able to get away from the daily grind of working at a newspaper, too! Much as I love it, you don’t often get a lot of time to spend discussing and reflecting, so to have thoughtful conversations about photography is something that I’m hugely looking forward to.”

“An amazing experience...”

A former participant in the Joop Swart Masterclass is Canon Explorer Ilvy Njikikotjien, who found the experience hugely beneficial to her photography when she attended the five-day Joop Swart Masterclass in 2012. She recalled: “It was an amazing experience. What I learned most was that you really had to show people your work, go to different editors and make sure they knew you – because as long as they don’t know you, you won’t get any assignments! We did editing sessions where we looked at each other’s work. It was very useful to learn the different ways of editing – we had Markus Schaden, who taught us how to edit for a book; Ron Haviv showed us how to edit for a newspaper and James Wellford showed us the way that he would edit a story for Newsweek.”

The week-long programme of activity culminates in an evening reception on Friday, 8 November where Canon Ambassador and VII Agency co-founder Gary Knight will talk to the 2013 participants and invited guests about the power of photography, drawing on his years of experience in the front line of photojournalism.

* The Joop Swart Masterclass is supported by Ammodo Foundation, Corbion and Canon, who provides all participants with a grant. World Press Photo receives support from the Dutch Postcode Lottery and is sponsored worldwide by Canon.