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Le présent article n'est pas disponible en Français
May 2009

There are few events in the world when you can get this close to the best exponents of a particular profession, but the World Press Photo Awards Days is one of them. With 48 of the 64 winners of the 2008 contest revealing the secrets behind their images in presentations over an early May weekend at the Felix Meritis cultural centre in central Amsterdam (and available in the local bars for after-hours conversations) the Awards Days have a rightfully special place in the photographic calendar.

The three-day event began on Friday 1 May with a special viewing of the World Press Photo exhibition at the Oude Kerk in central Amsterdam and culminated with a gala awards ceremony on 3 May that saw the presentation of the World Press Photo of the Year 2008 accolade to US photographer Anthony Suau.

© Anthony Suau, USA, for Time

Anthony Suau’s World Press Photo of the Year 2008 shows an armed policeman moving through a home that has seen an eviction as a result of a mortgage foreclosure.

Suau’s winning image shows an armed officer of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department moving through a home in Cleveland, Ohio, following an eviction as a result of mortgage foreclosure. Officers had to ensure that the house was clear of weapons, and that the residents had actually moved out. The winning photograph, taken in March 2008, is part of a story commissioned by Time magazine that, as a whole, won Second Prize in the Daily Life Stories category of the contest.

On 1 May the World Press Photo of the Year winner Anthony Suau and the 2009 jury chair MaryAnne Golon spoke to an invited audience at the Oude Kerk about the story behind the winning image and the state of photojournalism in general.

Golon was questioned about the choice of the winning World Press Photo image from 2008 and Tim Hetherington's from 2007; images that have provoked much controversy and debate. She said that many photographers were trying to push the boundaries of visual language and she again praised Suau's image, which looks like it was taken in a classic conflict zone. "You might not know what a picture means immediately," she explained. "The reader has to do some work."

Suau explained: "Detroit has something like 80,000 abandoned buildings in its centre. It looks like a war zone. The picture leads to something much greater, to Wall Street and Washington DC”, he added. Suau said that he plans to continue his series on the economic fallout in the US.

Anthony Suau in front of his winning image.

Anthony Suau in front of his winning image.

Golon said she was optimistic about the future for photojournalism despite the decline in support for editorial work: "It's going to be harder for photographers who are not independently wealthy or those who aren't producing the best work... but great photography will always be in demand."

At the gala award ceremony on 3 May Anthony Suau received his award plus €10,000 (he also received a Canon EOS 5D Mark II as part of his prize during the Awards Days) from World Press Photo patron HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands. Prince Constantijn commented: “The winning image tells a powerful story. It invites us to project our ideas into it. It becomes detached from the factual context – a policeman checking an empty home. It makes us stop and think, and that is what a good picture does.”

In between the exhibition viewing and the gala awards ceremony audiences filled the Felix Meritis cultural centre in central Amsterdam on 2 and 3 May to view presentations by 48 of the prize-winning photographers chosen by the World Press Photo Contest Jury 2009. They were the majority (75%) of the winners selected from a total entry of 96,268 pictures (a rise of around 20% on the 80,536 pictures submitted to the 2007 contest) taken by 5,508 photographers from 124 different countries.

Among the standout presentations delivered on 2 and 3 May 2009 was Johan Bävman’s (2nd prize, Contemporary Issues Stories) multimedia piece on the plight of albino children in Tanzania and Jonathan Torgovnik’s (3rd Arts & Entertainment Stories) emotionally charged presentation of his long-term project ‘Intended Consequences’ that covers the story of children born out of rape during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Both photographers received generous ovations form the crowd. Another great presentation was made by Callie Shell (1st People in the News Stories) of her coverage of the Barack Obama presidential campaign for Time magazine.

Also of note was the presence and impact of several World Press Photo award winners from China from 490 Chinese entries to the 2008 contest. These included Zhao Qing’s (1st Sports Features Stories and 2nd General News Singles) and Bo Bor’s (2nd Spot News Stories) haunting images of the earthquake that devastated eastern Sichuan killing over 70,000 people; a selection of work by Fu Yongjun (2nd Nature Stories); and Chen Qinggang (1st Spot News Singles) who also showed images of the earthquake and pictures from Tibet.

The Sem Presser lecture ‘Chasing a ghost’ was delivered on 2 May by the controversial US photographer Nan Goldin who held the audience spellbound for almost an hour and a half. Goldin challenged the photojournalists present by claiming: “My whole philosophy is that the only person who has a right to photograph someone is someone who is directly involved with them. In general people photograph strangers – to me it’s always ‘straight white men going to India’ – that’s the perfect example.”

Photographer Fu Yongjun was amongst several World Press winners from China for his images of a peach tree photographed through the seasons beside a lake in Hangzhou City.

Photographer Fu Yongjun was amongst several World Press winners from China for his images of a peach tree photographed through the seasons beside a lake in Hangzhou City.

The audience on 3 May was fascinated to find out some of the secrets of the judging process for World Press Photo that were revealed during Stephen Mayes’ talk ‘470,214 Pictures Later’ covering his six years as secretary of the World Press Photo Jury from 2004 to 2009. Mayes noted: “The (judging) process is an astonishingly intensive experience. Every image has an average of 4.5 seconds ‘look time’ from the jury and no image wins without being seen a minimum of five times.” Looking to the future he added: “I would hope to see an expanded vocabulary of what we are addressing as photojournalists.”

Following Mayes’ acute observations notable presentations were made by Gen Yamaguchi (3rd Daily Life Stories) who showed his work from Vietnam and his project on autism within a family; Brenda Ann Kenneally (1st Daily Life Stories) who showed some of her latest film and stills work from her ongoing documentation of the US town of Troy; and Mark Dadswell (2nd Sports Action Singles) and Steve Winter (1st Nature Stories) who told different tales of how they used remote camera triggers to capture images of Usain Bolt winning the Men's Olympic 200m final and snow leopards in India respectively.

The World Press Photo exhibition is showing at the Oude Kerk in central Amsterdam until 28 June 2009 but is also already on tour in 14 other cities - including Hamburg, Milan, Zürich, Paris and Athens - during May 2009. You can visit the World Press Photo website to find out exact dates and locations of where and when you can view the touring World Press Photo exhibition.