Opinions are rather divided on Perpignan in this 20th anniversary year. Some say it should be celebrated for it’s consistent commitment to photojournalism, a yearly gathering of common interests and important issues. On the other hand is the view that the format is tired and uninspiring to new photographers, with many similar stories and photographic styes repeated year after year. Is this the fault of the curators, or the fact that photojournalism is “in crisis”? I am inclined to agree with a certain agency director who told me last night he sees plenty of brilliant photojournalism produced on a daily basis all over the world – but only a fraction is featured here.
I had lunch with a prominent curator recently, who, when asked to explain what she viewed as her mission when it comes to documentary photography, explained, “We’re looking for new forms to explain stories in a compelling manner- that’s why I’m not going to Perpignan: We have no need of that kind of work,” by which, of course, she meant the classical photodocumentary form which to a large extent has remained unchanged since the 60′s.
This is an interesting thought given the interview that APE posted with Jean-Fran√ßois Leroy, the director of the festival, back in June. Reading back through it now, Leroy completely avoids the question of a stylistic crisis, focussing instead on the increasing difficulties of distribution:
Three or four years ago, I‚Äôd tell professionals in the press: ‚ÄúStop saying you like photojournalism, buy it instead!‚Äù You see plenty of people who come to Perpignan and go into raptures: ‚ÄúOh, that‚Äôs quite remarkable, wonderful, magnificent!‚Äù So why don‚Äôt the same people buy the reports? Why don‚Äôt they publish them after the Festival? I can remember a story, in 1998, by Ettore Malanca, on the children at Bucharest railway station. He‚Äôd shown it to everyone and hadn‚Äôt got it published anywhere, but after his exhibition in Perpignan, he made a number of sales; that was great. But that‚Äôs increasingly rare now. Last year we screened 100 photos Diane Grimonet had taken over a ten-year period reporting on social outcasts and disadvantaged people in France; VSD and Lib√©rationwere the only ones to commission anything from Diane after that ‚Äì no one else!
For their part, though, Foto 8 continues the post with a follow-up complaint:
One thing which has been noticeable at the evening slideshows is an extreme lack of European and American based stories. Of course it is crucial to highlight events in Asia and Africa but are there not equally important stories to be told in the West? Munem Wasif, the Bangladeshi photographer who has won the Young Reporter’s Award told me he’d like to see more photographers working within their own country, wherever that may be, as they have a unique perspective which can never be replicated by an outsider.
Could that problem have more to do with photojournalism defining itself away from those stories? There is a complete overabundance of photography shot by photographers in their own countries, but it tends to fall into the “art” or “editorial” categories. Increasingly, photojournalism is defined as documentary photography that takes as its medium the SLR camera and its subject the disenfranchised or oppressed. Obviously, these stories should be covered, but aggressively and narrowly defining the medium does a disservice to its own goals – to document the world as it is for all to see. Perhaps expanding the definition a bit would give a much healthier picture of the medium than the one we frequently hear.