The World Press photo event, being held at the Just for Laugh Museum here in Montreal until September 30th, is: ” … a showcase for creativity in photojournalism and a platform for developments in the profession, part of World Press Photo’s aim of encouraging and stimulating the work of press photographers around the world. The show also attracts a broader public, and because of the wide-ranging focus of the contest forms an eyewitness record of world events of the previous year. the most prestigious photos in the world”. After work today, high expectations in tow, I decided to check it out. Over 200 photos from around the world are displayed on large format photo panels, most of them results of recent international conflicts.
By the third photograph, I already felt like I was touring a museum of human suffering. Corpses stiff from death, infants in their graves, hospital patients being restrained by force, refugee families fleeing their homes. The list goes on and on. I began to wonder if the key to award winning photography lies in its shock value. Why do I want to see such images? Am I relieved to not be the one suffering these terrible afflictions? Do I feel obliged to witness these atrocities because they have in fact transpired and I owe it to these victims to witness them? Does such an exhibit exploit tragedy or perform the necessary task of informing curious minds across the world? The more I pondered these questions in the metro on the way home, the more unsure of the answers I became. The World Press performs a very important function and supports the freedom of the public to be objectively informed of international events and conflicts. True, some images broke away from the war photography path. For example, photos of the Miss Senior Sweetheart USA pageant, where some guy jokingly (and quite un-politicaly correct) turned to me and confessed that these were the scariest photos on display. Oh, and let us not forget the close-up black and white shots of star football players such as David Beckham and company, or the several shots of endangered species. Is the media solely interested in sports and conflict? In Beckham and blood? The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the layer of the different categories of images are what appalled me, not the grave nature of most of them.
Perhaps the constant bombardment of shocking images, more than ever readily available thanks to the war photographers that are now allowed to accompany the armed forces on the front, have somewhat changed the rules of the game. Does the fact that we can take pictures of a mother crying over her dead child make it acceptable to charge people nine dollars to see it? Can not the public handle a whole exhibit of current event photographs that we have to include a shot of Clint Eastwood?
On positive note, each photo was placed into context by a short explanation or history of the context surrounding the photo, and the openness of the physical space, with it’s high ceilings and bareness, allowed for a global perspective of the entire exhibit.
I guess this is a review full of question marks, but the truth is that the World Press Photo Event is unsettling and forced me to think about everything from the current state of world affairs to emerging media trends and what they mean to me. Ultimately, regardless of all criticism I may have towards the exhibit, it did cause me to ask myself some good questions and reflect upon the ongoing debate surrounding war and media in our society.
Not for the faint of heart or spirit, the World Press Photo Event is being held at the Just for Laughs Museum, located at 2111 Saint-Laurent Blvd, and is open everyday from 11 AM to 9 PM. For information call (514) 845-2322.
“World Press Photo.” 18 Sep. 2007 <http://www.worldpressphoto.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=982&Itemid=153&bandwidth=high