Photojournalism festival hopes to revive cutting edge
PERPIGNAN: Photojour nalism’s biggest annual festival opens this weekend, throwing an unflattering sharp focus on a profession in crisis, struggling to adapt to the new media landscape.
Organisers hope to pull big crowds this week at the 21st edition of Visa Pour L’Image in the southern French city of Perpignan, if only because “the public wants to come and see what the press no longer publishes”.
Enterprising photographers certainly do not lack for subjects – the world has rarely had a richer crop of wars, natural disasters and bitter political crises, but fewer media can afford to hire freelancers.
“The years 2008 and 2009 will be marked with a black cross in the history of photojournalism,” festival director Jean-Francois Leroy said.
“Before, we were inundated with news features, that’s no longer true. Is photojournalism dead? The answer is no – photographers are doing quality work, but the press isn’t buying.”
Across the world newspapers and magazines are going out of business.
Among the victims of the crunch have been the agencies that promote and market freelance work. France, once one of the leading seedbeds of photojournalism, has been particularly hard hit.
One of Paris’s remaining big names, Gamma, went into receivership in July. Unable to afford to commission work of their own, newspapers and magazines are now more than ever reliant on the global wire agencies.
“Agencies like AFP, AP, Reuters and Getty have become so good that the media are reluctant to commission freelancers. Why bother?” said British photographer Andrew Testa.
Despite the grim mood, however, the festival still attracts hundreds of professional photojournalists and, for Leroy, the star of the 2009 edition will be Italy’s Massimo Berruti.
“He’s the archetype of the photojournalist I want to promote. He had to spend his own money to get to Pakistan, and came back with a report that will blow you away,” the festival director declared.
The historic buildings of the ancient Mediterranean city have been decked out with large-scale prints and slide shows. – Sapa-AFP