World Press Photo explores the boundaries of photojournalism


ZUTPHEN – The most extraordinary press photos from around the world can be seen until Sunday 31 July in the Walburgiskerk in Zutphen. In single images or series. From snapshots to artistic experiments. Sometimes clear at a glance: a Greek woman fleeing a devastating fire. Sometimes depicted indirectly: fluttering clothes at intersections along a road in Canada. Time and time again, photojournalists tell real stories about their fellow human beings. Often poignant, but often also with a soft eye.

By Sander Grootendorst

Board member Patrick van Gemert, himself a photographer, guides visitors through the church, which hosts the World Press Photo exhibition each summer; now for the eighth time. “Once again, we have tried to do justice to the images as much as possible. The Walburgis church is ideal for this.” For the first time, the council chapel is included in the exhibition, which – as in a successful photo – has given the exhibition more depth.

For the eighth time, the Walburgis church is the setting for the World Press Photo exhibition. The large picture of the gaping girl was taken by the Argentine Irina Werning. “The girl wanted to cut her long hair as soon as she could go back to school after corona.” Photo: Henk Derksen

A photo series placed that immediately shows a radical renewal that World Press Photo has gone through. Van Gemert: “In photojournalism, it is strictly forbidden to edit images. It is what you see, what you see: it is the story. But this year the ‘open format’ category has been introduced: it is allowed there. Although photography must always form the basis. And the story must be right.”

Mexican Yael Martínez punched holes in her pictures, held them up to the light and photographed them again. “I think it’s wonderful,” says Van Gemert.

The Egyptian Rehab Eldalil had embroidery added to his pictures: he had asked Bedouin women how they would like to see themselves portrayed, this was their answer.

The Norwegian Jonas Bendiksen went the furthest: He took pictures in a North Macedonian town where fake news is produced in the factory, published an acclaimed photo book about it and coolly announced that all the people depicted had been ‘shopped’ in it. But according to the jury, Bendiksen still moves within the margins of journalism. A fascinating field of tension, says Van Gemert.

press freedom
World Press Photo has moved away from traditional categories such as ‘hard news’, ‘nature’ and ‘sports’. Regions (continents) are represented instead. “It gives photographers with tight budgets a better chance, the range is greater.” Perhaps the most striking image of the exhibition was taken in Myanmar: young people firing catapults at security forces. Van Gemert: “It’s not even the quality of the image itself, that’s it this.” He points to the place where the name of the maker is mentioned along with all the other photos. But here it says “Anonymous.” “Attribution would mean his death.”

Van Gemert: “Freedom of the press is under pressure worldwide. There are only a few countries where you can safely carry out your work as a press photographer. The Netherlands is still just a part of it, but on the edge.” Delivering news, relaying people’s stories: it is not without danger, but it is still necessary. An overview in the chancel of sixty-five years of the World Press sheds light on this: Sixty-five years of world history are passing by. With iconic images like that of the Chinese napalm- girl who was actually saved thanks to the photographer. But also with an award-winning photo, the winner of which turned down the award. How can you be honored for a photo of terrible misery? Again: a fascinating journalistic field of tension.

Van Gemert: “As a photographer, I once accompanied an aid convoy to the former Yugoslavia. When you get there in a torn country, get out to take a few pictures and then keep driving. I thought: I’m not going to to do. But then a man came up to me and said: You are more important as a photographer than the relief convoy. You can tell our stories to the world.”

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