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Posted on 14th November, 2011

'Review' of World Press Photo Awards exhibition,

Royal Festival Hall (Nov 2011).

 

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Two new photo exhibs began in London late last week. Firstly, it was the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize results, at the NPG until 12th February 2012. The other was the World Press Photo Awards, at the Royal Festival Hall until 29th November. And I tasted both on Friday 11th.

 

In a day or so, I'll be posting a review of the Taylor Wessing exhib as a separate blog, so I'll just mention the World Press exhib here. But a review isn't my main intention in this case: no, my over-riding aim is simply to express the awe in which I hold such brilliant photographers and their work. I find it amazing in fact, how some of these photographers have the guts to be able to record many of the situations they do: how can they be so willing to go to such extremes, just to get a photograph I wonder? Think about it for a second by putting yourself in their shoes: can you imagine, assuming you're not in a police / military style occupation, putting your life at risk just to carry out your job? Because that's exactly what many of these masters do each day, to bring us a graphic message of total efficiency: irrefutable proof that a picture is worth a thousand words. And it confirms fully my belief in the superior power of the still image: in no way whatsoever can a moving image convey the impact and emotion of the decisive moment frozen for ever. Long-live still photography I say!

 

Obviously, the images on display don't all fall into the glowing category I mention above. There are a few in fact, that could have been taken by almost anybody I feel. And others, which sadly confirm my belief that a picture of someone just standing / sitting in front of the camera, doing nothing but being there, is photographic flavour of the month. There are still more that I suspect left the respective photographers unable to believe their luck, having to shoot in what could be described as paradise.

 

So, the life of the press photographer is not 100% doom and gloom, but it's undoubtedly the darker side of the business that results in the most-moving images I'd say. The shot at a morgue in Port-au-Prince for instance, with a corpse being thrown onto a pile of others as if it were rubbish, I found most painful. But it was one of a matador being dragged along by the horn of a tormented bull that I found most memorable. And although the horn of the animal is clearly piercing the neck / jaw of the sword-wielding matador, I have little sympathy for that would-be-killer, as you can probably guess.

 

Finally, I have to mention one other entry, which is the picture of an Afghan woman called Bibi Aisha that was used as the cover for the July 2010 edition of Time Magazine. The photograph has similarities with the even-more-famous 'Afghan Girl' by Steve McCurry, but I don't know if McCurry's version was the inspiration for author Jodi Bieber. Anyway, it's not the look in the eye that distinguishes Bieber's shot: no, it's the facial disfigurement that she suffered at the hands of the Taliban which makes it stand out. But it's significance for me is none of the above: it's simply that it's the link with the Taylor Wessing exhib I mentioned at the beginning. That's right, not-surprisingly it's featured there too. And you know where to find out what I think of that exhib, don't you?

 

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