Press Photography 2008

The results of the UK 2008 Press Photographers Year were announced on June 6, rather early when for the rest of us 2008 still has 7 months to run. Looking at the chosen pictures for the it is hard to reconcile this fine selection of work with the kind of visually illiterate trash that fills most of the papers that I pick up. Based on them, something over 90% of the pictures should really be of models falling out of their dresses or TV actresses looking even more boring than they do on the box.

The failure of photography in most of our press isn’t a failure of photographers, but a failure of editors – and often a failure to be willing to pay for better pictures when the crap comes cheap or even free. Scratch almost any freelance and you will find stories of editors and journalists saying how great the work is, then not hearing anything when you mention money, and finding that the publication has used a cheap image from an agency contract or even sent in free by a reader.

There is plenty of good photography here, and quite a few photographers I know (as well as those I don’t) are to be congratulated for getting their pictures among the 146 here, whether or not as winners of the 13 awards.

At risk of upsetting those I know who I don’t mention, there are two photographers here whose work I find outstanding. One is the Guardian’s Sean Smith, who gets the first prize for multimedia, and the other is Brian David Stevens, (also see his web site) who has some intriguing black and white work, including some of the best portraits in the selection and some interesting reflections that remind me slightly of the best work of Trent Parke, but are all his own.

This year a decision was made to enlarge the Sports photography sections, and the result is disappointing. There are a few fine sports pictures here, but rather too much that is simply very well done but perhaps rather uninspired. Some of my first published work was sports photography, but I soon saw the error of my ways. It is an area that tends to reward the retaking of similar images and to reject or sideline creativity – although there have been some fine exceptions over the years – and I can think of some fine work in World Press Photo.

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