Man Up?

Blogger Duckrabbit‘s latest post Man up for the World Press Photo Awards has certainly stirred up a great deal of controversy, and deservedly so.  In it he starts with a reminder of the previous complaints by him and others about conflicts of interest in the judging of the WPP awards, and the “credibility problem when the chair of judges is required to chair over and vote on the work of a business partner“, something which WPP don’t apparently see as a problem.

To his credit that chair , Gary Knight, offered to stand down, but was told by the WPP that this was not necessary (and I understand that it was not possible for him to do so.)  I think he should have insisted on doing so, but that is of course something easier to say both in hindsight and from my position well outside the situation.

But Duckrabbit goes on to raise rather more fundamental problems in his typically robust fashion:

The biggest issue is that they appear to be unaware that the human race has two sexes and that black people don’t exist just to be photographed dying of starvation.

The WPP have just been having a two day awards event with 21 speakers, and Duckrabbit lists them, adding the comment:

Out of the 21 there is just a single woman. As far as I am aware not a single person on this list is black.

Fifteen years ago, when I started writing seriously (and for money) about photography, one of the major issues I tried to tackle was the chauvinistic nature of most of our thinking about photography.  Post-war the centre of gravity for many areas of photography other than photojournalism had shifted from Europe to North America, but anything that came from outside the major centres in those regions was off the photographic map.

Of course there were exceptions, and plenty of pioneers working away and bringing photography from places outside that narrow view. And the North American audience in particular was generally remarkably unaware of anything that had happened in Europe after the foundation of Magnum.  There were too parts of their own tradition – such as the Photo League – that they also tended to have forgotten. Photography in the USA had perhaps become rather tied up in a cold war attitude.

Things have move on a little both politically and in photography, but perhaps the WPP has failed to register this. Many of the more interesting photojournalists at the present time come from the majority world, and one of, if not the, leading centres for teaching photojournalism is the South Asian Institute Media Institute Pathshala, set up in 1998 by Shahidul Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

WPP of course know this – and I single out Pathshala as its students and former students have won a number of WPP awards, but there are other things happening in other countries too. But somehow the WPP seem to have failed to respond to the changes.

I don’t know what proportion of entries to the WPP come from the majority world, but Duckrabbit points out that only 14% of entrants last year were women.  I’m not sure what proportion of photojournalists are women, but it is surely rather higher than 1 in 7, and certainly many of the best photographers whose work I’m aware of are women (and some have had work in the WPP shows.)

One of them is Abbie Trayler-Smith, who has just been at WPP in Amsterdam talking about her work (her presentation followed that of Edward Burtynsky.) There is a picture of her giving it in Bas de Meijer’s post about the WPP Awards Days, The real value of the World Press Photo.

But Duckrabbit’s post is not about the award winners, but about invited speakers at the event. And it would be hard not to agree with his conclusions.

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