Category Mistake at World Press Photo Awards ~ Top Prize Given Not for Photojournalism But for Propaganda
'This could become one of those pictures - and we have maybe just ten in our lifetime - where if somebody says "you know, that picture of a girl...", you know exactly which one they're talking about.' ~ Jury chair David Burnett
'It's an incredibly strong image. It sends out an enormously powerful message to the world, about the 50% of the population that are women, so many of whom still live in miserable conditions, suffering violence. It is strong because the woman looks so dignified, iconic.' ~ Juror Ruth Eichhorn
'It's a terrific picture, a different picture, a frightening picture. It's so much about not just this particular woman, but the state of women in the world.'~ Juror Vince Aletti
'Part of what the World Press Photo contest does is to take pictures to a wider audience, an audience that is going to ask why? And this photo makes people ask "What on earth...?" "What's going on...?" "What has happened...?" For me, this was the picture that asked the most important questions.'~ Juror Aidan Sullivan
The jury decision is in and this picture by Jodi Bieber won the main prize - the World Press Photo of the Year, 2010 - at the World Press Photo awards. You can find the jury member's rationalizations I have lifted above here. The category mistake is that, perhaps despite the photographer's intention*, this image was an integral part of a TIME Magazine propaganda piece last summer. I have defended that claim here repeatedly and will not reiterate my view. What I find especially disturbing here is that the jurors are aiding and abetting the propaganda campaign by de-contextualizing Bieber's photo, presenting it as an iconic representation of the plight of women across the globe. In fact, it was deployed to much different ends, namely in an attempt to shore up support for a brutal decade old war. None of the jurors quoted on the World Press Photo page so much as mention the war or its costs. Shame.
Among the observations that animate my preoccupation with photography is this one from David Levi Strauss: "The first question must always be: Who is using this photograph, and to what end?" That is a question the World Press Photo jury either neglected to ask or asked and then set aside. I am unsure which possibility is worse.
* Here I am being generous. On the front page Bieber's web site this evening you will find not the simple image but the TIME cover.