17 March 2013

What Do Prizes Do for Photography? Encourage clichés and carelessness.

Here is a nice report* on the impact (perversion?) of photography by the various "prizes" that denizens of the photo world bestow on one another. It raises a bucket full of interesting questions. One thing I'd like to suggest - a lot of the hand wringing about "post production" adjustments to the raw image are way overblown. Nothing new: for starters, go watch War Photographer, the bio-documentary on James Nachtwey. He spends lots and lots of time on film talking to folks in the "post production" stream and adjusting the lighting and so forth in his images.

What I find more troubling is the topic of clichés, the tired conventions that the prize competitions simply encourage:
“Also: this is World Press Photo. A place which year after year provides a rather predictable vision of the world which, in a sort of self-castigating or suicidal mode, fits perfectly in a dwindling and whining editorial market. . . .  Perpetuating an ailing system. It’s not that the photographs aren’t any good. It is that pre-formatted vision of the world I have difficulties with." ~ John Vink
Last year I leveled precisely this criticism of the World Press Photo overall winner [1] [2] [3]  and I have raised similar complaints in the past as well [4].

And, of course, I also think that the fracas over Paolo Pellegrin's visit to Rochester this year [5] [6] [7] [8] raises important questions about the relationship between images and text, and between photographers and locations that the various prize-giving outfits - to say nothing of the photographers, editors, and so on - ought to attend to.
* Thanks to Loret Steinberg for calling this to my attention.

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Blogger Stan B. said...

Nothing wrong with awards- if they honor and recognize what is best and true to the profession... and the people it supposedly serves. That was definitely not the case with Pellegrin; Hansen's photo walks a fine line, it definitely got a substantial makeover, but not enough to change the facts or storyline, as one commenter stated- all he saw were two dead babies.

TV has "reality shows" and FOX "News," sports has performance enhancing drugs- seems everyone is juicing somehow, someway. Even color films were significantly dosing up the color saturation towards the end. As long as money is to be made, "nice guys" finish last.

PS- Don't know if you're coming down on the Nachtwey scene in War Photographer when he repeatedly sent his printer back into the darkroom to darken the top of a boy's head in one photograph- that was totally within bounds as film doesn't respond as well as the human eye. He was merely trying to get the best print possible out of a medium (B&W) that is already very much unlike real life. Of course, the dividing line between that and what Hansen did is tenuous at best- a fact many less scrupulous photographers will take full advantage of.

18 March, 2013 19:17  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Stan, My point re: Nachtwey is simply that since film, photographers and editors have been monkeying with "where the light comes from" for effect. I agree with your estimation of the 'fine line' here.

19 March, 2013 15:11  

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