Tough and brutal

A long-running festival in the south of France is setting the standards for presenting photojournalism from a range of frontlines war zones, prisons, mental hospitals and, indeed, the underbelly of British life.Suzanne Hinchliffe previews this year’s unflinching selection

On 20 April the photography community was shocked by the news that photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros had been killed in Libya.
Hetherington, who was named in this year’s Design Week Hot 50, was an inspiration to many.

His photographs were windows through which people could better understand what was happening in war zones, and this tragedy confirms the risks that photojournalists take to reveal the darker side of human nature and world politics.

This August, Visa pour l’Image, the annual photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France, will focus on the drama of the ’real world’, says Jean-François Leroy, director of the festival.

Leroy’s passion for and commitment to photojournalism is evidenced by the fact that he has run the festival for 23 years. He talks of his frustration with how many important press photographs are ignored because of picture editors’ ideas of readers’ reluctance to face horrible truths. ’People are egotistical when it comes to what they want to see in magazines. They want to see the romance and the celebrities. The Japanese tsunami, which caused the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, will affect us for generations to come but it is already forgotten,’ says Leroy.

The festival gives professional photojournalists a chance to show their albums of unseen work, which capture the forgotten world of yesterday’s news. It is reportage photography in the truest sense of the word, showing a world that is ’tough, violent, brutal and sad’, says Leroy.

The Japanese tsunami, which caused the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, will affect us for generations to come – but it is already forgotten

Jean-François Leroy, Visa pour l’Image

When asked if amateur street photographers will be showcasing their work in the festival, Leroy fires in reply, ’We never show amateur work because they are not real photojournalists. The day an amateur goes to a war zone like Sudan, I will be very anxious.’

The exhibitions are tinged with darkness Riccardo Venturi’s photographs show the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, in which 300 000 people were killed only 16 months ago, while Yuri Kozyrev’s images of Libyan rebels document the frontline, and Fernando Moleres captures the incarceration of juveniles at a problem-ridden prison in Sierra Leone.

Not all of the images reflect doom and gloom. British photographer, Peter Dench, who has been striving for more than a decade to get his work in the festival, has finally been ’welcomed to the club’, as Leroy told him. Dench’s photographs reveal a different frontline the nightclubs of Blackpool.

’The ethics of photojournalism still apply to what I do. I’m pleased my work has been validated at a festival considered as the holy grail of photojournalism,’ says Dench. ’England is where I point my camera because it is the country I want to understand the most.’

Visa pour l’Image is a celebration of professionalism in reportage photography. Some 30 exhibitions will be presented covering wars, catastrophes, devastation as well as ’real’ people.

For Leroy, the festival is clearly not about escapism. He says, ’It is there to highlight the sadness and chaos of our world, but, more importantly, to never forget.’

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