World Press Photo explores the boundaries of photojournalism


ZUTPHEN – The most extraordinary press photos from all over the world can be seen until Sunday 31 July in the Walburgiskerk in Zutphen. In single images or series. From snapshots to artistic experiments. Sometimes clear at a glance: a Greek woman fleeing a devastating fire. Sometimes depicted indirectly: flapping garments at crosses along a road in Canada. Time and again photojournalists tell real stories about their fellow human beings. Often poignant, but often also with a soft eye.

By Sander Grootendorst

Board member Patrick van Gemert, himself a photographer, guides visitors through the church that hosts the World Press Photo exhibition every summer; now for the eighth time. “We have once again tried to do justice to the photos as much as possible. The Walburgis Church is ideal for this.” For the first time, the council chapel is involved in the exhibition, which – as in a successful photo – has given the exhibition more depth.

For the eighth time, the Walburgis Church is the setting for the World Press Photo exhibition. The big picture of the yawning girl was taken by the Argentinean Irina Werning. “The girl would cut her long hair as soon as she could go back to school after corona.” Photo: Henk Derksen

A photo series placed there immediately shows a radical renewal that World Press Photo has undergone. Van Gemert: “In photojournalism it is strictly forbidden to edit photos. It is what it is, you see what you see: that’s the story. But this year the ‘open format’ category has been introduced: it is allowed there. Although photography should always form the basis. And the story has to be right.”

Mexican Yael Martínez punched holes in his photos, held them up to the light and photographed them again. “I think it’s wonderful,” says Van Gemert.

The Egyptian Rehab Eldalil had embroidery added to his photos: he had asked female Bedouins how they would like to see themselves portrayed, this was their answer.

The Norwegian Jonas Bendiksen went the furthest: he took pictures in a North Macedonian city where fake news is produced in factory, published an acclaimed photo book about it and then coolly announced that all the people depicted had been ‘shopped’ in it. But according to the jury, Bendiksen still moves within the margins of journalism. A fascinating field of tension, says Van Gemert.

freedom of the press
World Press Photo has moved away from traditional categories such as ‘hard news’, ‘nature’ and ‘sport’. Regions (continents) are represented instead. “That gives photographers with narrow budgets a better chance, the offer is greater.” Perhaps the most striking photo of the exhibition was taken in Myanmar: young people fire catapults at security forces. Van Gemert: “It’s not even the quality of the photo itself, it’s this.” He points to the place where the name of the maker is mentioned with all other photos. But here it says, “Anonymous.” “Attribution would mean his death.”

Van Gemert: “Press freedom is under pressure worldwide. There are only a few countries where you can safely do your job as a press photographer. The Netherlands is just a part of that, but on the edge.” Delivering the news, passing on people’s stories: it is not without danger, but it remains necessary. An overview in the cross chapel of sixty-five years of World Press sheds light on this: sixty-five years of world history pass by. With iconic photos like the one of the Chinese napalm girl, who was actually saved thanks to the photographer. But also with an award-winning photo of which the winner refused the prize. How can you be honored for a picture of terrible misery? Again: a fascinating field of journalistic tension.

Van Gemert: “As a photographer I once accompanied an aid convoy to the former Yugoslavia. When you get there in a torn country, get out to take a few pictures and then drive on again. I thought: I’m not going to do that at all. But then a man came up to me and said: You are more important as a photographer than the aid convoy. You can tell our stories to the world.”

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