“If it bleeds, it leads” is an aphorism that sums up a news room’s approach to prioritizing their forth coming news presentation with the more graphic (up to a perceived good taste point) the visual/s the higher up the greasy pole the story will be placed.
It was therefore with a gob smacked interest that I read the opening comments of Stephen Mayes, World Press Photo Secretary for six years, at the opening of the 2009 Photo Press awards. In essence he said “The overwhelming impression from the vast volume of images is that photojournalism (as a format for interpreting the world) is trying to be relevant by copying itself rather than by observing the world.”
Well, Duh! With damn near 50% of the World Press Photo of year going to either “Children in Distress” (17 out of 51) or “Men with Guns” (10 out of 51) what does he expect? Professional photographers in general and photojournalist photographers in particular are a pragmatic if not a cynical lot. And being professionals they do their home work to maximize their chances of winning, be it checking out the background for a photo shoot or a competition’s preferences.
If Mr. Mayes comments are more than rhetoric perhaps he should check the mote in his own eye before complaining about the splinter in another’s. For in its 54 year history, The World Press Photo of the year has never gone to a good news story.
Competition award winners are those who can best play to the gallery and in the case of the World Photo Awards it is a jury that ”consists of thirteen picture editors, photographers and representatives of press agencies from different parts of the world” whose daily mantra is “If it bleeds, it leads”.
Please note: Whilst the World Press Photo Award has been in existence form 1955, competitions were not held in 1959, 1961 & 1970. You can see the winners of the World Press Photo of the Year here.