Brutality counts

José Víctor Salazar Balza (28) catches fire amid violent clashes with riot police during a protest against President Nicolás Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt

So, we have the winners of the 61st World Press Photo Contest. They were selected from 73,044 images taken by 4,548 photographers from 125 different countries.

First – none of the photos is bad or silly, artsy-fartsy or pretentious, of course. Some are outstanding. Like the winner’s photos I’d say. Not least because of the detail on the wall.

And yet all in all I am not all that happy with the selection. Because, on a second thought: Once again the jury fell for the dramatic visual effect, the coarse stroke – fire, blood, violence and dead bodies, people being burnt, stabbed, shot, hacked to death, run over by a truck…

I know – the world is in such a bad shape. There is no shortage of brutality and corpses. And each of these drastic photos gets me. Some more than others. And I have seen A LOT of these in my many years as desk editor and with my own eyes.

But I fear that the general clickbaiting that we have seen for years now in online-media in general is also influencing journalistic photography more and more. In a probably not so good way. That is my concern.

Personally I’d like it a little more subtle, with an extra layer of thought. No need for the baseball bat all the time.

And there are several of those slightly different photos in that 2018 contest.

It is just that they did not win. Or in the categories that usually get less attention.

First row: Burnt. Overrun. Shot. Second row: Shot. Overrun. Burnt.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we experience a tsunami of images every single day in the so called social media. Unless we refuse to and leave those relevance-simulators – like I did months ago.

Thus it might be normal that those who seek attention – in times where nothing gets attention unless it is extreme – use the most drastic material they can find. And of course a good deal of such material is sent to contests as well.

From that point of view the choices for the World Press Photo Contest are nothing but a symptom for a severe visual and social deformation in a broader sense.

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