I have just returned from the beautiful city of Hangzhou in China’s eastern Zhejiang province where I had the privilege of being one of 13 judges at the 9th China International Press Photo Contest.
And what a contest it was! Over 30,000 images from over 3,000 professional photojournalists around the world were entered in to the competition. A preselection was made by Chinese judges and we had 3-and-a-half days to go through over 7,000 images and come up with the winners in 8 categories. Needless to say we worked from early morning to late at night each day coming up with gold, silver, bronze and excellence awards in each category. From all the gold medalists – both the singles and stories – the final day saw us selecting the overall winner of the competition. That honour went to Spanish photographer Bernat Armangue who works for the Associated Press (AP). His was a powerful image of a moment of heartbreak and tenderness in the midst of the brutality of war in Gaza.
The experience of being involved in the judging panel was rich in every way. For me there were a number of points that emerged.
The first was the excellent hospitality of the China Photojournalists Society. It was a culturally rich experience with so many things so different to home – the food, the language, the writing, the transport systems. As fellow judge, Maria Mann, Director of International Relations and Creative Photography at European Pressphoto Agency, said, never in her over 40 years of involvement in the photo industry has she experienced such honour and respect. I would certainly echo that. Never have I experienced so much press attention either.
The second was the privilege of working alongside colleagues from all over the World – China, Argentina, Germany, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, United States, Thailand and India. Spending three and a half days selecting and at times in intense discussion (sometimes disagreement) with such esteemed colleagues proved to be a more significant learning experience than I had anticipated. This was hardly surprising with the likes of Maria Mann, Ruth Eichhorn Director of Photography for Geo Magazine Germany and Ricardo Mazalán photo editor at the Associated Press in Bogotá, Columbia. In spite of the language barrier there as healthy and positive working relationship between Chinese and international judges. This was particularly thanks to the excellent translation done by the competition secretary Huang Wen.
Thirdly the experience opened my eyes to China. There were so many fascinating stories from all over China and our Chinese colleagues were often able to give in-depth background to the stories that were presented. It was a tour of the issues facing the World’s most populous nation given by five of the most prominent photo editors in the nation. I certainly came away with a far greater appreciation and understanding of China. With so much more influence of China in Africa these days it was an honour to gain this perspective.
Fourthly the competition itself has great significance. It has significance in encouraging quality photojournalism in China. We have certainly seen that over the last number of years with Chinese photographers claiming more and more awards in World Press Photo. It also has significance in honouring photojournalists all over the world who risk their lives day in and day out to document life and death in all corners of the globe. CHIPP does this by presenting the stories these photographers tell to the World’s most populous country – a massive audience for their work. I was just thinking about the impact that could be made on the illegal trade in rhino horn if a story on this won top honours at CHIPP!
Fifthly, being involved in judging the competition opened my eyes to the fact that this is a genuinely international competition with prize money to match. A lot of the winning entries came from the international wire services such the Associated Press, European Pressphoto Agency, Reuters and AFP. I saw very little work by African photographers and there are no African photographers among the winners. I myself was not aware the competition was open to professional photojournalists all over the world. I should imagine that was the situation for most of my fellow African photographers. I trust in the future African representation will grow significantly. The categories I would encourage African photographers to aim for in particular are the “Arts, Culture & Entertainment News” and “Nature & Environment News” categories as the number of entries in these categories is smaller than in other categories and as Africans we can certainly perform in these categories.
Finally being involved in judging – spending half a week giving long hours of dedicated attention to photojournalistic images from all over the world – brought home to me again the weight and importance of photojournalism for the World today. There is an immediacy of communication that great photojournalism carries with it – more immediate than any other media. It can be a powerful force for change. We often see ourselves and our own circumstance in the pictures and it can galvanize us to action and bring about sustained protest and working for change. Apart from the winning picture by Bernat Armangue one of the most powerful images in the competition for me was this one from Afghanistan by Qais Usyan from AFP. Perhaps it is because South Africa struggles with a culture of rape. The New Age newspaper reported the other day that there are estimated to be over 1 million rapes in our country every year. The fact that there is no father present and the mother and children are having to deal with the crisis alone in this picture is powerfully representative of our circumstance in South Africa. We need such images in our nation to galvanize us to change.
Tragically Qais Usyan, an Afghan himself will never know of his award. He died after a brief illness on February 9, 2013. He was only 25. It is wonderful to be a part of honouring his memory in this way.
If you can read German Ruth Eichhorn of Geo wrote this report.