Thursday, 18 January 2018

POV: Staging Scenes To Win Awards

Photo Courtesy PetaPixel
I've recently seen a blog post by PetaPixel (which is one of the blogs I visit very frequently for news on photography), and read that a photojournalist in Bangladesh vented his ire and frustration at non-professional photographers (or non photojournalists...and presumably non Bengalis)) who descend on the country during its largest religious festivals to make "award-winning" photographs.

His issue is that these photographers staged scenes to make compelling photographs to enter in photography contests, for a chance of recognition, cash awards and other prizes. He pleads with these photographers to not come to these festivals and ruin his, and other "real' photojournalists, chances at making their own (presumably) non-staged images.

I believe it's quite rich for any photographer to take such a position, and while a small part of me sympathizes with it, should the Bangladeshi authorities have no mechanism to only authorize accredited photojournalists to these important public events, the other photographers have as much right as he does to be at the events, and stage whatever they want to.

As an example for such restrictions, I understand that photographers seeking to attend the massive Kumbh Mela in India must provide some form of accreditation to enter a certain perimeter. Otherwise, they are left to wander in the area's peripheries. 

Some of the commentary on the PetaPixel post mentions the huge scandal caused by Steve McCurry's staging and photoshopping some of his well-known (and well remunerated) photographs. He called himself a "photojournalist", then confronted with proven facts, he backtracked and described himself as an artist...and has won a multitude of awards and recognitions.

I recall being in Kolkata a few years ago leading one of my photo expeditions during the Durga Puja festival, and how an Indian photographer was deliberately and aggressively blocking my shots during one of the religious ritual at the riverbank. There was no staging then, and I was there amongst a gaggle of other photographers but was singled out by him because I was a non-Indian and a non-photojournalist. When I confronted him, he angrily said I was taking "the bread out of his mouth". 

So my advice to the Bangladeshi photographer is the same I gave to the fellow in Kolkata...focus on making the best photographs you possibly can, and don't use whiny pretexts about staging scenes to explain shortcomings.

As to winning awards with staged images, that's up to the editors/judges to cull them out or accept them.