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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/2007-09-11_C...

by Magali Jauffret, special correspondent, Perpignan

The Perpignan "Visa pour l’image" Festival: Complex Photos are Often Better.

Translated Tuesday 18 September 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

This year’s edition of the Visa festival of photojournalism, launched 19 years ago by Jean-François Leroy, is a success. It features photos that make you think.

The photo that sets the tone for this exciting 19th edition was elected photo of the year by World Press Photo a few months before the Visa pour l’image photojournalism festival opened here in the French Pyrenees.

The photo was snapped on August 15, 2006, on the first day of the cease-fire in Lebanon, by Spencer Platt of Getty Images. It shows a red convertible driving through southern Beirut, in a neighborhood that has been devastated by Israeli bombs. Three young women, members of the Lebanese jet set, are sitting in the car. One is holding a handkerchief over her nose, the second is trying to get a better view, while the third takes a snapshot with her cell phone.

Images that don’t tell the truth

The scene, which resembles a tracking sequence in a film, makes you stop and look because the different levels on which it can be viewed make the reading complex and dense: In the background you can see survivors who, caught up in the chaos, have got better things to do than to pay attention to the three young tourists who are out for kicks. In the contrast between the disaster and the opulence, between the blasted city and the sightseers, without even the car body to separate the two worlds, you get a whiff of the class struggle. Adding to the complexity of the image, there is the range of contradictory feelings that can be read on the faces of these “intruders,” faces that show horror, pain, disgust and fascination.

Again, it is the complexity of some series which makes this year’s festival program so stimulating. The escalation of violence is felt less. Visa seems to want to chronicle and encourage a kind of photojournalism which, separating itself little by little from a peremptory and stereotyped news photo, is searching for new directions and blazing new trails.

Thus when the Russian photojournalist Sergei Maximishin (45) of the Cosmos agency draws a portrait of the former Soviet Empire, he does so with little dashes of color of great plasticity, which raise more questions than they answer. Now nostalgic, now gratingly ironic, Maximishin insists on the senselessness of post-Soviet society. His camera can capture a knife fight as easily as a poetic moment or an instant of absurdity in Kamchatka, commenting on the future of a glorious Red Army whose soldiers display black eyes, on the behavior of the nouveau riche trying to come to terms with reality TV, or the real homesickness of a real Russian soldier on the real Chechen front. “In Russia, there’s no limit to the good or the bad,” explains Sergei Maximishin, who was for a time a scientific expert at the Hermitage, where he had an opportunity to train his photographer’s eye, then a photographer for Izvestia, also points out that the dividing line between documentary and art photo is becoming blurred.

A spiritual confinement

Complexity rivals beauty in the work, in three parts, of Palestinian Raed Bawayah (36), who excludes everything that might over-simplify matters, in a series on confinement – human, delicate, modest, pure by dint of being white, so very white... In Qutanna, Raed’s home town, not far from Ramallah, whether you are a child, a worker, or a nervous wreck, dignity is what counts, even if you are hindered in your movements, even if you run up against walls, a prisoner against your will in your own cramped native land, on the playground, in the Israeli dormitory, in the psychiatric hospital. The ambiance in these photos is “metaphysical,” in the words of Agnès de Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, inspector for photography for the French Ministry of Culture, who commissioned the work by this promising young artist. Powerful, tight, claustrophobic shots, metaphors for a tragic spiritual confinement, nobly borne up with, and that is what moves the visitor to tears in these soft images...

The Argos collective, nine members strong (six photographers and three editors) saw three of its subjects projected at Perpignan. In a series on refugees from climate change, they were so bold as to establish a bridge between ecology and mankind.

Squeezed in a social and political vice

Is there any greater complexity than the one that consists in going to the other side of the world to photograph people who occupy their fields and much the land occupies them, and who are preparing to leave their sanded-in corner of the world (Eleonore Henry de Frahan in China), the city of Dacca, threatened by rising floodwaters and the disruption of the monsoon cycle (Laurent Weyl in Bangla Desh) or their village of Shishmaref, built on a melting ice-flow (Hélène David in Alaska). Their job, financed and published by Géo magazine, was all the more arduous as, on the ground, the theme is often one of things to come. Rather than shooting the story straight, it was a question of making the viewer feel...

The three millionth visitor

The complexity of the work of Samuel Bollendorf (33) of l’Oeil public resides in the that the fact that this photographer left the beaten path and the clichés of triumphant “liberal communism,” in China and took the time to establish a relationship with three kinds of migrants — peasants, miners, and the workers of a multinational toy company — whose tragic fate is squeezed by a terrible political and social vice. The on-the-spot color portraits are accompanied by mounted texts that really add to the photos, continuing a tradition of politically committed photojournalism favored by Patrick Bard of the Signatures agency, who, having come to see Bollendorf’s work, finds in it the same multinational companies whose exploitive policies he denounced back in the days when he was working along the Mexican border.

The festival visitors, who are open-minded, attentive, and numerous (The Visa festival has passed the 3,000,000-visitor mark) experience another side of China when they identify with a coal miner gripped with fear every time he goes down into the illegal mine, with the father who had to pay for the bullet that killed his son when the peasants, expelled from their lands, rose in rebellion.

The same thing happens with Lizzie Sadin’s terrific exhibition. The viewers, some of whom have traveled far, are eager to enjoy the privilege of seeing and reading the black-and-white chronicle, classic in its workmanship and so very finished, efficient and honest, on the fate of child miners in the prisons of ten different countries. The complexity, this time, is to be found in the fact that this exposition, full of heart-stopping unforgettable jewels, banishes preconceived ideas. It is in Colombia, a country reputed for its violence, that alternatives to prison are available. But it is in the United States, a country that calls itself a democracy with regard to Madagascar or Cambodia, that kids are treated in the most unbearable way, in a way that is so close to actual torture...

Each artist, alone, is a good reason to be eager for the 20th edition of Visa pour l’image, which, after grants from Canon, has just signed a partnership with the U.S. press agency Getty Images...

Festival Visa pour l’image. Hôtel Pams, 18, rue Émile-Zola, 66000 Perpignan. Tel. : 04 68 62 38 00. Thirty exhibits. From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., free entry, up to and including 16 September.

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