“We have so many people from so many countries [on the shortlist] – photographers from 125 countries have participated, 22 are on the shortlists,” says Lars Boering, managing director of World Press Photo.
“We are a Dutch organisation but over the past three years it has become a very international team, and members of staff always find someone to feel that their country has done well.”
World Press Photo has been announced – or at least the shortlists, because this year, for the first time, the shortlists are being released before the winners. The final results will be announced at a special awards ceremony on 12 April which will help open the World Press Photo Festival.
There are now eight categories in the competition, including a new Environment prize, and each nominated photograph – including all singles and stories, except for those in the long-term projects award – are eligible for the World Press Photo of the Year. Shortlisted for the main prize are five photographers, Patrick Brown, Adam Ferguson, Toby Melville, Ronaldo Schemidt and Ivor Prickett, with Prickett nominated for two separate images shot in Mosul.
It’s all part of a raft of changes that Boering has introduced to World Press Photo since 2015, when he took over as managing director. He joined just before a disastrous year for the contest, in which more than 20% of final round entries had to be disqualified for image manipulation, and the contemporary issues winner, Giovanni Troilo, had to be disqualified after emerged one of his images had not been shot where he had said it had been shot.
In response Boering launched a new code of ethics for entrants, which means that images submitted to the prize are now more thoroughly checked. This year, he says, all the images have been thoroughly checked before the shortlists have been announced, let alone the winners.
“All the checking is already done – all raw files, where the images were shot, everything,” he tells BJP. “We know how important it is that everything can be trusted, and we keep asking questions until we are satisfied. We wouldn’t announce the shortlists unless we were.”
Last year new challenges surfaced though, when the winning image by Burhan Ozbilici – which showed a terrorist attack at a press conference in Turkey – was denounced as “a staged murder for the press” by jury chair and Magnum Photos member Stuart Franklin. “It is a premeditated, staged murder at a press conference, which arguably you could put in the same envelope as the beheading of a prisoner in Raqqa [Syria],” Franklin told BJP.
“I can tell you, I didn’t vote for the photograph because of that dilemma,” he added.
For Boering, it’s an issue but it is also “a very old habit”. “In that sense every terrorist event is set up by people who are aiming to make the biggest effect,” he tells BJP. “It’s the same with press conferences and politicians.”
In fact, he adds, photographers always take a certain perspective on what is happening around them, so “if you take that standpoint the whole world’s a stage”. In judging a large competition such as World Press Photo, the juries inevitably see the same event photographed multiple times, he adds – and it’s interesting to see “how different photographers have interpreted the same scene”.
It’s a factor that Magdalena Herrera, chair of the 2018 jury, also picked out for comment this year, telling BJP that the judges were specifically looking for photographers with “a point of view” – image-makers who recognise that their wire is always shot from a certain perspective, and make something of it. For Boering, the next logical step is to invite these photographers to advocate for their work, and he says the forthcoming World Press Photo Festival will do just that.
“We’re calling it a festival, but it’s not a festival in the traditional sense of putting on photography shows,” he says. “We’ll premiere the World Press Photo show there, but the focus is on putting the photographers on the stage.
“Most successful photographers now know they need to stand up and present their stories,” he says. “Very often they have taken up the cause [of what they have shot] They feel they have a responsibility.”
And, when I point out that it’s striking that The New York Times commissioned three of the six images nominated for World Press Photo of the Year, Boering says ethical considerations are also behind their success. “Their tenacity is really showing through,” he says. “It’s good to know that the things we see are things we can trust.”
To see all the nominated images, visit the World Press Photos website www.worldpressphoto.org