Day Five: 3 September, 10am Perpignan, France
Yesterday afternoon was spent searching for and then grilling the agencies who have taken over the Palais Des Congres. As mentioned earlier many agencies are missing, or sadly, are dead. The past 10 years have been tough for many of them, but hopefully some day, this war will end. We stayed positive and happily met with some old vets of the field, albeit that their role here, down in Perpignan, has somewhat changed.
A representative from Agence Vu said that in previous years they were here to see photographers’ work, but now their presence is primarily for the clients – to sell stories, to meet new costumers and become acquainted with the people behind the emails.
When we headed south we were expecting change in Perpignan, but that change is proving hard to find. The walls that surround us, enclose us even, in the numerous exhibition spaces look and feel exactly the same. The frames – those endless frames – the same.
Back home there are ongoing debates about photojournalism versus documentary versus art on the pages of magazines and books, on blogs and on the walls of galleries, even in how photographers decide to show their work.
Photographers have to re-invent what and for whom their photographs are made. And yet here, in Perpignan, the walls are unchanged. There are no conceptually-crafted installations, there are no handmade fibre prints in bespoke frames, no variation in sizes to make ones gaze react to a body of work. There is just uniformity, but perhaps that is the point, and in some ways it makes sense. Maybe Visa isn’t trying to be part of that discussion, they just do what they want to do and what they have always done.
Take, for example, Magnum. Maybe Magnum’s presence in this Catalan town is so minimal because they are exploring the different avenues mentioned above while trying to redefine their place in the industry. Maybe they just don’t fit into their Visa pour l’Image uniform anymore.
Day Five: Looking at Work
Looking back at this journal we realise we may have been a bit harsh on our fellow pilgrims. Yes, they hounded us at the Café de la Poste, but that’s because we have access to a portal, we have white walls, and blank pages, and they are hungry for that.
Today we sat in the burning sun of the Hotel de Pams, sweating not just from the sun but from the endless espressos that kept us going as we met photographer after photographer, one story teller after another.
A few things struck us as we sat there: yes, it may be true that many of the stories we saw today have been told previously, but, nevertheless, we were presented with work that took us to places and introduced us to characters we hadn’t met before.
Paul Jeffers showed us a story on Bangor Airport in the US state of Maine, often the first or last port of call for US troops before they are shipped out to Iraq or Afghanistan. Jeffers’ photographs focus on a non-profit organisation called The Maine Troop Greeters, who are based at the airport. These greeters’ act as family to the troops that pass through the airport (more often than not their real families can’t be with them) offering phones, food, a shoulder to cry on and a friendly face.
© Paul Jeffers
© Paul Jeffers
Russian photographer Sergey Kozmin presented us with his project on Vissarion, a self-ordained Christ figure who was formerly a traffic cop named Sergey Torop. Vissarion and his Church Of The Last Testament lies deep in the Siberian mountains and he currently has over 5000 followers, many of whom gave up their lives and homes in Russia’s big cities to live as his disciples in the villages that populate what Vissarion calls The Promised Land.
© Sergey Kozmin
Many photographers have visited and documented the utter devastation that Hurricane Katrina caused to both the landscape and people of New Orleans on August 29th 2005. One of them, Jason Andrew, showed us his project Jazzland, a study of the New Orleans Six Flags amusement park. Shot on medium format film, Andrew documents this fun park in ruins as it slowly becomes prey to the ever-growing swamp. Although people are absent from his images, one can almost hear the laughter that emanated from Jazzland up until that fateful day.
© Jason Andrew
© Jason Andrew
Even after a long day, we feel reinvigorated by seeing some great stories by photographers, the above being only a small selection.
There is something else though: multimedia. Sure it’s just another way of showing work but that is just it, it’s another outlet, and a useful one for photographers. But the question remains: who is this work for? Who is going to publish and exhibit it? There is no doubt that the general public would want to see these stories, but as the saying goes: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
As we rest back at base this question stays in our thoughts, the taste of something unresolved. The wolves are hungry but the hands that can feed them are tied.
Day Six: 4 September 4pm
After having read the synopsis for In God We Trust, an exhibition by Bangladeshi photographer Munem Wasif, we head for the Eglise des Dominicains. The description promises: “When Wasif realised that ‘others’, who were fanatics, fundamentalists and terrorists, were the main influence shaping and spreading a negative image of Islam, he felt the need to tell the story ‘about us who believe in God’.” His attempt to dispel this negative view of Islam was to follow two people, his sister and a young male friend, and observe their everyday life in Banglasdesh.
While this seemed a promising and refreshing take on a complicated issue, the result was a random, seemingly unconnected study of religious people and their environment, with too few appearances of the sister or friend. An exploration of Bangladeshi Islamic life as told through the stories of two young people, this exhibition definitely is not.
Munem Wasif’s exhibition in the Eglise des Dominicains
Day Six: The Party
We return to a transformed Couvent. A few days ago we were here perusing the exhibitions but tonight there are just bodies, writhing and pulsating to a music that has been unpopular for a long time. We try to speak to people we have met but the music is too loud, the dancing too fast.
And then the Mojito paranoia kicks in. Faces from the week, whether known or unknown dance in front of us. The Wolves dance with the Shamans, the Pioneers seduce the Hungry. The search is slipping away, into what? Where? Another Mojito?
Maybe there is an answer here, at this party. Maybe, in order to move this world forward we all need to dance together more. Or maybe that’s just the Mojitos…
Day Seven: 5 September
Perpignan is quiet now as we stroll through the streets. The accredited have left, flown home to follow the chase, both on their own turf and across the globe.
The exhibitions are now open to the public. It’s busier than expected, packed with locals and tourists. The work of photographers like Stephanie Sinclair and Craig F. Walker is being seen on the walls of public spaces deep in the south of France.
The photographic stories that are on display here are studies of people and places, beauty and horror, and, like any photograph, they cannot show the full picture, the whole story. Yet, they may open doors and they might even open minds.
Day Seven: 8pm, London, England
Back in the rain, back home. Is our mission, our search, completed? Hard to say. Will the superiors be happy with this report? We don’t know.
But, one thing is certain, we will never forget the kindness of the Greeters of Maine or the extraordinary story of Vissarion. In that sense, the many photographs and stories from Perpignan have affected us after all, stories we will never forget.
That was Perpignan 2010.