The Future of World Press Photo Foundation
By Kyla Woods. Edited by Sahiba Chawdhary.
World Press Photo, one of the oldest photo organizations in existence, is now looking to new horizons. So, what’s in store? Now that the photo ethics conversation is over, Blink’s Kyla Woods speaks with the Managing Director of World Press Photo Foundation Lars Boering about changes in the organization, the new business model and offers insight for emerging and established visual storytellers.
KW: Is World Press Photo still functional as a think tank for photojournalism? Are WPPF’s research projects still part of that?
LB: We are still pursuing it, but WPPF isn’t a classical think tank. Our think tank is something that is constant, meaning that you have to surround yourself with people that have the ability to make an impact, people who debate not just photography but also the creative world in general.
We are now seeing independent fields overlap. There have been developments not only in photography but in many other fields that has resulted in discussions as to where you could use the strengths of photography for better storytelling.
KW: Is data visualisation this?
LB: Yes. To change the conversation, we use data journalism that facilitates the interaction between content producers, such as visual journalists, and other fields such as statistics or design. I believe a photo can be a carrier, or a gateway, into more data and more insights into what is happening around us.
LB: Traditionally, Canon is an organisation that makes cameras and lens. However, it’s actually a much bigger organisation than anyone can envision.
Recently, they released a statement saying that they want to be involved in every part of a photo’s lifespan. Their rationale is that the data stored within an image can be transferred into print or be turned it into a book — there are many possibilities.
This helped WPPF to not only reflect on our partnership with Canon, but also expand on the ideas. At WPPF, we see an array of new possibilities and innovations that could be applied to our exhibition. Printing or displaying content differently, so it can challenge us as an organisation and as a team to break out of this sort of cycle. We can’t just exhibit award-winning photographs — we need to do more to make a bigger impact on the world.
KW: Speaking of looking towards the future, have any tech companies approached World Press Photo for collaborations?
LB: We have already partnered with WeTransfer, a company that has over 80 billion downloads every month. This partnership involves them helping us with content creation all of which is published on their blog. The other aspect is developing brand awareness in a demographic of people who involve themselves in creative industries and who actively share information. As a result, our supplied images have over 10 million views which is great for our brand awareness and great for the winning photographers.
In this day and age, it is not enough to receive sponsorship from a company. Instead, a mutual partnership needs to be created, and then money or value will follow.
KW: Do you think this will change the perception of WPPF?
LB: Definitely, and it actually helps WPPF become even more associated with innovation.
One of the partnerships that has been a stepping stone is our work with Instagram. For LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph, we worked together to curate a show and presentation which focused on the content seen on Everyday Africa, and it was really receptive.
WPPF is also part of Blink, which is specifically important to the organization in terms of communication, as well as the Google grants system for cultural NGOs; we receive a reasonable budget to present our projects. I think it is very important for media professionals and companies to be connected with tech companies in today’s date.
KW: Talking about innovations in storytelling, WPPF has pursued research projects that are designed to help people to understand the innovations in storytelling?
LB: Yes, but there is more to it.
WPPF is the bridge between content creators and the people that are interested in the work. So, educating visual storytellers is important but we also need to educate the general audience. It should be noted, that in that same time the audience also educates us with new insights.
Storytellers are still finding it difficult to engage a specific audience with important stories, despite there being endless possibilities of publishing platforms, and this is because the image and the data that enriches it is not being used to its full potential.
There are two sides: one is to show creators that it’s quite easy and important to connect to the bigger audience. Then, on the other hand, show the audience that there is a whole world to explore and to get them into that world through the image.
KW: What are your thoughts on the need for media labs and should photographers advance their involvement with them?
LB: It is crucial for photographers to connect to experimental media labs — shooting a photo is not enough as you need to collaborate with people who have insights into developing web-publishing platforms for better and innovative storytelling.
Design, photography, journalism, technology are all converging, and there’s a new generation that don’t relate to it in the same way as previous generations. This is where being involved in a collective, community or lab is really useful.
KW: Can you talk about some of the new roles at WPPF?
LB: We’ve simplified the organization, made communication our main focus by creating intersecting and transdisciplinary roles. An example of this is the recent merging of exhibitions and education.
Those who have these roles are called cross teams; somebody may solely be involved in communication but they’re also working on an educational project or an upcoming exhibition. We believe this inspires creativity and conversation within the organisation, and this in turn helps us to look forward.
David Campbell is our communications manager, leading a team who present our work to the world through both mainstream media and the increasingly important social media channels. Communications these days is about doing good things as much as talking about them, so the team works hard on new events and projects, like the African Photojournalism Database. In many ways we’re also looking to be a media organization that brings new thinking and new talent to the global audience, and we have an exciting plan to begin an online publication that can achieve this.
KW: The partnership with Canon, how is it enabling the World Press Photo to progress?
LB: Canon has sponsored WPPF for 23 years, and when I stepped in we decided to re-activate our collaboration and brand. We brainstormed, and this lead to the construction of a partnership, one which involves 80 lectures in Europe not just targeting photography schools but also reaching out to business and journalism education system.
The big question is how can you show what WPPF and Canon have to offer in the creative world? It doesn’t mean that we should do a commercial tour, instead it is about creating connections and creating opportunity. It is through developing this that we’ve seen a mutually beneficial relationship form, not only because this helps to support photographers but also because we’re creating a business model between Canon, WPPF and schools.
KW: Interesting. I’ve read that Canon is expanding in Africa. What does this mean for WPPF?
LB: A lot of opportunities are opening up because of our partnership with Canon, especially with concerns to the development of our educational program.
Last year, we had the World Press Photo exhibition in Nairobi, and this was more a collaboration between local partners. While we were there, David Campbell and I met with Gary Knight, who is involved with Canon’s education in Nairobi, to devise a programme called the Visual Voice of Africa.
KW: Can you speak about the importance of developing the Visual Voice of Africa?
LB: We want to encourage new talent that is diverse, and better reflects global society. We recognize that photographers from Africa have been greatly under-represented in our photo contest, for example, and we are building partnerships to change this. Education is central to this process, and we want to have training programs in both East and West Africa that can help the talented photographers there build a viable business that is connected to the international media economy. This is important for the global audience too, because we all need a better and more complete representation of life in Africa.
KW: Are there any skills or knowledge that you believe freelance visual journalists need to succeed?
LB: You have to work hard. Nobody is going to pick up the phone and ring you and say, “I have a job for you.”
I recommend approaching your work as a business person, this means networking, budgeting and sharing information — actually the World Press Photo is planning on creating a class to teach these skills to photographers.
It also helps not to define yourself as just a photographer. See yourself as a person with creative knowledge, and recognize that your creativity can be put to use in many ways. It should not just be about making a photograph, it should be about creating content or creating a new story.
KW: Do you have any advice on how to create in depth narratives or visual stories?
LB: Start studying what storytelling really is — I think 95% of the photographers don’t have a clue about storytelling and that is very dangerous. Storytelling has a certain theoretical construction, and you need to understand what a story is, why some stories work and what elements strengthen them. Ask yourself, what is behind them and learn that it is often a very simple structure. The great thing is: everybody loves storytelling because it is deeply rooted in our visual DNA. So use it.