“When They Hate, My Answer Is More Love”

My World Press Photo Award Acceptance Speech


On April 25th, the annual World Press Photo award ceremony was held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I made the photo chosen as World Press Photo of the Year 2015.

The image (above) shows two young Russian gay men, Jon and Alex, in an intimate moment. It is part of a larger body of work about homophobia in Russia.

© Bas de Meijer / Hollandse Hoogte.

Note: In my speech, I mention Per Folkver, former head of photography at the Danish newspaper Politiken. Per passed away in March, 2014.


Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Last year, I lost my dear friend and mentor. Just two months before I took this picture. He never got to actually see the picture, but if it wasn’t for him, I never could have made it.

Tonight, I think of you, Per Folkver.

Per told me that a photographer should never try to please. The biggest risk for a photographer, he said, is when we are trying to please the audience.

Instead we need to challenge: challenge how we see each other, the world, and ourselves.

Tonight, with this photograph, we are challenging homophobia and the hetero-normative definition of love.

Because, make no mistake; in many parts of the world, distributing this image will cost you your freedom. Appearing in this peaceful image will get you killed.

But when they hate — my answer is more love.

When they oppress — my answer is more freedom.

When they say: “Protect the children against gay propaganda,” I say: “Take it easy … it doesn’t work like that. I spent two hours in a gay bedroom and I’m still straight.”

I would like to thank those who helped me to get this story out: The jury, World Press Photo, Scanpix, and my agencies: Panos Pictures, LAIF and Prospekt.

To my dear family who are with me here tonight: Jeg elsker jer så meget!

A big hug to my photo chief, Thomas Borberg, and the world’s most photography-loving newspaper, Politiken.

Tonight, I think of you, Jon and Alex. You and all the other LGBT-activists who trusted me.

They want to humiliate you — but to me you are the brave. They want to make you look weak — but I always believed that only the strongest dare to be vulnerable.

Before stepping on a land-mine Robert Capa was quoted for saying, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and I always felt, that was a cliché macho comment.

But maybe I wasn’t fair to Capa. Maybe, we just need to rediscover his words to something like this:

“If our pictures aren’t good enough, we’re not emotionally close enough.”

Because if I am not moved, touched, happy or angry when I take the picture — for sure, neither will any of you when you see it.

This image is not trying to please. In fact, I hope it can challenge press photography.

Challenge how we define closeness. Challenge our personal involvement in the stories we do. Challenge us to take a stand.

But above all, I would like to thank World Press Photo for giving me this opportunity to challenge hate. Challenge hate with something as simple as love!

Thank you.


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