Wednesday, 10:00am
21 September 2011

Matters of life and death

Celebrating photojournalism at Visa pour l’Image, Perpignan

Plumes of black smoke rise to the right as you gaze over the river that runs through the centre of Perpignan. To your left, stands a man in fatigues, a rifle over each shoulder. In the distance, a young woman wrapped in a blanket surveys the rubble of her home. But apocalypse has not struck the south of France: these are banners advertising Visa pour l’Image, which claims to be the world’s largest festival devoted to photojournalism.

Though we have missed the first week of professional workshops, talks and outdoor screenings, the exhibitions remain for a couple of weeks longer, writes Anne-Marie Conway.

Top: Shaul Schwarz, from his series ‘Narco Culture’

Below: Fernando Moleres, from his series ‘Juveniles behind Bars in Africa’

Juvenile in Prison. Freetown, Sierra Leona. August 2010

The map of the official exhibitions shows almost a dozen official venues, ancient monasteries, former barracks, old university buildings, and the accompanying ‘Festival Off’ lists another 83 in shops, galleries and restaurants across town.

The bulk of the professional work, however, is in the Couvent des Minimes, a former monastery transformed into a vast gallery space. There is too much to take in at one go, not least because this is photojournalism focused on death and destruction, much of it man-made.


Barbara Davidson sets the tone with ‘Caught in the Crossfire’, her black and white studies of the innocent victims of gang warfare for the Los Angeles Times (above). Metal staples hold together a child wounded during an initiation rite; a paralysed teenager tries to bond with her toddlers; one grieving face after another

João Silva’s reports from Afghanistan for the New York Times conclude with three shots taken as the photographer collapsed, wounded himself; images of Haiti’s earthquake (Riccardo Venturi) remind us of a natural disaster since eclipsed by the black wave of the Japanese tsunami (various photographers); scenes from Chinese psychiatric wards (Lu Nan’s ‘Forgotten People’) meld into South American prisons (Valerio Bispuri); civil wars, police brutality, drug wars, addicts in Israel, in Kabul, in Latin America.


Even Brian Skerry’s glorious selection of underwater pictures (‘Ocean Soul’, for National Geographic, above), where the tiniest micro-organism can be blown to gorgeous full-colour poster sizes, juxtaposes shots of oh-so-cute baby seals with a bloodied carcass being dragged across the snow.

But just as you start to think you cannot take any more funerals, any more mutilation, any more misery, there is Bertrand Gaudillère’s ‘Des Chiffres, Un Visage!’, a heart-warming account of a Lyon community’s campaign to save an Angolan ‘illegal’ from deportation (still on-going) from the country where his children were born (below).


The warriors of Northen Uganda, Filda Adoch

And then there is ‘My Name Is Filda Adoch’, the sequence that won Martina Bacigalupo (a graduate of the London College of Printing) the Canon Female Photojournalist award for 2010 (above and below). Her subject is a woman caught, like most of northern Uganda, in a twenty-year civil war. Twice widowed (one husband killed by government forces, the other by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels), she lost a son in an ambush, a leg in a landmine accident.

The warriors of Northen Uganda, Filda Adoch

This could have been a horror story; instead it is a proud, poetic testimony of female fortitude. We see her (formidable) physical strength as she breaks a branch on her head, a spray of beans in the air as a child prepares a meal, ritual dancing at the fireside, shadowy figures almost lost in a landscape that is all stars. We have to look hard to see her crutches. Most clearly, we see the absence of self-pity. ‘I am in a maize plantation, with my mouth wide open and my hair a mess, and my breasts are dangling. I look very attractive because the leaves look like flowers around me’ reads one caption. ‘I have wings on my head [actually firewood], making me fly across the sky,’ reads another.

27 August > September 11 2011
Visa pour l’Image Perpignan

For more information about Festival Off 2012 ( contact [email protected]

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