What We Learned This Week: World Press Photo Accused of 'Structural Racism'

By David Schonauer   Friday August 7, 2020

The photo industry continues coming to grips with issues of diversity.

This week The Art Newspaper reported that World Press Photo, the Amsterdam-based photojournalism organization, has been accused by working photographers of “structural racism” and “performative gestures” after the announcement of a new managing director focused attention on the organization’s all-white supervisory board.

On June 11, World Press Photo announced the appointment of Arnoud van Dommele as its new managing director. He replaces the long-serving Lars Boering. Along with the announcement was a picture of the organiztion’s supervisory board, whose members are all white.

Nana Kofi Acquah, an assignment photographer for Getty Images and a World Press Photo Competition Jury Member in 2019, said on Twitter: “Many don’t understand what institutional racism is, but this is exactly what it looks like.”

In a statement, the organization stated its core values are “accuracy, diversity, and transparency” along with “a broader approach for connecting the world to the stories that matter, required for the changed world that has presented itself in recent months.”

In 2016 World Press Photo created its Africa Photojournalism Database, and in 2017 it launched the 6x6 Global Talent Program in Africa. The 27th edition of the organization’s Joop Swart Masterclass included 24 photographers from 20 different countries. It also recently announced the formation of an international advisory board of approximately 12 “global experts” to provide “strategic advice” to the supervisory board, notes TAN.

Despite these initiatives, photographers are using social media to state their concerns about the future direction of World Press Photo, added TAN. David Vaaknin, a photojournalist based in Jerusalem who has published with the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Sunday Times, said: “World Press Photo has a systemic problem. Why are we still surprised they haven't changed their ill ways?”

Indian photojournalist Chirag Wakaskar, a regular contributor to Getty Images, told TAN, “Visual journalism organizations like World Press Photo refuse to come to terms with their white supremacist narrative and the patriarchal systems they have thrived on.”

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:

1. Covid-19, Unleashed in the Amazon

Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from the coronavirus, and the Amazon region has been hit particularly hard — even in remote towns, people have been as likely to get sick as in New York City, noted The New York Times, whose photographer Tyler Hicks traveled the river for weeks, documenting how the virus spread with dugout canoes carrying families from town to town, fishing dinghies with rattling engines, and ferries moving goods for hundreds of miles, packed with passengers.

2. Zanele Muholi's Art and Activism

“I consider myself a visual activist first and foremost because my work has a political agenda,” writes Zanele Muholi, the Black, Queer, non- binary visual activist, who takes the pronouns they, them and their. “What is important to me is how my work challenges and contributes to society and the place of Black LGBTQIA+ people within it.” Muholi talked recently with the British Journal of Photography ahead of of the South African artist’s planned survey exhibition at London’s Tate Modern opening this autumn.

3. The Wellcome Photography Prize 2020 Shortlist

The Wellcome Photography photo contest, which focuses on issues surrounding mental health, has announced the shortlist for its 2020 prize. The 2020 prize has five categories: Social Perspectives, Hidden Worlds, Medicine in Focus, and two categories on Mental Health, which is the special theme for this year. The winner of each category will receive £1,250, with the overall winner receiving a prize of £15,000 (about $19,500). The Guardian featured a selection of this year’s finalists, including images by Gianluca Urdiroz (above) and Giacomo Infantin (at top).

4. This 19th Century Photo Studio Didn't Exist

The perception of photography as a documental form is based on a simple premise: You cannot photograph something that isn’t there. In his latest project, photographer Stephen Berkman turns this idea on its head by claiming to document what is no longer there, and maybe what never was, noted Hyperallergic. Berkman’s new book  Predicting the Past—Zohar Studios: The Lost Years, presents the colorful cast of characters in attendance at the mythical Zohar Studios, a 19th-century Lower East Side photographic establishment.

5. The Potato Photographer of the Year

You didn’t know there was a Potato Photographer of the Year contest? Founded this year in partnership with the contest platform Photocrowd to benefit the Trussell Trust food bank, the competition was inspired by photographer Kevin Abosch’s famous photo "Potato #345," which sold for $1 million at auction in 2016. The winner is Ray Spence for his photo of a spud getting a haircut, titled “End of Lockdown.” Judges included photographers Martin Parr and Benedict Brain.


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