World Press Photo has gained international fame not only for being the world’s largest annual press photo contest, but also for its exhibition that tours the world every year, showing the best of press photography to more than one million people in over 40 countries. Today, the contest is looking for greater participation from Africa.
Every year, World Press Photo holds one of most prestigious photo competitions in the world. Prizes are awarded in ten different categories for picture stories or single images. The themes of the categories vary from General News to Daily Life, from Nature to Sports Features. The main prize, the World Press Photo of the Year, is awarded for a single photo that represents an issue or event of great journalistic importance. Not only photographers, but also photo agencies, newspapers and magazines from around the globe are invited to submit their best news-related pictures of the previous year. There is no entrance fee, making the contest available to all professional press photographers in the world. The photos of all the winners are published in a book and are part of an exhibition that tours the world. World Press Photo would like to see more Africans participate in the contest.
RAP 21 spoke to Themba Hadebe, a South African photographer, who was one of the winners in 1999, and Bruno Birakwate, a journalist from Uganda, who participated in the contest in 2002, 2004 and 2005. They tell about their experiences and how one can succeed in this international contest.
RAP 21: Why did you participate in the World Press Photo contest?
Hadebe: I wanted to see how far I can go in an international competition. I also wanted to prove a point to my community by showing them that anybody has a chance to win as long as you have the passion to do it. Any person can compete at an international level.
Birakwate: I was introduced to the contest by some of my colleagues who had participated before. Henry Bongereirwe, my photo editor, encouraged me to participate, he gave me the forms that needed to be filled out and showed me the World Press Photo book which had a number of award winning photos. I realized that some were taken in Africa and reflected what we see in our daily lives. Secondly, I had no serious camera and thought that by participating I might get a chance to upgrade to a modern camera. I also thought that participating in this contest would help sell my name in case I won.
RAP 21: What was the biggest challenge for you when participating in this contest?
Hadebe: The main difficulty was that at the beginning when I did not really know what was required from me. I did not know what the judges were looking for. In 1997 and 1998, I met the judges and I got a better idea of what they expected. Before, it was like playing the lottery, I thought I had one chance out of a million to win. But then I understood the whole process. If you enter the contest, you have to be positive, to be confident in your work. If you win, it is not because of luck but because of your work.
Birakwate: It is not always easy to come up with a photo you feel will compete with the world’s top photographers. Secondly the photographers from the developed world use modern equipment and invest a lot in photography. Here in Africa we mainly take photos that can be published immediately and bring in some money. Few photographers in the developing world can afford to take on a photo project that will not earn him immediate money. Our projects are also limited because we cannot afford travelling to the places where there are photo opportunities.
RAP 21: What have you learnt from participating?
Hadebe: It made me take my work extremely seriously. I knew I was competing at the highest level and I didn’t want to be judged on my background, but on the content of my work, so I made sure to be very professional. I also learnt many things by talking to other photographers. I first participated in 1996, and each year I got better and learnt more about the inside process, what the judges were looking for. Photography is mainly about looking at other people’s work, getting new ideas; it is what enables you to evolve.
Birakwate : Since I started participating I have never won anything but when the World Press Photo book is published I get to compare the photos I submitted in the category and those that were selected. The book I get when participating helps me a lot since it shows all the award winning photos. You get to know what other photographers do.
RAP 21: Is the World Press Photo contest well known among Africans?
Hadebe: Not in West Africa, because people do not get to hear about it. In Southern Africa however, people will often know about it. And I tell the people I know about it. So slowly, photographers get to know about it. Also, for many people, as was the case when I first entered the competition, I thought the contest was out of my reach. But my attitude changed once I had participated. More marketing and more workshops are needed, it is more important to organise them in Africa than in Europe. The problem is that in Africa, photography is not considered as a possible career, people think of it as a hobby. There is no respect for photographers – they work under the control of the reporters and are not seen as professionals. As there is no real interest in photography in Africa, it is important that there are people from outside that bring along the respect for this art form, and give information to the photo community in Africa.
Birakwate : I don’t know about other African countries but in Uganda it’s a photographers’ and photo editors’ affair. World Press Photo activities are known by news editors.
RAP 21: What are your advices for Africans who want to participate in the contest?
Hadebe: Photographers should know that it is not necessary to travel far away in order to make a good picture story. I also think it is important to be able to surf on the internet and visit photography websites, such as the one of World Press Photo, to see what other photographers are doing. However, it is very difficult for Africans to get access to the net. It also helps to go and see the World Press Photo exhibition, as this can show what judges are expecting and give some ideas.
Birakwate : The tendency of saying that it is only photographers from developed countries who win in this contest should stop. It is the quality and message of the photo that makes one win, not who has taken it. Awareness programs are needed. All media houses in Africa should be given forms that could be distributed to photographers. Myself, I am planning to start a photo agency that would among other things bring photographers together. But there is still a problem of where to get funds.
RAP 21: Has winning this contest helped your career?
Hadebe: Of course! After the World Press Photo contest, many newspapers contacted me and asked me to work with them. Suddenly, all doors were opening for me. That is why it is important that young photographers participate and get this international exposure.
RAP 21: Do you intend to participate again this year?
Hadebe: Yes, I am already working on it. And if things go well, and I am confident in my story, I might win again.
Birakwate : Definitely yes. I will keep on trying as long the contest exists, as I also keep my eyes open for other contests in the world.
The deadline of this year’s contest is 12 January, 2006.
For more information and rules for participating, see: http://www.worldpressphoto.nl/