As part of the Andrei Stenin International Photo Contest, organised by Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, a series of interviews with the jury members – the most prominent photography and art figures — has been conducted by the contest organisers.
Ian Landsberg, since 2007, Independent Media's photo editor. Managing and mentoring a team of 20 award-winning photographers. A veteran of news, event and sports photography.
Why have you decided to become a jury-member of the Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest?
I am truly honored to be part of the Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest as a jury-member. I fully endorse the objectives of the contest to encourage, inspire and nurture young photojournalists across the globe to tell the stories and issues of their people, community or country truthfully and without fear or favour.
Visual storytelling is no doubts the preferred narrative in the digital era to convey news and information about people, their lives and aspirations. To this extend the Andre Stenin International Press Photo Contest will provide that "soapbox" and international platform for young visual storytellers across the globe to tell with pictures the evolving stories of their communities, country or social issues with even more vigor.
A further endorsement from my side is for the commitment of the organizers to acknowledge, showcase and affirm the work of young photojournalists out in the field. By naming the competition after Andrei Stenin, the brave young photojournalist who paid the highest prize for trying to be the "eyes of the world", they honour not only his legacy, but all photojournalists making pictures for the betterment of humankind.
Lastly, as a photojournalist from Africa, in particular South Africa, who is closely involved with newspaper photography as a Photo Editor, I am convinced that this contest will not only encourage young photojournalists to up their game in telling the untold stories of Africa, its people and their hope and aspirations, but also providing global exposure and international awareness.
What do you think of art elements in documentary photography?
I think it belong there because photography is artistic expression. Photographers use light as their "palette" and cameras with lenses as their "brushes" to make images of life. Incorporating artistic elements such as shapes, forms, textures, space and colour in their pictures, a documentary photographer can greatly enhance the visual impact of his images. It is thus not surprising that Alfred Stieglitz, widely considered as the father of documentary photography, was a paint artist. There is no doubt that he incorporated artistic elements in the many iconic images he made.
Even the term photography suggests the symbiotic nature with art. Photo, means light and Graphie suggests art or writing.
In your opinion, what is more important for a photo journalist: a well-thought-out story, or a picture taken in the right place at the right time?
While both are important considerations for a photojournalist, I would say the latter should be priority. In fact, the job of a photojournalist, to use the words of Andrei Stenin, is essentially to be the "eyes of the world's citizens". They should be out in the field (not stay in offices planning stories) seeking, exploring and be ready to capture action as it unfolds. This, however, does not mean they should not worry to think and plan stories — that has to happen anyway especially when you are doing documentary stories. What it comes down to is actually to be at all times prepared and ready for action. Ansel Adams, the great American landscape photographer, said: "chance favours the prepared mind". Press photography is all about being at the right place at the right time for that "decisive moment" which French photographer Henri Cartier- Bresson coined.
What do you think is more important, the image quality or promptness?
Both are important qualities for effective visual storytelling. However, in striving for quality in his photographs an effective photographer should not disregard promptness or vice versa. For breaking news and developing stories promptness is of utmost importance to capture the action. But it is quite possible that image quality is compromised in that the focus not pin sharp, wrong shutter speed, f-stop or the image under or over-exposed. However, to maintain image quality, photographers must know their equipment, have camera settings pre-set for correct exposure and speed and the right lens attached for the angle of view and action predicted.
What should be in a picture to catch your interest?
For me a picture must have strong visual elements in its composition to help it stand out. These elements can be shapes, forms, colours, lines or camera angles that are blend together for greater visual impact and storytelling power. For me a strong picture must evoke some emotion when you first look at it and a lasting impression when you walk away from it. Like a sentence which conveys a message, a picture as a narrative should also have a subject (person, artifact or a structure), verb (action/happening) and an object (context/space) in order to have meaning.
How can photographers become professionally accomplished now that electronic media are winning out over printed media?
Photographers have to reinvent themselves for digital markets now that their turf is increasingly proliferated as a result of camera phone technology. To stay abreast they have to embrace social media as an additional outlet for publishing and exhibiting their images. At the same time they should capitalize on the professional skills they have acquired such as having a trained "eye" for pictures and composition, mastering light and possessing journalistic and artistic acumen. They should also not compromise the value art photographs still have and actively explore the marketing and selling of their work either as photo art prints and or even books. These markets are still growing despite the decline of print images in newspapers and magazines. Our motto is digital first, print best.
In your opinion, are there any ethical limits in quality event photography (for instance, in photography composition)?
The rise of so-called fake news is real. Photographs should also be real and authentic- no tampering whatsoever with images or scenes being photographed. The photographer must document truthfully what he or she sees and never manipulate images nor intervene or stage any event or action he or she is documenting. Photojournalism has always prides itself with journalistic integrity that had been based on high ethical standards.
In your point of view, what kind of a sports story or a sports photo could win the Grand Prix?
Sport stories in general can offer great opportunities to photographers to create an interesting body of work for instance by either documenting the life and times of an individual athlete or sports personality, contest/tournament or sporting issues such as match fixing, use of steroids and safety.
I will be greatly fascinated by a picture story documenting blind cricketers practicing the sport. Such reportage will not only highlight the plight of people with disabilities in sport and how they play but also provide fascinating insight into the tenacity of the human spirit to overcome physical handicap and going against the odds.