Les Soirees de Projections

By Beverly Spicer September 5th, 2008

This is the third time I’ve been to Perpignan in the last 10 years.  I met a person last night who has been here for each of the 20 years the festival has been in existence.  Even 10 years ago, Visa Pour L’Image was an enormously impressive event, but today, it is even moreso.  Exhibits are hung all over town in every space available, and the international work is comprehensive from the past year and there is also a good bit of retrospective work shown.  

Each evening of the first week there is a program such as the one I mentioned in the first post of Perpignan 2008.  Les Soirees de Projections are exquisite multimedia presentations held in a large space called Campo Santo, where temporary bleachers are erected to hold the hundreds of journalists, editors, publishers, agents, others involved in the photo industry, photophiles and interested festival goers.  

At the beginning of the presentations, awards are given to various journalists for their work from various organizations.  Last night, the CARE International Award for Humanitarian Reportage was presented to  Stephanie Sinclair of VII.  The VISA D’OR Daily Press Award for 2008 was won by Mona Reeder of the Dallas Morning News over 31 other nominations.  This is the second time a photojournalist from the Morning News as won the award.  In 2003, the award was presented to Cheryl Diaz Meyer.

 Last night the lengthy and spellbinding program included works almost too numerous to mention. Columbia, the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, Amidenijad in Iran, the war in Iraq, a revelatory and horrifying look at the earthquake in China, drugs and prison in Burma (Myanmar), Mexico, Ernesto Bazan’s work in Cuba, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Camaroon, the Congo, Russia, Kashmir and a retrospective compilation on Pakistan since the partitioning from India in 1947 to the present. Following the Pakastan retrospective was a separate presentation on the work done in there by Getty Images’ John Moore, including the gripping images surrounding the events of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in late December 2007.

 There were also retrospective images celebrating the lives of Charleton Heston and Billy Graham, a tribute to the work of the late Cornell Capa, and a very strange piece on the Pope accompanied by the country western music, “I’m Just a County Boy.”  I don’t speak French, so I don’t know the context, but I found it confusing even if it did evoke humor.  There was a magnificent retrospective of national and international news by Figaro Magazine marking their 30th anniversary.  We also saw a tribute to the life’s work of Claude Dityvon, and a piece about the making of the feature film “Johnny Mad Dog,” shot in Liberia and in ways disturbingly indistinguishable from real life.

There were pieces that stood out evoking compassion, humor, emotion, or a sense of wonder.  One was “Grandpa Boxers,” by Arie Kievit, images of aging boxers back in the ring.  I could not help but think of Yosuf Karsh’s stunning black and white portraits when we were shown “Pescados,” portraits of fishermen of the North Sea by Stephan Van Fleteren of Panos Pictures.  The deeply lined, weathered faces and haunting eyes of men who have spent a lifetime at sea made me think of a community where I lived for about a year and a half that was composed largely of Portuguese fishermen.  It’s a life that previously as an inland dweller I could barely fathom but that I found fascinating beyond description.  These portraits told stories I could not.  The tales told just by Van Fleteren’s images of faces were enough to send me into flights of imagination and realms that only hint at what the lives of these fishermen have been like. 

Two profound stories from Thursday’s Soiree stood out about the Homeless.  Stefan Falke’s “Homeless Americans,” is about victims of the subprime crisis who among thousands were rendered suddenly homeless.  A heartbreaking look at “Outcasts in France,” by father and son team Alain and Frederic Sancho offers a respectful and dignified look at the homeless in Paris.  I was struck by the universal physical similarities of these persons, whom the hand of fate has placed in this situation. With heads hung downward, backs curved and bent, and whose body language bespeaks the hopelessness of the disadvantaged, the downtrodden, and the disenfranchised, they looked the same.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I have never felt a separation between the lives of these people and myself, and but for the grace of God or I-don’t-know-what, go not only I but every single one of the rest of us.  

Overall, the increase in numbers of refugees worldwide is profound, and in just this one evening’s complex but relatively brief portrait of worldwide suffering, it is evident that the trend to destruction and oblivion is increasing at an exponential rate, whether it be by natural disaster, war, economic crisis, disease, famine or whatever other way life can suddenly be defeated.  

The last projection was a literally uplifting piece about the work of George Steinmetz, who presents stunning aerial photos of the African continent from a paraglider.  I met George briefly yesterday afternoon before the evening’s presentation, and was embarrassed to realize I later that I knew his work and his name but had not linked them in my mind.  You’ve all seen these photos, I’m sure, as I had.  Meeting him, I could never have guessed that this mild-mannered person would have produced these images we were shown, the logistics for which are simply intriguing.  

I hope you will explore the Visa Pour L’Image site to see images and descriptions that I cannot include here.  It will be worth the time, and I regret that all reading this who were not able to attend could not join us in the moving and thought-provoking times here in Perpignan.

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