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He Cares More About Photojournalism More Than You Do
His hair is a trifle unkempt. His beard isn't really a beard but rather an almost precise stubble. Sitting in a room with him and inhaling is like smoking a pack of Luckies. He speaks excellent English with an accent that reminds you of a Godard film. He's French.
He's so French that the Republic has named him a chevalier (a knight) in its Order of Arts and Literature in recognition of his contributions to photography. His name is Jean-François Leroy and he's the man behind Visa pour L'Image, an international festival dedicated to photojournalism held every September for the past 18 years in the city of Perpignan in southwest France.
Leroy was a photographer for Sipa and the editor of Photo magazine and he got the idea for Visa pour L'Image back in the '80s. The city of Perpignan was looking for an "event" and he had an idea for a festival dedicated to photojournalism. Not photography. Photojournalism. You won't find any "artists" even though a lot of what's shown could be called art. There won't be any fashion shots or performance pieces or video installations. There will be lots and lots of pictures. News pictures.
Leroy somehow manages to put together exhibits and shows that present pictures you probably haven't seen before but wish you had. He has his own opinions about photojournalism and is the one person that looks at all – repeat all – work submitted and is the real "decider" at Visa.
He also, from time to time, expresses an opinion or two. This year his Visa "editorial" goes off on a tear about the "portrat-ization" of news photography. A blog on the Web site of Editorial Photographers UK ran with the headline, "Dear Portrait Photographer, Thank You For Your Submission, You Suck…" when it commented on Leroy's editorial. It was described as "brutally frank" and "astounding" and they weren't far off the mark. It's a fresh voice.
This year, aside from work from The Digital Journalist's own Dirck Halstead and his "Moments In Time" book you'll see a major exhibition of work from Magnum's Dennis Stock, who's mid-'50s pictures of actor James Dean are iconic, and those are just a small portion of his creative output.
You'll be able to look at work, serious work, from Haiti, Palestine, Ghana, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, North Korea and the suburbs of Paris. Let me repeat, this is serious stuff and nothing like the "Entertainment Tonight" style of photojournalism so readily available today. It will make you think and might just make you change the way you feel. And that's just the stuff on the walls.
Every night you and a couple thousand of your new best friends can get together for a two-hour kick-ass slide show with even more stuff. Different stuff. Lots of different stuff.
Sometimes you'll scratch your head at the end of the night and think, "Why the hell was THAT being shown?" Which will mean that you'll have more than enough to talk about with your new best friends as you wander over to the ever-expanding circus at the Café de la Poste for a few cold beers. You'll stay up way too late but you'll go to bed with a head full of new ideas.
It's a great place for a festival and a great place for photographers. The city of Perpignan loves photographers; you can feel it. Thousands of professionals get together to look at pictures, talk about pictures and talk about the business of making pictures. There's a constant buzz.
Spend a week there and you'll meet many people you've heard of and many more that you haven't. You'll see a lot of stuff that you haven't seen before because Jean-François and Visa pride themselves on presenting hereto undiscovered images from new photographers.
And at the closing party on Saturday night the champagne flows like water.
© James Colburn
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