Before I left the Tea and Coffee Festival at the South Bank Centre, laden with goodies and loads of new teas to try, I popped into the Royal Festival Hall for a moment and accidentally stumbled upon the World Press Photo Exhibition, also free. There were numerous images that many might find disturbing, including several of corpses, a Kenyan woman whose (underwear-covered) crotch was bleeding profusely after being given an illegal abortion with a knitting needle, 60 prisoners living in a 25 sq.m. cell in a Sierra Leone prison, many people suffering after various natural disasters or awful conflicts or massacres, an Agent Orange victim, and even a burning man falling from a church tower. All fortunately had beside them an explanation of the important tale they were telling us. There were numerous images that were truly moving; certainly all were striking (I don’t just mean the footballer getting kicked in the mouth), and many were indisputably important.
One does wonder though whether it’s always right to show some of these subjects just because you can. Do you need to show a series of photographs of men fighting, one being stabbed, then dying, then lying dead, or is it sufficient to show just one picture of a fight with a caption saying one of the fighting men survived and the other was later chased and brutally killed? I wouldn't suggest that for the exhibition—and I don’t usually support censorship anyway and know different countries have different standards and views—but I’m thinking, for instance, of the blatant pictures of Gaddafi covered in blood after being injured and, worse, after being killed, which were smeared across the front page of newspapers and seemed unnecessary and in poor taste for publications such as The Guardian (somehow I was even surprised by the ghastliness of the the front page of the Sun ).
That particular picture was not in this exhibition (maybe next year), but I sometimes worry that news agencies these days—particularly television news channels—are so desperate to one-up their rivals that they’ll sink to any low, barely pausing for reflection before showing something because it's "exclusive", even if that means displaying someone’s suffering or another thing we may consider to be unbearably appalling. Presumably that is one issue that will be discussed in a linked free talk being held at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday, 23 November, at 7pm, on the ethics of photojournalism called A Photo Says 1000 Words? The Ethics of Photojournalism. (I’m tempted to attend but it’s first-come, first-served, and I tend to scrape in at the last minute, ie last-come, no matter how hard I try).
On my way out when I had too little time to do it justice, I found that the exhibition continued on the west side near the Mandela statue. I hope to get back to devote more time to this part, which included a nature category section, full of Whooper swans from what I could tell, with other powerful pictures in different categories. A remarkable photograph of a gannet coming at the camera caught my attention from far away; I was surprised to find it was a real bird and not a colourful Disney animation still.
Apologies that I don’t have details of the photographers, who clearly are key, because I rushed through and wasn’t expecting to write anything about it, but felt compelled to add a mention after writing about the Tea and Coffee Festival. The website, where apparently all the images can be viewed and the photographers properly credited, but which sadly is not working properly on my Windows 7 PC-- is here: http://www.worldpressphoto.org/Exhibition/2011_London .
The exhibition can be viewed until 29 November from 10am to 10.30pm each day, for free. It’s spread around the Royal Festival Hall, so be careful not to miss any of it as I have. You can also download the iPhone App for about £4 from iTunes.
Do take a look, even if you've little interest in photography. Some of the awesome images will wake you up to important issues of which you otherwise may have been unaware, and keep you thinking for quite some time.