Czech Press Photo: Not much going on around here

24. 11. 2008 15:10
Bloated collection of mediocre shots and local uneventfulness

Review - There exists a certain threshold that every event needs to cross to be worth of attention by  media.

The goal of Czech Press Photo, an annual contest and exhibition inspired by World Press Photo, is to highlight those pictures and themes that common media would only give a fleeting glimpse or ignore altogether.

And then the project also heroically claims it wants to encourage photographers to emancipate themselves from routine and stereotypes.

So far the Czech Press Photo exhibitions, including the current 14th edition, have clearly demonstrated the project's peculiar understanding of these pledges: They have included photos of situations that are handicapped to such an extent that they have no chance of climbing above the threshold of noteworthiness.

This becomes most visible in the category Everyday Life, devoted to banalities, while the category Nature & Environment seems to be there mainly to give a group of technology freaks a chance to "philosophise" over the possibilities of macro-photography.

Anything can go

This barrier-free approach to photo-journalism is not entirely an invention of the organizers of Czech Press Photo.

The show of comfortingly inconsequential everyday life is a logical result of our life in a media environment where TV station Nova's evening news bulletin is the showcase of audiovisual journalism and a news broadcast with one of the highest audience ratings.

Public broadcaster Czech Television's main news programme lasts almost an hour, not to talk about microscopic views of the idyllic life in Události v regionech (Regional Events) and Toulavá kamera (Stray Camera).

With this significantly reduced threshold of noteworthiness, it is understandable that a roof cave-in at a defunct Penny Market in Česká Lípa immediately becomes a primetime event - and that the Czech Press Photo exhibition is enjoying a high turnout.

Not much going on

The displayed and often award-winning series - including shots of gardens in Prague's Kbely neighbourhood, a rural idyll in the Znojmo area, or St Nicholas Day merriment aboard a period tram - all show how much we side with small, insignificant things and obsessively want to assure ourselves that there is really not much going on in our country.

Scandalously, the project's English name suggests an association with World Press Photo, although the two are based on totally different principles.

The strength of WPP - besides better photographs - is the absence of local optics in the composition of the final collection. The international competition perfectly respects the fragmented and decentralized nature of the world, blending incompatible slices of events associated merely by a humanist approach to photography.

WWP is truly global: It is no exception if an impartial Israeli photographer is shooting an armed conflict in Rwanda for a French news agency.

A bloated localness

Czech Press Photo, on the other hand, chaotically radiates its localness and each category assumes a different approach.

Photographs from abroad show little more than the newsroom's ability and willingness to send someone somewhere.

The category People in the News takes its name too literally, with no one bothering about the snapshots' visual qualities. A series of five to eight snapshots often gets displayed where a single photo would be totally sufficient.

This is the case of Michal Krumhanzl's photos of President Václav Klaus decorating a mentally disabled girl for saving a human life or Vlastimil Leška's pictures of communist-era prosecutor Ludmila Brožová-Polednová at court.

The category Sport wraps relatively interesting winning works in a nationalist context of Czech successes at the Olympics.

Similarly to the one-hour news broadcast, Czech Press Photo too resembles a bulldozer whose blade is too wide. What makes things even more bizarre is that every year this bloated selection of hundreds of works comes from almost the same group of less than 30 local photographers, who merely take turns in collecting the awards.

We can keep calling Czech Press Photo a major domestic photography event, but let us think about how high a threshold it must have scaled.

Czech Press Photo 2008: Prague's Old Town Hall; exhibition runs until 31 January 2009

The winning pictures are displayed at Czech Press Photo web site here.


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Zdroj: ČTK
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