Stephen Mayes, the director of the VII Agency in New York, one of the most demanding today, calls on photographers to break the codes of photojournalism’s fixation with horror. “The representations of war are bound up in stereotypes. Certain visual codes regularly recur. They show us what we already know, instead of attempting to open up new horizons,” he says, denouncing the standardisation of images. He suggests that photojournalists tell other stories, ones that are closer to daily life or the economic world.
This salutary advice is not only addressed to photographers. It must also be heard by those who finance their reports, namely the press. Photo reporters anticipate the requests of newspapers or festivals, even sponsors, which favour social subjects, preferably dramatic ones.
Some days, the 6Mois editorial team feels as though we are discovering one single report infinitely duplicated, with each photographer reproducing more or less the same subject : Roms, migrants, prisons, the homeless, minors, refugees, battered women, and the sick. Why is there such a concentration of reports relating to the same small cluster of subjects, with infinite geographical variations (South African mines, Indonesian mines, Ukraine mines, etc.) but always the same bird’s eye view, hunting down emotion ?
These subjects immediately generate compassion. They are suggestive but the fear that they provoke places us at a distance. Above all, they do not tell us everything about reality and how the world is getting on. There are so many subjects that still need to be identified, told and taken out of the shadows !
Photojournalists can tell different stories in different ways if they look elsewhere, if they dare to leave the beaten path, and if newspapers give them space.
Among the most powerful stories published in 6Mois, several were dedicated to men or women from a neighbouring street, followed for months, or years, by a photographer engaged in long-term work. Who among our readers could forget the tale of Julie the lost junkie, fighting to keep her family, or that of Scott, a veteran from Iraq, or of the German Wandergesellen (journeymen) ?
The back of the issue you’re holding is a good illustration of the way in which it is possible to go beyond clichés. The world of gangs, paramilitary camps and skinheads effectively lend themselves well to bloody and spectacular images. It was by going further, into the intimacy of beings – into their homes and their moments of release – that another kind of truth emerged under the photographers’ lens, encapsulating life itself : a truth that is troubling, ambiguous and hence more true to life.
Beside the fury of living of these young desperados, there are also hunters in the vast North, young teenage mothers in Naples, people who are a bit far out or simply dreamers who see themselves as immortal, afro-cosmonauts, little old ladies in their dacha picking gooseberries... In their own way, these men and women also embody our 21st century.
Laurent Beccaria, Patrick de Saint-Exupéry, Marie-Pierre Subtil