Once again, it’s that time of year for photographers, agency reps, editors and groupies to descend on the French city of Perpignan to celebrate the world’s oldest international photojournalism festival, Visa pour l’Image.

Founded by Jean-François Leroy, Visa — as it is commonly known — has been a hub for the global photojournalism community since 1989. During professional week, held from August 31 to September 6, a stream of eager young photographers look to show their portfolio line up at the Palais des Congres, while at night, the emblematic Cafe de la Poste transforms into a meeting point for those simply wanting to catch up.

Recently, Blink’s Kyla Woods spoke with the director of the festival, Mr. JF Leroy, to discuss the beginnings of the festival and how it is moving into the future.

Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit, Suakoko, Liberia, October 7, 2014.  Health workers entering the high-risk zone to do their morning rounds, removing waste from the previous night. Then a second team enters, with medical staff and health workers bringing food and water, doing blood tests, checking patients and providing medical care. © Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images Reportage / The New York Times

Bong County Ebola Treatment Unit, Suakoko, Liberia, October 7, 2014.
Health workers entering the high-risk zone to do their morning rounds, removing waste from the previous night. Then a second team enters, with medical staff and health workers bringing food and water, doing blood tests, checking patients and providing medical care.
© Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images Reportage / The New York Times

Kyla Woods: You were a journalist before you started Visa pour l’Image. Can you talk about how and why you started Visa pour l’Image?

JF Leroy: Yes, I started as a writer and then tried my hand at photojournalism, but I quickly realised that I was terrible, and that’s when I started something that was quite new at that time — Visa pour l’Image, a photojournalism festival that has become as much a part of me, as I am part of it. The incredible thing is that photojournalists really witness the world.

For the longest time, I wanted to be one of these people — though, I quickly realized that I was better at promoting the work of these individuals. So, my passion turned into the creation of a gathering point for industry representatives; where professional photographers, and photo editors could meet with emerging talent, discuss and support current photojournalism. It always fascinates me as to how receptive the general public has been to the festival. People crave new information, things that haven’t been published or have had very little visibility. We live in a society that has accepted and relishes in the disposability of the news content. This festival overcomes that cycle as it becomes a stable platform for reliable and free information.

Howie talks about the “his and hers” chairs together at the oncologist’s office where they have their weekly chemotherapy. Howie and Laurel have been married for 34 years.  Greenwich, Connecticut, January 2013. © Nancy Borowick

Howie talks about the “his and hers” chairs together at the oncologist’s office where they have their weekly chemotherapy. Howie and Laurel have been married for 34 years.
Greenwich, Connecticut, January 2013.
© Nancy Borowick

Kyla: Can you speak about this year’s festival?

JF Leroy: We try to combine emerging talent with established photographers — this year, eight upcoming photographers will have their first exhibition at Visa pour l’Image, and they will be shown in conjunction with renowned photographers like Lynsey Addario and Bülent Kilic. We have always exposed new talent to the world. For example, Visa was the first festival to give Stanley Greene and Laurent Van der Stockt an exhibition. This rich history of the festival proves that this festival still has relevance and will continue to do so. It is exclusive to the way it exposes and gives a voice to extraordinary talented individuals.

A Syrian family, the morning after they reached Jordan, registering at the UNHCR reception center. Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan, September 16, 2013.  © Lynsey Addario / Getty Images Reportage for The New York Times

A Syrian family, the morning after they reached Jordan, registering at the UNHCR reception center. Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan, September 16, 2013.
© Lynsey Addario / Getty Images Reportage for The New York Times

Kyla: What are your thoughts on photojournalism today? What is the value of it?

JF Leroy: I think you can gauge the value of photojournalism by how receptive it is to the world. For example, when I speak to students during the education week, I am in awe of their inquisition and eagerness. Photojournalism is expanding everyday with inundation of new online platforms and easy access to stories.

Kyla: Please tell us about the conference with Lars Boeing, the Director of the World Press Photo?

JF Leroy: This year, we decided that Visa would not to exhibit World Press Photo. We are a photojournalism festival and we take pride in exhibiting images that have been taken honestly. This is not to say I don’t respect Lars or the World Press Photo. In fact, this is why I am having this talk with him, so that we can discuss the future of photojournalism and the honesty that these images should depict.

Soldiers sheltering behind sandbags while waiting for their commander.              Bambari, Central African Republic, French outpost, August 16, 2014 © Edouard Elias / Getty Images Reportage

Soldiers sheltering behind sandbags while waiting for their commander.
Bambari, Central African Republic, French outpost, August 16, 2014
© Edouard Elias / Getty Images Reportage

Kyla: Can you speak about Visa’s Transmission?

JF Leroy: Transmission pour l’image was created because of the need to transmit information, ideas and concepts from one generation of photojournalists to another. We have hosted it since 2010. It lasts three days, and consists of two programs; one held in the morning and then another held in the evening. This year’s instructors include Christopher Morris (who will be running Transmission), Alice GabrinerJoão SilvaStephan Vanfleteren and Bülent Kiliç, all of whom are incredibly talented professionals. However, it is not a portfolio review, or a “how to take photos” lecture. It really is aimed at delving into the deeper issues as these professionals talk about how to create an individual visual identity, the changing dynamics of the industry, how to deal with tough situations, ethics, etc. to over a dozen participants.

Khalidiya district, Homs, Syria, Sunday June 15, 2014 Abu Hisham Abdel Karim and his family load their belongings into a taxi.  Taxis incongruously drive along deserted streets in ruins, bringing families to inspect what remains of their homes. © Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Khalidiya district, Homs, Syria, Sunday June 15, 2014
Abu Hisham Abdel Karim and his family load their belongings into a taxi.
Taxis incongruously drive along deserted streets in ruins, bringing families to inspect what remains of their homes.
© Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Kyla: What advice would you give to young photographers who visit Visa and are interested in pursuing a career in photojournalism?

JF Leroy: You have to work hard to be a successful photojournalist. Read and immerse yourself in this world. If you are thinking of a subject, research it and make sure that you find a new angle. For those of you are coming to Visa, and want to see picture editors, please try to schedule an appointment. At the same time, understand that these people are only human, and the professional week is busy and stressful. Don’t be alarmed if a scheduled appointment is cancelled. Re-schedule it with a polite and non-aggressive approach.

Kumari Dangol with special festive make-up. It is not just outside appearances that change for festivals; former Kumaris say they felt bigger and stronger, and could feel heat radiating from their foreheads. © Stephanie Sinclair for National Geographic Magazine

Kumari Dangol with special festive make-up. It is not just outside appearances that change for festivals; former Kumaris say they felt bigger and stronger, and could feel heat radiating from their foreheads.
© Stephanie Sinclair for National Geographic Magazine

Kyla: What do you see as the future of Visa? How will this year’s festival be focusing on engaging new audiences?

JF Leroy: One of the most important things for me is securing the future of Visa. I understand that the only way to do this is by bringing in young minds that know the industry, understand photojournalism and how it could progress. We are in an age of infinite possibility, and I am optimistic about those who I have chosen to help see Visa into the future. I am interested in passing the reigns onto someone else, and I have a few candidates that surpass the necessary criteria, but we are taking immediate steps to reach a new audience. At the same time, we have hired a team of digital strategists to work on our social media presence across platforms. We are also collaborating with interesting projects — ones that push the boundaries of photojournalism, as well as holding innovative conferences that will then be broadcasted for those who could not make it to the festival.

 

© Alfonso Moral / Cosmos Winner of the Pierre & Alexandra Boulat Award 2015

© Alfonso Moral / Cosmos
Winner of the Pierre & Alexandra Boulat Award 2015

At the neuropsychiatric boarding center for girls. Summer of 2012, Elatma, Ryazan region, Russia. © Anastasia Rudenko

At the neuropsychiatric boarding center for girls. Summer of 2012, Elatma, Ryazan region, Russia.
© Anastasia Rudenko

Kyla: Do you have any plans for the 30th year anniversary?

JF Leroy: Hopefully, and I say hopefully because many things can change in three years, we will be introducing more interactive displays. We will also be hosting discussions with some of the first Visa-exhibited photojournalists to celebrate the rich history of the festival.

Kyla Woods  works as a freelance writer based in New York, specializing in current affairs, photography, and design. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Kyla has contributed to articles featured in Long Cours, Le Figaro, Le Point, Gatopardo, This is the What, and Foam Magazine. Kyla has also been featured in the French magazine Jalouse. Since 2013, Kyla has regularly written for Musée Magazine, a digital magazine dedicated to displaying the work of international emerging photographers, Peril Magazine, an online magazine that focuses on issues of Asian Australian arts, and worked at the Bronx Documentary Center. She was also involved in the 2015 PhotoBook Melbourne Festival.

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