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September 28, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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An iceberg, a soccer team and a reyaurant…

The 2009 world press photo exhibition comes to wellington

visual

What do an iceberg, a soccer team and a free restaurant have in common? Art, of course. They make up the three-pronged attack the clever chaps at Clemmenger BBDO took to promote the World Press Photo Exhibition showing at Shed 11 until 4 October. Unlike many were lead to believe, myself included, the iceberg floated off Oriental Bay on 11 August was not a heart-felt stunt by a keen group of middle-aged greenie parents, but left there by the ad agency. Its plaque, which stated “Press”, when combined with the word “Photo”, printed on the Phoenix’s uniform, and a free restaurant called “World” put on during Dine Wellington, spells out the name of the foundation behind the exhibition (World Press Photo), and one of the three themes of this year’s show—environment, sport and the recession.

So with this clever, albeit somewhat confusing, little stunt in mind, my expectations were rather high as I made my way down to the waterfront, paid the $2 entry fee and stepped inside the cavernous interior of Shed 11. The shed wastes nothing on ambience. Any hint of atmosphere floats up into the enormous roof space and although its stark stone walls should be perfect for a modern exhibition, on a gusty Wellington day the space is rather cold and uninviting. Unfortunately, despite the size of the space visitors insisted on huddling close to the photos leaving a huge gap in the centre of the room and not much space to move around the works themselves. However, it was not for the room or the company that I had come, so to the art itself:

The annual exhibition is made up of 200 of the best professional press photos of the preceding year selected by an international jury from around 96,000 entries. This year prizes were awarded in ten categories to 62 photographers from 27 different nations. The supreme award went to Anthony Suau of the United States for his image that captures an armed American officer in an abandoned home in Cleveland, Ohio, which accompanied a story for Time magazine in March 2008. Although not immediately as captivating as others, the photo is intricately composed and deceptive. It initially appears to be “just another crime story”, but the image actually depicts a routine procedure for American police following the eviction of a family who cannot pay their mortgage. Thus the “war” it presents is not one occurring on a national scale but a personal one, which many people all over the world may now be able to identify with following recent economic conditions.

Each of the photographs is unusual and unique, some because of their beautiful visual imagery, others because of the poignant context within which they were captured. There are photos that shock, photos that make you stare and photos that make you laugh out loud. My favourite was a very simple work, almost entirely black apart from a strip of light that captured the faces of a woman and her son. The photo itself was not spectacular, but the story that accompanied it was incredibly moving. The small context plaque, one of which accompanies each work, told the story of a 37-year-old Iraqi woman whose husband was kidnapped three years ago and is still missing. In the months following his disappearance she visited the morgue every day, where she spent hours watching each of the five television screens which plays an endless loop of photos of the numerous unidentified bodies who are delivered there daily. However, with five children and no income Rajiha Jihad Jassim can no longer afford to feed her family, let alone pay the bus fare to the morgue, so instead she lives in hope that one day he will return. Her strength of character, faith in her husband and love of her family are all captured in her determined expression in the photo. Such inspiring stories are typical of many of the works in the exhibition. If I wasn’t immediately captivated by an image, once I’d read its context I was converted.

The exhibition is a remarkably concise snapshot of the issues that dominated international news in 2008. It was like reading a year’s worth of newspapers in one afternoon. For the past 52 years the World Press Photo foundation has helped inform thousands of individuals across the globe about contemporary international issues. The travelling exhibition is a key part of their aim to increase awareness, touring through around 100 cities worldwide each year. The exhibition, in Wellington for the next two weeks before moving on to Tauranga, is an extraordinary, eye-opening experience and I highly recommend you check it out.

Other exhibitions this week:

Toi Pōneke Arts Centre: Stephen A’Court’s Body, a celebration of dance energy and the body’s sculptural dimensions, until 2 October.

Thistle Hall: D’piction, an exhibition of paintings on canvas by St Catherine’s College year 12 students until 3 October.

Mary Newton Gallery: Gavin Hurley and Sam Mitchell’s exhibition Rulers, which combines recent joint works as well as solo pieces from the two artists is showing until 10 October.

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