World Press Photo: Talking about it with Alexandre Champagne
August 24, 2018
Alexandre Champagne is the spokesperson of the World Press Photo Montreal 2018. This photographer, who became known because of his “photo of a batch of chocolate muffins”, has since made his way in the world of photography and anchored within the Quebec society, to which he is deeply attached. His photos taken after the attack on the Quebec City Mosque will also be exhibited, “a motivation to move forward” in his projects, for someone who venerates this institution and the winning photographers exposed.
Photo: Alexandre Champagne / © Mariphotographe
Fan of the exhibition since its debut in Montreal, 13 years ago, Alexandre has not missed any. His assiduity gives him an insight into new trends in the selections: “I think that from year to year, and that’s how it’s been for the last five or six years or so, it’s less about fatalities, extreme conflicts, we’re less and less interested in mortality. I saw more photos this year that had a graphical composition, in the sense that they were really beautiful pictures.”
That said, the aesthetics of this year’s photos don’t detract from editorial content that’s visually impactful: “A good photo quickly tells a story, without the need for words or nothing like that. A beautiful, beautiful photo, is usually one that’s focused on beauty. In photojournalism, you’re not focused on beauty first, but on the action.”, Alexandre explains.
“Maybe this shift is caused by the social media trends; I feel that this year, there was more emphasis on the graphical beauty of photos. There’s a little extra from that perspective.”
Beyond the beauty or impact of the photos, the photographs were selected amongst 4,500 photographers from 125 countries, who submitted 73,000 images. And this is another aspect of this edition: its role as a truth watchdog. The quality of the exposed pictures combines, more than ever, technical prowess and aesthetic concern without compromising ethics values. Alexandre states that “there’s a golden rule in photojournalism: you can’t make any change in the photo that’ll affect reality”. The work permitted on the photos has set guidelines. “We want to calibrate the photo because a digital photo is a block of information that must be treated to make it more realistic, but we’ll never change anything in the photo that’ll alter the reality.”
If ethical stand of the organization and photojournalists is very strict, the audience’s actual action makes it count. International news is often seen as the poor child of news information, so “going to World Press Photo, for me is meaningful, absorbing the atmosphere, seeing what’s happening around the world, going there in person and make the gesture to participate in the exhibition… There is something very strong in there in my opinion.” Alexandre Champagne says.
Have you not yet been to a World Press Photo exhibition? Your life could change. That was the case for this year’s spokesperson! “The first thing I wanted was to drop everything else and go around the world to take pictures, to tell people’s stories. But that’s because I’m a photographer! Otherwise, I felt connected with the world. I felt these people we see in the news in Asia, Africa or the Middle East, were not that far away.”
Even if the photos are available online as soon as the winners are announced, there’s nothing better than to be physically present at the event. Above all, in times when screens are often criticized for cutting us off from the real world. “We are so desensitized about everything that actually taking the time to observe, to immerse ourselves in the photo’s action, to understand. It makes it more real. We put away the phone, we don’t have a computer. When you’re online, you often do several things at the same time. (…) I think that it’s an extraordinary thing to go to the exhibition, and that’s the reason why the WPP has a bright future ahead.”
And regarding the exposition, Alexandre has a routine of his own to immerse in it. “I grab a coffee and then I go there as early as possible, ideally at the coldest time. I don’t know why, but I like it when it’s cold. Then, I get to the exhibition and I take my time and watch what’s happening.”
The photo that won the competition was taken in Venezuela during clashes between the police and protesters. One of them literally caught fire following the explosion of a motorcycle tank. “[This photo] really impressed me; not because it’s the photo of the year, but because of the speed of the photographer to capture that moment. The way it was exposed is a technical feat and the photo is extraordinary. It gathers all the skills that a photojournalist must have: always on the watch, technically ready to take a photo (…) to adjust the settings on his camera to be able to capture the situation and tell a story.”
His photos will also be exhibited, out of competition, next to photographers whom he himself admires. Alexandre receives this tribute with humility and bliss: “If you would’ve told me that three years ago, (…) it would’ve probably went up to my head and inflate my ego. But today my attitude has changed; I’m constantly on the move so, for me, this achievement is just great and enormously heartfelt. It’s a motivation to go further and beyond: I want to participate in the World Press Photo some day, to be accredited as a photojournalist and to make great projects. But especially, I want to stay here in Quebec, because it’s my homeland and I love my province, I love my country.”
And regarding the passion legacy, Alexander admits that “[his] father is very proud because he was the one who taught [him] photography. And [his] mother’s partner, who died 4 years ago and who was also a photographer, would’ve been really proud.”
For his part, to give back and pass it along, Alexandre Champagne organizes workshops in Montreal and Quebec City, where more than 800 people have already participated. In September, the photographer will release his own book, based on his classes. “I talk a lot about intentions: why we’re taking pictures, and why it’s good to optimize your phone for photography because it’s a storytelling tool. Anyone today can tell the story of an inspiring person, put that on social media networks, and we’ll discover jewels by doing that. (…) I consider this tool as a way to bring people together, and that’s also what I hope to do with my book and my workshops.”
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