World Press Photo 2014 at the Royal Festival Hall | Exhibition review

Every year since its foundation in 1955, World Press Photo holds a press photography contest for professional photographers and photojournalists who can submit their images in categories such as Nature, Portraits or Contemporary Issues. Once the winners are announced, the shots are put together to set up an itinerant exhibition hosted by as many as 45 different countries around the globe over a year.

The Royal Festival Hall was picked as the hosting venue for London, where the pictures will remain on display until November 26. On both sides of the Clore Ballroom, printed copies of 143 award-winning shots are put on show on boards that form a sort of serpentine trail, grouped under the same theme. There is no specifically dedicated space for the exhibition which spreads around without a real order, exception made for the subject classification.

This is the first flaw of the exhibition: so chaotic that when it gets overcrowded the disposition of the images makes it hard for everyone to actually see anything. Waiting times to walk past from a picture to the other, zigzagging through fellow visitors, are unnerving to the point that people often spend no more than a few seconds in front of an image thus being unable to really capture its essence.

Another factor that contributes to the disappointing experience is the aforementioned choice to showcase the works in two separate sections along the Foyer Spaces, in an area which also features a café and a shop. Coinciding events taking place there, like the London Jazz Festival, added to the usual chit-chat of visitors as well as the staff working at the venue, are enormously distracting. The noise is such that reading captions under the pictures is challenging to say the least.

Thing is, the shots exhibited at World Press Photo for some reason always intend to convey an intense, meaningful, message that requires the observer’s attention in order to have an impact on his / her consciousness. The images more than often depict strong scenes, powerful in their disquiet, whether they be spontaneous or created ad hoc to address a certain subject.
Think war, rights violation and the like. Shocking for their crudity, because they are real, they are taken to provide documentary evidence and therefore are not filtered.

Even when the images seem to be only beautiful in themselves, they hide a story. It’s such a shame to have to struggle to find the concentration to look at them carefully, understand them and appreciate their effective value. The World Press Photo exhibition is definitely recommended visiting for its importance but its organisation needs a rethinking.

Verdict: ••

World Press Photo 2014 is on until 26th November 2014 at the Royal Festival Hall, for further information visit here.

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