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|| News Item: Posted 2004-07-28

The World Press Photo Experience
By Tim Clayton, Sydney Morning Herald

Dreading the prospect of the next twenty three and a half hours of my life, which would be spent circum navigating half the planet to attend the World Press Award ceremony in Amsterdam, I fidgeted for comfort in the confined space of my seat, finally resorting instead to take solace in the plastic cup of tea in front of me, remembering it was my Yorkshire grandma's remedy for the solving of all problems incumbent, in fact, I think if I'd chopped half my leg off at some point in my life she'd have turned up with a good old cup of Yorkshire tea just to make it better!

The tea didn't work. I cursed and swore once more much to my wife Teresa's annoyance.
For god's sake, your still in bloody Sydney Airport, what are you going to be like when you get on the plane! She barked.

My wife was there to make sure I actually got on the plane, and thank god she did! For the experience of the next few days of my life was about to clear away the fog of my mind and enlighten me on all things to do with photo journalism and in particular where we sit in the little corner of the street we call sports photography.

The incredible journey had actually started a couple of months earlier, one late Friday night in early February in Sydney my mobile phone started ringing and didn't stop for two and half hours as colleagues, and friends from all corners of the globe rang to express their congratulations on my success.

I had won first prize in the Sports Action Singles category of World Press Photo. My initial euphoria at my own success had soon turned to a sense of guilt and a deep empathy for close friends and colleagues who had again not received any recognition for their amazing work, colleagues who were more deserving than me, colleagues who I am inspired by, colleagues who were now questioning themselves and their place in the universe.

OK, I didn't drink many cups of tea that night but one thing you do learn covering sport is if you win you have to be humble, sports photography has that uncanny habit of putting you on your backside the minute you start to get ahead of yourself!

And so to Amsterdam ... I just wish the entire photo journalistic fraternity, along with editors, subs, reporters in fact anybody who has anything to do with images, could down tools for a couple of days and all attend the photographic presentations, debates, discussions and bonding over beers. We would all be better for it and indeed we would all instantly take a giant leap forward in our thought process.

Each award-winning photographer attending World Press Photo is invited to present some of his or her work in a small auditorium. Fifteen minutes maximum is allocated to each photographer and the presentations are split into morning and afternoon sessions over two days.

As you can imagine, the diversity of work is incredible and I made a point of not missing one show. Most of the time I spent with my jaw open and my eyes kaleidoscoping like the snakes eyes in the Jungle book at the amazing images before me. Indeed, the images in the World press photo 2004 book and exhibition probably equates to about 1% of the images we saw during the presentation sessions. I had a few favorites but separating absolutely brilliant and just brilliant is unfair. Basically I was in awe of every body of work shown. And to cap it all off Mary Ellen Mark grabbed my right arm at the awards ceremony so I haven't washed since! IM still pinching myself at the whole experience, the learning curve is enormous!

The first thing that became evident to me while watching the presentations was that sports photography is way behind all other areas of photojournalism. We are still in our infancy, rattling the cot and spitting the dummy at every opportunity yet making precious few baby steps forward in an effort to improve.

You only have to look at the recently published Sports Illustrated HOTSHOTS 21st Century Sports photography publication to see the point I am making. It looks tired, the same familiar images which we saw last century, the book is full of sports photography cliché‚s, the basketball shot from the roof, yet another greyhounds coming at you racing picture, the usual misso, jubo holding a flag seen it all before basketball, baseball, American football shots, very few images stood out as fresh.

Where are the depth, layers and dimensions images we see in all other areas of photojournalism? Where are the sports essays? Where are the long-term projects? Bodies of work made over a number of years? They are nowhere to be seen or at best seen very, very rarely.

I don't want to unfairly level my criticism at Sports Illustrated, which most consider the benchmark of great sport photography. I level the same criticism at my own work, which also looks equally as tired, predictable and contains very few stories of note. I hope a few of you are swallowing hard now and reluctantly nodding with some degree of agreement.

I know the arguments as to why we are where we are. We basically turn up to a sporting event, usually with the notion that one or two images are going to appear in the next days newspaper of next weeks magazine.

We have tight deadlines; we have to illustrate the news story of the game/event etc. We are mostly chasing that truly great single image that defines a great sports action photograph. We are confined to the outside looking in so its much harder to get depth, layers dimensions in our photographs and hence the use of long lens which are hardly used in many other areas of photo journalism. And what the point in working on a photo essay, they never get published anywhere anyway?

What came first the chicken or the egg? Do the restrictions of our publications/agencies mean we don‚t try and take our work and our profession to the next level, for there always is another level!

It matters not if you have two cameras or thirty cameras in your camera bag if your going to an event to shoot exactly what you shot last year and the year before that and the year before that. If you are doing that you're flat lining as a photographer. At present, in my opinion sports photography is flat lining and collectively we have to revive, rehabilitate, re evaluate and re educate ourselves.

In years to come we will be in awe of the young up and coming sports photographers who are producing great photo essays on sporting subjects, who are producing great single images both action and artistic with depth, layers dimensions and we ll. all be saying, why didn't I think of that!

We have to look way beyond our own backyard and learn from all other areas of photojournalism.

Which brings me back to World Press Photo. Rather than slam the door on the dummy spitting, cot rattling sport photography fraternity they have in fact listened to our cries and produced a remedy that will both quell the screaming and help us to first walk and then run with our other big photo journalism brothers and sisters.

This year, for the first time, the sport photography category of World Press Photo was split into two categories. Sports Action and Sport Features, both having single image and story categories. The sports action category now recognizes that for most of the year our job as sports photographers is to nail that great sports action image and hopefully every year now we will be all nodding with agreement and understanding at three cracking individual sports action photographs which take out the top prizes.

This year, the Sports Action stories category included two portfolios of single images. Although nobody from World Press Photo actually said this was not the intention of the category, my distinct impression was that sets of images were generally frowned upon and only time will tell if this is the case or not.

Until somebody says not then one must presume portfolio s can be entered. My gut feeling is that in next year's competition we will have a glut of entries as sets of action photographs from the Olympics and Paralympics which come under the banner of action stories.

The Sports features category is the area I think World Press Photo is distinctly trying to encourage us to produce more documentary photojournalism. I think we are all pretty sick of seeing Chinese Gymnasts and wrestling photo stories continually cropping up year after year in the sports stories category. But really, it is up to us to start embracing the concept of story telling with our sports photography, then and only then will we gain the respect and be embraced with open arms by our well educated photo journalism brothers and sisters.

I sincerely hope this article does not offend. It is not meant to and I have the utmost respect for the work of many of my fellow sports photography colleagues. But I think it is so important to move forward and the World Press Photo experience for me, has certainly changed the way I think about all aspects of sports photography.

I simply hope that sharing my experience and inner thoughts with you will help take your sport photography to another level. I encourage each and every one of you to enter next years World Press Photo competition. The better the quality of competition the healthier our profession is going to be! Good shooting!

(Tim Clayton is a staff photographer with the Sydney Morning Herald. He began his career in Yorkshire England at the Evening Post as a 16 year old and moved on to Australia in 1990. He has covered the last three Olympic Games. For a sampling of his work:

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