How does press photography stay relevant?

What's the role of the photographer in the big picture? © Nicolas Brodard

At this very second millions, if not billions, of pictures are being taken and uploaded to the web. But in a world flooded with images, Swiss photographer Michael von Graffenried still believes the work of professionals is indispensable. 

Von Graffenried, through the annual Swiss Press Photo awards, underscores the value of photo journalism. It was at the photographer’s initiative that the prize came into being nearly 30 years ago to showcase the power of the image in news reporting.   

The nominees were chosen for their different approaches to covering a story, whether a fire in the city of Basel, a Santa Claus society or what it’s like to be the president of Switzerland. The 2019 winner will be announced tonight at an awards ceremony in the Swiss capital, Bern. 

Speaking to journalist Eduardo Simantob, Von Graffenried explains what it takes to have a picture chosen as Press Photo of the Year, and how professionals can remain relevant in today’s world.  

Von Graffenried was born in Bern in 1957. He attracted the attention of the public early in his career by a scandal unleashed with his pictures of politicians sleeping and picking their noses during sessions of parliament. 

His focus broadened in the early 1980s with the publication of the illustrated book “Swiss Image”. That was the time of an open drug scene in Zurich. “Above all, I am interested in people.” He explains to Editor in Chief Larissa M Bieler how that led to his photo reportage, titled ‘COCAINELOVE’. 

His best known work was produced over many years in Algeria. For over a decade, the Swiss photographer documented the civil war of the 1990s, continuing to work when all other foreign reporters had left. He often took the unusual approach of taking pictures with his camera placed at chest level. 

Reflecting on the winners of this year’s Swiss Press Photo awards, von Graffenried says part of what sets the professional apart from the amateur is the hard work done by the photographer before any unique moment is freeze framed – be it braving wars, natural disasters, or gaining the trust of the people portrayed.  

He also says context is vital, transporting the viewer to another reality as well as challenging their beliefs and perceptions.  

There are 18 prizes winners in the Swiss Press Photo Awards, divided in six categories (News, Daily Life, Swiss Stories, People, Sports, and World).  

The Swiss Press Photo Awards were created in 1991 at the initiative of Michael von Graffenried, the acclaimed Swiss photographer and scion of the family that owned then the media conglomerate Espace Media Groupe – patron of the Swiss Press Awards. When the company was sold to the Tamedia Group in 2009, Charles von Graffenried (Michael’s father) and industrialist Erwin Reinhardt created the Reinhardt von Graffenried Foundation, the institution that has run the awards ever since.

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