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25 Years of Visa Pour l'Image: A Tribute to Jean-François Leroy

8 minute read

Jean-François Leroy launched Visa Pour l’Image, the international photojournalism festival, in Perpignan in 1989. Before heading up the festival, Leroy was shooting reportage for the agency Sipa Press and also working for Photo-Reporter, Le Photographe, Photo-Revue and Photo Magazine. He is the chairman of the company Images Evidence. Anne-Celine Jaeger, author of Image Makers, Image Takers, spoke to Leroy about the festival, photographic talent and journalism as it stands today.

This year is Visa Pour l’Image’s 25th Anniversary. Congratulations on a festival that has spanned a quarter of a century. When you think back over this time, what has been the most memorable experience for you?

I want to remember the first years. Everybody said I was totally foolish to launch a festival dedicated to photography, that I was never going get anyone going to Perpignan. But that first year we could feel there was a need for this festival. It was before the digital era, photographers were transmitting prints by Fedex. It was good to have a gathering point every September. But we never thought it would be such a success. In the first year, we had 123 accredited badges and seven agencies from two countries, last year we had 3000 accredited people and more than 1200 photographers from 68 countries.

Will you do anything special for the 25th anniversary?

Even though the 25th anniversary is really important for us on a personal level, this year, like every other year, we want to promote good photography and good stories. There will be no fireworks, no birthday cakes. Especially during this time when the profession is in such bad shape.

Essentially, like every year, we will aim to do three things. Firstly, we want to show emerging talent. Many great photographers, such as Lise Sarfati, Paolo Pellegrin, Laurent Van der Stockt, Robin Hammond, Sebastian Liste… had their very first shows in Perpignan. Secondly, we aim to confirm well-known photographers, such a Nick Nichols or Pascale Maitre. And thirdly, we want to “rediscover” the greats. This year, we are doing a huge retrospective with Don McCullin, the last giant who never came to Perpignan. I obviously don’t need to rediscover him, I know his work well. But a few years ago, I did a show with David Douglas Duncan, one of my masters, and so many young photographers said, “Where did you find his work?” I think young photographers are often very talented, but they don’t know anything about the history of photography. It’s very difficult to do a reportage about prostitutes in India, if you’re not familiar with the work of Mary Ellen Mark. They lack some references.

Do you think this is out of laziness?

Maybe it’s a lack of curiosity? The problem, today, with the young very talented photographers is they know everything happening on Facebook or Twitter, but they don’t go into the bookstore to find the old masters of photography.

In the past you have said that about 3000 out of the 4000 strong submissions you get are “shit”. You said, “You think you are Spielberg, or Cartier-Bresson. You are not.”

I see more and more good photographers, but at the same time, they don’t know how to tell us a story. You can’t imagine how many portfolios I got about Syria this year… But when you open the folder, you just have some pictures and they only info you get is: “I was in Syria.” But where? When? With who? The basis of telling a story is missing. When the only info is, “I was in Syria”, sorry baby, that is not a story for me.

What does it feel like when you have come across a Cartier-Bresson?

When you have a diamond in front of you, you can see it from the first photograph. It’s a feeling. I don’t know how to express it.

More and more people think they are photographers or photojournalists because they have a digital camera or even an iPhone. The technique has become easy…

It’s not because I have a pencil that I’m Victor Hugo or Shakespeare. It’s not because you have a camera, that you are a photographer. There is currently a trend in photography to cover specific communities, like poor people in Ohio, or very poor people in Connecticut, or really, really poor people in Arkansas etc. Where is the story? The other favorites are: my mother has breast cancer, my father has Alzheimer’s, my brother is a schizophrenic. I know these kind of stories. It’s personal, yes, but I’m not sure it makes good work.

But one person taking pictures about poor people in Arkansas might have a story and another photographer might not…

How can I describe what is a good story or not? There needs to be a good distance between you and the people you are photographing. You have to be close, but not too close. I want to feel the empathy between the photographer and his subjects. When I see the story, I can either understand it or not. But there is not an academic rule.

Do you ever get criticized that it’s just you going through the portfolios, as opposed to a panel?

I remember when 20 years, ago, the head of Paris Match, Roger Thérond, told me when he runs a photographer’s images on a double page spread, he is god, if he doesn’t he’s an asshole. It’s the same for me. If I run a show, I’m god, if I don’t, I’m an asshole. But I’m proud of that. You can like my taste or not, but at least you can see that there is a strong line.

How do you feel photojournalism has changed in the past 25 years, in both the story-telling aspect and the financial aspect?

The financial aspect is a disaster. Less and less assignments are given by magazines. Photojournalism is in a very bad shape. When we started Visa Pour L’Image I knew a few hundred photojournalists who were living decently from their job, now I know about 20.

In what way has the dramatic disappearance of photo editors and agencies affected the work of photojournalists working today?

I think the disappearance of photo editors is the worst. It’s because of this that photographers don’t know how to tell a story. They don’t have anyone saying, “Hey, I’m missing this or that.” A month ago I had a call from a photographer coming back from Mali, who was upset because he couldn’t place his work, so I said, “Send it to me.” He sent me 600 pictures! If he proposed that to a magazine, there is not one editor who could make that edit.

What advice would you give to young photographers embarking on a career in photojournalism?

Work, work, work. Read everything done before you, if you want to run a personal story, look at Uncle Charlie by Marc Asnin, look at The Julie Project by Darcy Padilla, go see Upstate Girls by Brenda Ann Kenneally. Watch what was done before you. Try to find another angle.

What do you think the current trends are in photojournalism?

Over photo-shopping.

There has always been a debate about whether or not an image can make a change. What’s a realistic assessment of photography’s value today?

If I was not deeply optimistic, I would have left Perpignan years ago. I’m still fighting because I’m convinced there is something to be done.

You have said, “photojournalism isn’t dying, the press is dying.”

What do you make of the fact that so many magazines have lots of money to spend on a royal wedding but claim
they don’t have enough to send journalists out into the field?

Anne-Celine Jaeger is the author of Image Makers, Image Takers, available through Thames & Hudson.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Conn-Hollyn, Bridget Harris, Eugene Reznik and Vaughn Wallace.

The following winners are not included in the slideshow above: Pascal (1990), Sebastiao Salgado (1990), Philippe Bourseiller (1991), Luc Delahaye (1993) and Georges Gobet (2003).

Portrait of Jean-François Leroy
Jean-François Leroy, director of Visa Pour l'Image in Perpignan, near his office in Paris.Joachim Ladefoged—VII for TIME
1990 Visa d'or Feature: Eric Valli & Diane Summers"I took this picture while living with the Gurung Honey Hunters in Nepal from 1986-1987, one of my first great adventures in the Himalayan mountains. Seen here is Mani-Lal harvesting the honey of the Apis Dorsata, which make their nests in the cliffs about 2500m high. The Visa Pour l'Image award was very meaningful and encouraging for me as a young photographer then. It was when I first came to know Jean-François Leroy and saw his relentless dedication to the world of photojournalism. Thanks to him, his sincerity, his courage and his passion, the festival became the showcase for many unknown talents from all over the world." —Eric ValliEric Valli
1991 Visa d’or News: Patrick Robert"After Saddam Hussein was forced to withdraw from Kuwait, he sent his humiliated armed forces to wreak revenge on the Kurds who had supported the international intervention 'Desert Storm.' At the time I was with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and the retaliation was so violent that nearly all the population of Iraqi Kurdistan fled north and to Turkey. I had to flee with them in a dramatic exodus walking for days and nights towards a brutal reception at the border. The report – which was a real epic for me – won me my first Visa d’Or. I was very surprised to get it because at the time I was not trying to develop an 'opus' and didn’t think that a report could have any other life after it had been published in the press. In fact, it was widely published, making more than twenty cover stories in major magazines and more than sixty double-page features around the world."Patrick Robert
1992 Visa d'or Feature: David Turnley"In the late summer of 1989, following the storm of revolutions throughout Eastern Europe and the Beijing Spring in Tiananmen Square, where some 2 million Chinese students had their dreams of democracy crushed for that moment in history, I was invited with my tribe to the first international festival for photojournalists from around the world in Perpignan, France. From the moment our plane hit the tarmac on the Mediterranean coast, we were greeted by Jean-François Leroy, a tall, handsome French man with a twinkle in the eye, and passion in his heart, with his contagious smile, sense of style, elegance and graciousness. Ten days later, as I headed back out into the world to later that year photograph Nelson Mandela walking out of prison and to witness the demise of the Soviet Union, I was filled with a renewed sense of conviction of my mission as a photographer, and felt buoyed by the awareness, as revealed by this incredible festival, of the dedication of so many of my colleagues who wake up each morning in some corner of the world, driven with the collective aspiration of documenting humanity in all of our glorious complexities. Merci Jean-François!"David Turnley
1992 Visa d’or News: Christopher Morris"This is from my body of work on the break-up of Yugoslavia that was awarded the Visa d'or award for news in 1992. The image I've selected from the series is the day after the fall of Vukovar on November 18, 1991. This is the hand of a Croatian civilian executed by paramilitaries. For me, it's as if a whole nation has been bleeding out into death. As for Jean-François and the festival, both have been and still are a true beacon for the industry. I'm proud to call him a true friend, someone who actually cares about photography and photographers."Christopher Morris—VII
Street Children of Bombay
1993 Visa d'or Feature: Dario Mitidieri"To Jean-François Leroy, I say, congratulations on your amazing achievement! I know how much you love my photograph of Savita, commonly referred to as 'the girl on the pole.' It is part of the project Street Children of Bombay, recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography. The grant from the award allowed me to work and live in Bombay for one year. Being able to document the lives of Bombay' street children is undoubtedly the most fulfilling year of my professional career. I believe that the work is relevant. Most importantly, that it has a purpose. It was only natural that the finished project found its way to Jean-François and to Visa pour l'Image. Receiving the Visa d'or and seeing my photograph of Savita everywhere in Perpignan as the official photograph of the festival, is something that I shall never forget. In an era of digital and multimedia revolutions, of social networks, of continuing changes, when many people ask what photography is, Jean-François represent the continuity, the dedication, the passion and the professionalism that makes us photographers believe a little bit more in what we do. I respect you. I salute you, my friend, Jean-François. I hope that you continue to do what you do best for the next 25 years at least."Dario Mitidieri—Getty Images
1994 Visa d’or News: Nadia Benchallal"He imposed his chance, he held tight to his happiness and he went toward his risk. They all looked his way and finally followed. 25 years already!" Words fitting for Jean-François, inspired by Rene Char 'Les Matinaux'.Nadia Benchallal
1994 Visa d'or Feature: Tom Stoddart"It was 1993 and the Siege of Sarajevo was at its bloodiest. I was working on a photo essay documenting the daily lives of women in that war torn city. There I was shooting one day, sheltering by sand bags, when suddenly, a beautiful woman appeared in the deserted street. Her head was held high and she was wearing lipstick, heels and a colorful dress. I shot three or four frames on a Leica as she moved past me; then she was gone. When my story landed on the picture desk at LIFE Magazine they asked me to go back to Sarajevo to try to find the woman and interview her. Days later Meliha Vareshanovic told me, 'my message to the watching gunmen who surround my city is simple, you will never defeat us!' Having my work honored twice with a Visa d’or makes me tremendously proud, but the deeper pleasure enjoyed over 25 years is in being part of the Visa ‘family’ that gathers each September to renew old friendships and be inspired by great photojournalism. I have dozens of happy Perpignan memories brought about because of the vision, passion and commitment of one man, the life force that is Jean-François Leroy. Merci beaucoup JFL."Tom Stoddart
Port-au-Prince, Haiti 1994 TAKING CONTROL: Shortly after the military intervention of Haiti, a U.S. soldier steps in to protect a man suspected of throwing a grenade into a joyous democracy march, killing and injuring numerous pro-Aristide demonstrators in yet another act of intimidation by para-military thugs. The soldiers arrested him, saving his life from an angry and bitter crowd looking for justice after many years of repression. Photo by Carol Guzy/TWP
1995 Visa d’or News: Carol Guzy"Jean-François Leroy has produced a superb world-class venue at Visa Pour l'Image for the exhibition of quality work by photojournalists of eloquent talent. To witness the general public being offered access to documentary photography, waiting in line excitedly and being visibly moved by these images was inspiring. He has been the foundation of this powerful and poignant experience for so many of us. Bravo and merci beaucoup."Carol Guzy—The Washington Post
Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. 1993. At the window in the reformatory. This boy tried to stab another child for stealing his sneakers.
1995 Visa d'or Feature: Francesco Zizola "It was 1995 and I had just been awarded my first World Press Photo for my work on Brazil's street children. I was a young and unknown photographer from Italy, with little experience about international festivals, and with only a vague idea of what Visa pour l'Image was. Having gone for the first time, I was amazed at the number of stunning exhibitions one could see, of international photo-editors one could meet, of world renowned photojournalists one could get to know. I was even more surprised when my work 'Ruas', on Brazil's street children, was awarded the Visa d'or. It was such a joy for me, especially because I thought that other works deserved the prize more than mine. From that moment Visa pour l'Image became an important annual meeting for me. It was the place where the best work was displayed and the people that made it possible could connect and create new collaborations. Jean-François Leroy has been the heart and mind of all this; he has played such a crucial and fundamental role in promoting photojournalism, giving exposure to young and talented photographers and showing strong and committed work that would otherwise be not seen or soon forgotten. I believe that photojournalism owes him a lot and I wish him to maintain the same enthusiasm and foresight in running the festival for another 25 years."Francesco Zizola—NOOR
Public Execution of a Soldier During the Civil War in Liberia
1996 Visa d’or News: Patrick Robert"I became interested in the war in Liberia at the very beginning of the conflict, in 1990, and covered it until 2003, when I was wounded by gunfire three weeks before the end of the war, while working on assignment for TIME. Liberia was fascinating because it was a futile conflict, with no way out and no hope. It was extremely violent, but journalists could move around and were fairly free to work, particularly as there were so few of us. It was absolute bedlam and anarchy, but strangely enough I feel comfortable in the midst of chaos. Once again I was surprised to get a Visa d’or for the work, firstly because the war was of no great interest to magazines and I hadn’t had much published, and also because I didn’t feel like I had finished the story. The war was far from over, and while I made regular trips back there, after going off to Sarajevo, Baghdad or Kabul, I felt I’d missed out on important events. That’s the really great thing about this festival: it focuses on events that have not been picked up by the magazines but which definitely record our history. The catalog of exhibitions at Visa pour l’Image is a genuine “panorama” covering the history of our time! I like going to the festival every year so that, at last, I can see the full stories (not just the five or six shots that have been published), and also to meet my fellow photographers and friends, and to see the picture editors from around the world and understand what their expectations are. This is my family. Visa pour l’Image is reassurance for me, it’s my equilibrium in my working life."Patrick Robert—Sygma/Corbis
Jean-Paul Goude
1996 Visa d'or Feature: Jean-Paul GoudeFashion and Sport: Running, for ElleJean-Paul Goude
Photo by Yunghi Kim/ Contact Press Images.  Rwandan refugee crisis in 1996, refugee who had been living in Goma Zaire for two years afraid go home due to ethic genocide, were on the move again when fighting reached refugee camp. it forced 800,000 people to go back home to Rwanda.
1997 Visa d’or News: Yunghi Kim"This body of work, which earned me the award, was made in 1996, when the deadliest refugee crisis in modern history came to an abrupt end as hundreds of thousands of displaced Rwandan Hutus began their journey home to Rwanda after fleeing genocide two years prior. It is amazing and a tribute that the great tradition of the Visa has continued for 25 years. There's no festival quite like it. It is a remarkable place where photographers, editors and friends come together to showcase work, get to know each other and hang out. Early on in my career, I used to schlep my big portfolio book to Visa in hopes of meeting a big editor and showing my work. That's what Visa provides: it gives a young photographer that hope and opportunity of being discovered. It’s a great place where all facets of the photo community come together and mix in a relaxed but cultured environment. It remains a testament to Jean-François Leroy’s vision and leadership." Yunghi Kim—Contact Press Images
'Truth & Reconciliation'
1997 Visa d'or Feature: Jillian Edelstein"In 1996, I put a proposal forward to Kathy Ryan at The New York Times Magazine: I wanted to document the unfolding stories at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, a process that aimed to address the atrocities and injustices that had been committed during the notorious Apartheid regime from 1948 until Mandela's release. Until I got the green light from The New York Times Magazine, it had been difficult to find any other publication who would support and fund the work. I travelled to South Africa several times during 1997, producing a body of work that was published in the magazine. Later that year, my work was recognized at Visa pour L'Image with the Visa d'or. The prize gave me the confidence to continue documenting the TRC. In 2002, Granta published my book, Truth and Lies, and in 2003, it won the John Kobal Book Award."Jillian Edelstein
Alexandra Boulat
1998 Visa d’or News: Alexandra Boulat"I know she had been working very hard and was very concerned by what was happening in Kosovo and I guess she was happy because [the award] was a sort of recognition of the situation there. I also know that Alexandra had waited very long before she could tell her father she wanted to become a photographer. In her mind she had the image of a LIFE Magazine photographer and did not know whether she could be just as good. In 1998, she was awarded with many grants, but the Visa d'or was the first of them. Pierre had left us early in January that year and I know that she was sorry that he was not there anymore to see how good she had become. She felt his absence very deeply and was proud to be awarded for her work!" —Alexandra Boulat’s mother, AnnieAlexandra Boulat
Gun Nation by Zed Nelson
1998 Visa d'or Feature: Zed Nelson"Gun Nation is a reflection on America's deadly love affair with the gun, exploring the paradox of why the nation's most potent symbol of freedom is also one of its greatest killers. I tried to extend the traditional language and style of documentary photography, employing formal portraiture, reportage and carefully observed still-life images. It became a vital tool to tell the story in an original and thought-provoking way. It was a great honor to receive the Visa d’or at Perpignan for this work. I had first visited the festival as a young photographer, and I had found the exhibitions greatly inspiring. There was no doubt as to the sincerity and devotion displayed by the photographers in their work, and by Jean-François Leroy in his obsessive dedication to showing photojournalism that engages subjects increasingly ignored by an increasingly commercially-driven media. After earning this recognition at Perpignan, my project went on to win a number of other awards, became a cover story in TIME and was published as a book in 2000."Zed Nelson—INSTITUTE
USA. New York City. 1998. Immigrants sleeping on a fire escape to avoid summer heat. Contact email: New York : photography@magnumphotos.com Paris : magnum@magnumphotos.fr London : magnum@magnumphotos.co.uk Tokyo : tokyo@magnumphotos.co.jp Contact phones: New York : +1 212 929 6000 Paris: + 33 1 53 42 50 00 London: + 44 20 7490 1771 Tokyo: + 81 3 3219 0771 Image URL: http://www.magnumphotos.com/Archive/C.aspx?VP3=ViewBox_VPage&IID=2S5RYDW7W7W7&CT=Image&IT=ZoomImage01_VForm
1999 Visa d'or Feature: Chien-Chi Chang"The compelling quality of the Chinatown project (1992 to present) is its universality. It is about the essential human need to hold hope in your hands and about having the willingness to sacrifice one’s own immediate happiness to realize the dream of giving children a 'better' life. But is economic prosperity worth the social cost? Perhaps the answers to such questions we all ponder can be found in the lives of the people left behind in China and in those of the second and third generation immigrants growing up in the United States. Look at them, and listen to their voices. One may not understand their language, but one can feel their longing." Chien-Chi Chang—Magnum
1999 Visa d’or News: Joachim Ladefoged"When I started out as a young photographer, one of the highlights of the year was to go Perpignan to meet with all my photographer friends. Of course, it was also about networking, meeting the photo editors, seeing the exhibitions and especially sitting in the warm, dark night watching great photography at the screenings. This image, which was a part of the body of work that earned the award, was taken at the funeral of Fassli Veisllari, killed by a stray bullet in the city of Berat in Albania during the riots that followed the collapse of the Pyramid schemes in 1997. Any award you win when you are young is exciting, and I was very proud and happy to win one of the top awards in the business. That year was a very special one for Danish photojournalism, since we left Perpignan with three awards. Jean-François Leroy has given photojournalism a unique voice and place in the world."Joachim Ladefoged—VII
2000 Visa d'or Feature: Raphael GaillardeIn the Percy military hospital in Clamart (Hauts-de-Seine), the medical team seizes a patient to take him back to his isolated sterile room after having been treated in the emergency ward, France, March 1999.Raphael Gaillarde—Gamma
2000 Visa d’or News: Eric Bouvet"I remember the first festival in 1989 — it was not so big and everybody knew everybody else; it was like a meeting of friends! Today, when I see what it's become, it looks like a world success. I haven't gone as often as I wish, but the few times I have were always strong. After 32 years of work, I enjoy this world of photography — I wish it could be much better, but we must make do with it and we must fight for the survival of photojournalism."Eric Bouvet
Ad van Denderen
2001 Visa d'or Feature: Ad van Denderen"After twenty-one days waiting in the dunes I made my missing photograph — a group of African immigrants put ashore in Tarifa in the South of Spain by Moroccan smugglers in the early morning light. For fifteen years, I had been photographing the flow of immigration in and around the edges of Europe and it was this image that up until then had evaded me. The Visa d’or was an important recognition for a project I had been working on for so long. Winning the award made my life as photographer much easier. Photo-editors from magazines all over the world opened their doors. In 2003, the project was published as a photobook in five languages and has been exhibited numerous times in Europe and South America. I am still thankful to Jean-François Leroy for his support. The work I have been involved in is always rather anonymous. Through the festival, where they also exhibited my prints, it became a well-known series. I am glad that Leroy still remains committed to journalistic photography."Ad van Denderen
PAKISTAN. 2001. Afghan refugees in refugee camps near Peshawar. Contact email: New York : photography@magnumphotos.com Paris : magnum@magnumphotos.fr London : magnum@magnumphotos.co.uk Tokyo : tokyo@magnumphotos.co.jp Contact phones: New York : +1 212 929 6000 Paris: + 33 1 53 42 50 00 London: + 44 20 7490 1771 Tokyo: + 81 3 3219 0771 Image URL: http://www.magnumphotos.com/Archive/C.aspx?VP3=ViewBox_VPage&IID=2K7O3R15RBKD&CT=Image&IT=ZoomImage01_VForm
2001 Visa d’or News: Christopher Anderson"This was one of my first widely-distributed bodies of work as a young photographer. I self financed the work, and Kathy Ryan published the images for the first time in The New York Times Magazine. Then came the award in Perpignan which was helpful for a young photographer trying to find a way to continue making more photographs."Christopher Anderson—Magnum
© Felicia Webb / IPG 2001 Anorexia - 31/73 Whenever things become too much to bear, I starve myself to regain that false, but so terribly compelling, feeling of control. So it has been time after time throughout my life
2002 Visa d'or Feature: Felicia Webb "Winning the Visa d'or was a pinnacle I never in a million years thought I'd reach. I came to documentary photography quite late after working as a journalist for several years in Latin America and I was a complete novice with a camera, always feeling like I was trying to catch up. My long-term project on anorexia began fairly soon after leaving college and at the beginning I had no idea whether it would work because it was about such a private, stigmatized illness. I was amazed at the courage and openness of those I photographed and the project grew until the day I found myself on the stage at Perpignan, surrounded by hundreds of fellow documentary photographers, standing of course next to Jean-François himself. That project on anorexia showed me that working on issues I really cared about could be a reality not just a dream — winning the Visa d'or was a dream I couldn't have imagined."Felicia Webb—IPG
Taliban Execution
2002 Visa d'or News: Tyler Hicks "The war in Afghanistan opened our eyes to a new era of conflict and terrorism. It was a privilege to document this chapter in the wake of 9/11, and to continue with that coverage 12-years later. It was also an honor to receive the Visa d’or for the photographs that taught me the harsh reality of revenge on the battlefield."Tyler Hicks—The New York Times
Secret War in Laos Continues
2003 Feature Award: Philip Blenkinsop"I've enjoyed a long relationship with Jean-François and his Visa family, stretching back to 1997 when I arrived for the first time with my first handmade book and very little idea of what to expect. After sharing that book with Christian Caujolle upstairs in the Hotel Pams, (that mystical labyrinth of closets-cum-agency-offices), I was invited to join l'Agence VU. Trips to Paris and the Visa-voyage became a yearly affair. It's a very special gift, the opportunity to share one's work with one's peers in such an incredible festive atmosphere — this and the chance to catch up with old friends whom I probably wouldn't have the chance to see otherwise."Philip Blenkinsop
Afghan Brides
2004 Visa d'or Feature: Stephanie Sinclair"I was honored with my first Visa d'or at Perpignan in 2004 for a story on the self-immolation of women in Afghanistan. I had no idea the work was even nominated, so my winning came as a wonderful surprise. It really was that last thing in the world I’d expected as I'd only been freelancing for about a year at the time and it was also my very first trip to the Visa Pour L'Image festival. I can’t overstate how incredibly encouraging it was to have these intimate and deeply personal photographs about the women I'd met appreciated to such an extent by Jean-François and the international photo community. That story would eventually lead to a decade-long project on the global child marriage issue."Stephanie Sinclair—VII
Tchad: réfugiés soudanais originaire du Darfour.
2004 Visa d’or News: Olivier Jobard"The bloody war in Darfur, western Sudan, which began in February 2003, caused one of the worst humanitarian disasters: 150,000 refugees in Chad, 700,000 displaced within Sudan and more than 10,000 deaths. This Visa d’or permitted me to find funding to undertake a long-term project I wanted to do for a while: follow the journey of an illegal immigrant. That's what I did right after the award, following Kingsley from Cameroon to France. In fact, it was after first going to the Visa Pour l'Image in 1989 that I decided to become a photojournalist."Olivier Jobard—Sipa Press
MF 25
2005 Visa d'or Feature: James Hill"The Beslan photographs were shown during one of the evening projections a few days before the series won the Visa d’or Magazine. That alone felt like an award. It’s one thing to see photographs in a paper or a magazine, but it’s something else to see them 3 meters high and wide and shown to the photographic community that comes to Perpignan each year. It’s like seeing the photographs for the first time, but far richer and deeper. Visa Pour l’Image and Jean-François have this way of making your work, and all that of the photojournalism community, seem somehow finer and better. But most of all, Visa is about gaining belief that our work matters and that these photographs have value beyond a transitory appearance in a publication. That is perhaps the greatest award from Visa to us all. Those few days each year help us understand why taking pictures is so important."James Hill
Asian Tsunami
2005 Visa d’or News: Philip Blenkinsop"As for Jean-François and his family, it always feels a little like coming home, walking into the Hotel Pams, and I know I am not the only person who feels this way."Philip Blenkinsop
2006 Visa d'or Feature: Todd Heisler "It's so hard to encapsulate Jean-François Leroy in a few sentences. I am amazed that one person could have as much energy and inspiration as he does. How he can execute something on the scale of Visa year after year and still have the energy to stay up to watch the sun rise at Cafe De La Poste is beyond me. But seriously, its about the work. Without great photojournalism there is no Visa. And that is due in no small part to the near impossibly high standards set forth by Jean-François. I'd be lying if I didn't say the whole Visa experience was overwhelming. But I mean that in a positive way. I was in awe the entire time at the level of talent amassed in one place. Seeing the likes of John Morris and David Douglas Duncan wandering the streets of Perpignan, taking in the projections, reminds me of the responsibility we have to live up to the standards set forth by the generation that came before us. That's the spirit and the legacy of Jean-François."Todd Heisler—Rocky Mountain News
Israel's Planned Pullout From Gaza
2006 Visa d'or News: Shaul Schwarz"The story I decided to focus on — the Israeli government pulling out 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip, known as the Gaza Pullout — was not the easiest story for magazines to publish. Some could not look beyond the fact that I was originally from Israel and now covering the settlers. Others simply didn't want to run a feature story about people's faith and just wanted to focus more on the news. That's when Jean-François Leroy and Visa changed it all. They not only chose to run a slideshow of my work in the following festival, but also nominated the work to be a contender for the Visa d'or award. The slide show was a great success and I eventually had won the award. From that point, the story would go on to run in any publications and become noticed worldwide. Visa and Jean-François Leroy were not only able to get this story out; they also validated my dream that long feature stories could still be recognized and thus inspired me to allow myself to cover things that sometimes may seem unpopular. To me this is the most important thing, that Visa and its endless commitment to journalism actually encourage photographers to create work. There is no greater success for a festival than to make it's participating artists believe in their work. Thank you, Jean-François Leroy, for all you have done to inspire the photojournalist community."Shaul Schwarz—Getty Images
Instituto Padre Severino, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, juvenile sectionAfter the meal (ten minutes in silence, with heads down), inmates return to their cells, also in silence and still with their heads down. The prison has a sad reputation for treatment inflicted on juveniles by the guards who certainly look threatening.Instituto Padre Severino, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, juvenile sectionAfter the meal (ten minutes in silence, with heads down), inmates return to their cells, also in silence and still with their heads down. The prison has a sad reputation for treatment inflicted on juveniles by the guards who certainly look threatening.
2007 Visa d'or Feature: Lizzie Sadin"I wanted to use my position as a photographer to show the legal system for minors in many countries with very different geopolitical situations: rich and poor, peace and war, rule of law and authoritarian regimes. I encountered enormous difficulties in getting the access needed in the course of the eight years devoted to this project. I was driven on by the idea of providing the public with a view inside these detention centers and of conveying the views of the inmates to the outside world. Being awarded the Visa d’or for this work was a tremendous recompense for me and a boost in visibility for all those young people languishing in prison in those 11 countries and 60 jails that I visited. It gave the work an aura, a support, a recognition and a real dimension, as much in the press as in the profession in general. I'm very proud to have won. It has facilitated some aspects of my work through the respect it inspired. Visa Pour l’image is a formidable tool for fighting for the survival of serious, in-depth photojournalism. Jean-François Leroy resolutely stands with the photographers and, above all, with information, real information! It does exist; photographers bring back stories that are incredible, but so difficult to sell. Jean-François Leroy gives his utmost to show the public these subjects that unfortunately appear too briefly or not enough in the press. For our profession, Visa Pour l'image is essential and irreplaceable!"Lizzie Sadin
Chad, Eastern Chad, Goz Beida, elderly woman brought to refugee camp (B&W)
2007 Visa d’or News: Kadir van Lohuizen"I received the Visa d'or for my work on Chad. The story was a follow up on the work I previously did in Darfur and was showing how this conflict was becoming regional, where thousands of people were fleeing Darfur into Eastern Chad. It was great to receive the prize because it gave the issue extra attention and it was great that the jury recognized that this was an important part of the 'bigger' Darfur story. My first time I came to Visa was in the early 90's. I was a very young photographer who didn't know anyone and no one knew me. What is great about Visa is that the international photo community gathers. it's a great opportunity for a young photographer to show his or her work to the 'big' magazines and newspapers. Soon after visiting, I received my first assignment for The New York Times Magazine because Kathy Ryan saw my work. Without Visa this wouldn't have happened. Jean-François Leroy has always been a great supporter of (young) photographers and if he thought you were good, he would consider you for a screening or an exhibition. The work counts, not the name in his view. Visa is and has played an enormous role in the careers of photographers, thanks to this man called Jean-François Leroy who gave the photographers and the profession a stage."Kadir van Lohuizen—NOOR
Gorillas New Threat of Extinction
2008 Visa d'or Feature: Brent Stirton"A small miracle occurs every night in Perpignan: Jean-François seduces us back into feeling pride and common purpose through the greatest slideshow on earth. We sit there enraptured; when the work is magnificent, we are moved, uplifted and re-energized. Jean-François has found a way of holding up a mirror to the best in us and through that mirror we remember who we are and why we love this profession. Our petty jealousies, our swelling egos, our insecurities — all of these are laid low and we are elevated to an enlightened appreciation of each other. After the shows, this feeling permeates our conversations. We remember that there are extraordinary people amongst us and that we are fortunate to have such role models and to have the possibility of being necessary in the world. Jean-François and his team make that possible every year in their own imitable style; we should all be very grateful."Brent Stirton—Reportage by Getty Images
Hanwang. China. Earthquake zone. 17th May 2008
2008 Visa d’or News: Philip Blenkinsop"So many special memories from over the years and that unique camaraderie that keeps you coming back. Bravo Jean-François. Love and best wishes to you all. I will be there with you all in spirit this year. Viva Visa."Philip Blenkinsop
Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct 2008 Recently displaced people from the Helmand province by ongoing war. . Chahari Qambar is an urban slum in west Kabul. It houses a mix of IDPs (internally displaced people) who fled the conflict in the south (mostly from the Helmand province) and migrants looking for jobs. It started with 50 families but has grown to about 700-800 families.
2009 Visa d'or Feature: Zalmai"I have been covering Afghanistan since 2001. Most of the coverage we see in the international media is related to the military action, but I was more interested to see other side of this story, the people of Afghanistan. When I submitted this work about the human cost of war on terror in 2008 for Visa Pour l’Image, I didn't expect anything because i wasn't covering the military action Hollywood style. Most photographers are interested to be embedded with the army; I wanted to be embedded with the Afghan people and focus on their struggle to survive after 33 years of war and destruction. I promised the Afghans that I would bring their message to the world. One day I received an email from Jean-François Leroy just saying: “Welcome to the club.” I have since known Jean-François for many years. He contributes a lot to the field of photojournalism as it undergoes so many big changes. Jean-François tries to keep an essential integrity in photojournalism, not flowing some kind of trend. Because of him, Visa Pour l’Image is the most important photojournalism event in the world with high quality of work from around the globe. It is an occasion for photographers, picture editors, agencies and young talent to meet each other. For me, Visa d'or did not much change my life as people can think. I was happy that for once the people of Afghanistan were awarded, and not the soldiers. Finally people could see the other side of this country and reinforce my idea about working in a conflict zone, that the battlefield is only 1/3 of the story. If we don't see whole, we will never find a solution for this kind of conflict."Zalmai
Repeated military incidents on the border line between Georgia and South Ossetia, being part of Georgia's territory and also its rebellious province, caused the conflict to explode on midnignt of August 7, 2008, The irregular militias of South Ossetia received military support from the Russian Army. After a few days of struggle, the Georgian army was forced by Russian troops to leave South Ossetia. The hardest fights took place on a 30 kilometer sector between Gori and Cchinwali. The number of victims on both sides of the conflict is unknown. Georgian man holds body of his relative after attack of Russian air force on three civilian buildings in Gori, about 80 kms from Tbilisi, 9th of August 2008photo taken for Dziennik
2009 Visa d’or News: Wojciech GrzedzinskiA Georgian man holds the body of his relative after an attack by the Russian Air Force on three civilian buildings in Gori, Aug. 2009.Wojciech Grzedzinski
Polygamists - FLDS
2010 Visa d'or Feature: Stephanie Sinclair"Jean-François selected my project Polygamy in America to be exhibited at Visa Pour L'Image in 2010. It was my first exhibition at the festival and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show the world a unique and little-known side of America. The ever-enthusiastic Jean-François and his judges graced the project by granting me my second Visa d'or. It was a thrill and an honor to be a part of it all, among this big family of photojournalists, editors and publishers who flock to Perpignan each year. As anyone in this profession can attest, this job can be a very solitary experience. We’re rarely in the field at the same place and time and have little direct interaction with readers. So, I think for many photographers, the festival, with its awards, slide shows, exhibitions and parties, is not just a rare opportunity to spend time with each other, but also a chance to see how people interact with the photographs we are making – an important aspect of photojournalism, which can be forgotten at times."Stephanie Sinclair—VII
01/15/10  PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI - (FOR) - A woman walked through the ruined streets of downtown.  Coverage of the aftermath of the a 7.0 earthquake that devastated much of the city Wednesday January 15, 2010.  # 3009xxxxA ( Photo by Damon Winter / The New York Times )
2010 Visa d’or News: Damon Winter "In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 it was hard not to feel like you had failed to tell the story adequately. The destruction seemed limitless and the shear volume of death was incomprehensible. The work that was recognized that year by Visa pour l'Image was my best attempt to portray the profound loss the Haitian people had suffered and the depth of sadness that I had witnessed and experienced. I was easy to photograph bodies in the street, I wanted our readers to understand how what had happened affected living and how those survivors would be dealing with the consequences for generations. I have been going back ever since.I never expected to be in the company of some of the great photographers who had received this award and to be honest, until I won the Visa d'or I never really understood how much it meant to the photo community. Jean-François has created this little oasis of photojournalism and I think everyone who has ever attended, hopes that it will continue for a long time to come. It is a highlight of any photographer's career to be honored in Perpignan, to drink late into the nights with people you admire and respect and to be surrounded by brilliant, inspiring photography." Damon Winter—The New York Times
Zarzis-Lampedusa: Odyssee de l'espoir.
2011 Visa d'or Feature: Olivier Jobard"Since the fall of Ben Ali, Slah, like thousands of other Tunisians, thought that he could offer a better life to his family by migrating to Europe. This Visa d’or was given to me the day of my dismissal from Sipa Press where I worked for almost 20 years. This allowed me to go head up to new projects. Jean-François has always been curious and interested in the projects that I have submitted even if sometimes he did not like them! His criticism has always been constructive."Olivier Jobard—Sipa Press
SANAA YEMEN-- MAY 2011: A demonstration at Changes Square outside of the university.The protesters come from all regions of Yemen and all walks of life. For four months now, they've prayed together, shared meals and debated the future of their country
2011 Visa d’or News: Yuri Kozyrev "Winning the award, for me, was incredible. I came to the ceremony straight from the battlefield in Tripoli — always an amazing kind of journey; strange, but exciting. There were so many photographers there who were nominated with the same story and so many of them were really good. To hear my name and to go up on stage, it was amazing. Stanley Greene was the one who first brought me, in 1999, after seeing my work on the Second Chechen War. The screenings, the presentation, the taste and style and attention to detail — it was all incredible. There, I was introduced to and became a part of what they call "the family" of Jean-François Leroy, which is a real privilege. Later on, when we decided to launch the new agency, NOOR, we chose Visa as it's birthplace, and Leroy became something like it's godfather."Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
2012 Visa d'or Feature: Stephanie Sinclair"In 2012, I was once again called to join Jean-François onstage, this time for my child marriage project. This third Visa d'or was special to both of us as the subject matter was the tree that grew from the seed of my first Visa d'or in 2004. Jean-François is an icon in the world of photojournalism. Full stop. He works tirelessly on his baby, this festival that each year gives photojournalists of every pay grade and every nationality a chance to meet with agencies and publications to present their work and talk about future endeavors. We leave energized and reinvigorated to go back into the field to continue capturing the images and telling the stories we care so deeply about. Jean-François, through the Visa Pour l’Image festival, has helped jump start many a career in his time, and his continuing support of the photojournalism community helps us all to grow, evolve and dream a little bigger. All this, and he is a supremely funny human being. His levity truly sets the tone for a celebration of the profession to which we're so dedicated."Stephanie Sinclair—VII
Gerard Longuet ministre défense - Epide Marseille
2012 Visa d’or News: Eric Bouvet"Visa Pour l'Image is doing a big job in this way. For sure, today is not like 'the good old times,' and it's harder than it used to be, but Jean-François is still here and this is the most important time of the year for the industry. The atmosphere at Visa is like nowhere else. I wish a long life to Visa Pour l'Image, and what a good idea you got, Jean-François, 25 years ago!"Eric Bouvet

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