Protesters burn as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine.
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images
May 5, 2015 2:14 PM EDT

Visa pour l’Image, the world’s largest photojournalism and press photography festival, plans to open an International Center of Photojournalism in Perpignan, France.

The center, which will remain open all year long, will build on the festival’s 27 years of experience using photography to contextualize the world’s contemporary history. It will preserve photographers’ archives; produce exhibitions, books and prints; and present a program of exhibitions, talks and seminars. The center will also work with France’s Ministry of Education to help develop image awareness among high-school students.

The news came as Visa pour l’Image director Jean-François Leroy unveiled this year’s program of featured exhibitions. One of the year’s prime shows is dedicated to Daniel Berehulak‘s extensive coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which he covered for the New York Times for more than 14 straight weeks in 2014. “[His] photographs bear witness to the victims’ humanity and the resilience of the medical staff and civilians who did everything they could to help them,” Leroy said in a statement.

Also on show will be Marcus Bleasdale’s vast body of work shot in Central African Republic between October 2013 and February 2015, for Human Rights Watch and National Geographic. A civil war between Christian and Muslim factions there has killed thousands of people in the past 18 months, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee the violence. “This is not a religious war,” Bleasdale told TIME last week. “This is a war about corruption, it’s a war about poverty, it’s a war about misrule, mismanagement, bad governance.”

“We can’t forget this conflict,” says Leroy. “We have to testify and condemn these abuses.”

Photographer Lynsey Addario will present her work on Syrian refugees, while her colleague at Getty Images Reportage, Alejandro Cegarra, will show a series on Hugo Chavez’s legacy in Venezuela. Also selected for this year’s edition are Sergey Ponomarev’s photographs of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, shot for the New York Times; freelance photographer Nancy Borowick’s work on her parents’ fight against cancer; a series from Andres Kudacki of Associated Press about Spain’s housing crisis; and Giulio Piscitelli’s coverage of the European migrant crisis. The photographers Pascal Maitre and Gerd Ludwig will be representing National Geographic this year with two stories on Congo’s legendary and mystical river, as well as the new trend of nuclear tourism in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Fukushima, Japan.

Bulent Kilic of Agence France-Presse, who was named Wire Photographer of the Year by TIME, will also be honored in Perpignan with a retrospective of his work shot last year in Ukraine, Turkey and Syria.

Absent from this year’s program is World Press Photo, the Dutch-based photojournalism competition that usually showcases its winning images at Visa pour l’Image. Leroy dropped the show from its line-up following the recent controversy at World Press Photo over staged images.

The festival has been criticized for its controversial stand, forcing Leroy to explain his decision. “Our recent statements defending ethical practices in photojournalism triggered some lively reactions,” he writes, in an editorial to be published in the festival’s brochure and shared with TIME. “We are allegedly the protectors of an old-fashioned, narrow-minded vision of photojournalism. That’s quite a charge! Such scathing criticism neither concerns us, nor upsets us. We see these comments as expressions of encouragement, bolstering our belief in a vision of photojournalism, which we have been advocating, in no uncertain terms, over the last 27 festivals.”

He adds: “When you look at the wealth of photography we have for the 2015 festival, when you look at what’s coming onto the market, when you look at the new names appearing… then you realize that photojournalism is certainly not going to disappear. And that’s good news.”

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