Yesterday, April 16, World Press Photo announced the winners of their 2020 contest. There was no gathering, however, to celebrate. The Award Days have been cancelled. But what we do have instead might be all the more valuable.
The invisible virus is a true work of art: in its inconspicuous yet ubiquitous presence, it forces us to reflect on our own creation. Who are we in it? Or rather: who were we?
Photojournalism aims to make the world visible. ‘Concerned’ photography is a very apt means to show the symptoms of our actions, but it has proven to be very inappropriate to acknowledge ourselves as the cause of it all. We seem to have at least ignored our motivations. Yes, there was always the guilt - we knew we were causing many negative things in this world - but why exactly so, in the ways that we did? This aspect of awareness was never really part of the image.
Here, I would like to introduce an important word in Dutch language: onthouden. This word has a double meaning. As reflexive verb (“zich onthouden van”) it means so much as "to deny or restrain yourself from" (whatever you don’t act on), but onthouden can also mean "to memorise". That is precisely the crux of this very situation we are currently in: now that we are forced to deny ‘normal’ life for a while - through a quarantine enforced by the invisible virus – that very fact will also help us to commemorate ourselves in this era more effectively.
We are going to not-do many things now, all that was scheduled will not take place. It is precisely this years’ edition of our events - the cancelled ones - that will become most vividly recalled. “Remember when festival X or performance Y was canceled due to the corona virus?” The non-experience will be stronger than the many previous photo manifestations in which we used to meet in recent years, in which we were celebrating photography as the significant medium of preserving ‘memory’.
We were trained to occupy the world and meanwhile witnessed our lives in it, from a safe distance. But we were also reserved in our attitude towards such ‘parking’ - in the sense that we somehow felt uncomfortable towards setting everything aside for our own needs. Again, an important double meaning: we must now, in all modesty, note that the current situation compels us to cancel all forms of parking, as the world was already reserved by itself and it has ordered a Covid-19 for starters.
This stupid virus, the most non-intellectual existence imaginable, shows the world as arranged by human beings in all its magnificence at the very moment we are forced to socially distance from it. We behold this environment now, from home, like a picture with an extremely slow shutter speed: we absorb its self-regulated dynamics in the passing. We observe our own existence with wonder and it is this non-activity that we must cherish, as a communal self-portrait.