Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha at the opening of the World Press photo exhibition at Museum Africa, Newtown, Johannesburg

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20 Jul 2006

Director of the Programme,
Your Excellency, Deputy Ambassador Mrs Wolters
Ms Kerchoff and Mr Vles of the World Press Photo Foundation
Embassy Officials and Officials of the WPP Foundation
Members of the Jury
Representatives of Vulindlela Communications
World Press Representatives
Members of the South African Media
Representatives of the Business Community
Representatives of the Sponsors of this Exhibition
S A Government Officials
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

A very good evening to you all and may I also officially welcome all our guests from the Netherlands and visitors from other parts of the world to our very beautiful country, South Africa.

It is, indeed an honour and a great pleasure for me to be invited to open the 50th World Press Photo Exhibition in South Africa. I would like to sincerely thank the World Press Photo Foundation for choosing to bring the exhibition to South Africa, once again.

I understand that the World Press Photo Foundation is an independent non-governmental organisation which was founded in the Netherlands in 1955. Its mission is “to encourage high professional standards in photojournalism and to promote a free and unrestricted exchange of information”.

In addition to organising what we consider to be the world’s largest and prestigious annual press photography competitions and exhibitions, it also runs seminars and workshops throughout the world.

The competitions create a worldwide overview of how press photographers tackle their work. I believe that it is the only international event of this stature, which does not simply bring together pictures from all parts of the globe, but also reflects trends and developments in photojournalism, revealing how the press gives us the news.

As far as I can remember, it is the second time that South Africa has been privileged to host the WPP travelling exhibition. I am not certain whether it has travelled to any of our sister countries on the African continent. Nevertheless, I would like to thank the World Press Photo Foundation and everyone who has been involved, for giving us another opportunity to enrich our visual experience with these photographs.

This exhibition comprises of 65 images of the finest press photographs of 2005, selected from over 83 000 images submitted by 4448 most accomplished photographers from 122 countries. Amongst the 65 winning pictures are 5 by South African photographers with two first, two second and one third prize in five different categories. I think that you will agree with me that this is quite an accomplishment. Congratulations to all the 65 photojournalists for this achievement. I am particularly delighted that Shayne, Pieter, Sydney, Joao and Halden have made it into 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in their respective categories. Well done! You’ve done South Africa proud.

Photography has always, since the first camera was commercially available, been used to document daily life and to record special moments and happenings. This would become and still is important for future generations to see how things were done, how they happened, sad and joyous, strange and peculiar moments in nature, sport, politics and social life.

The use of the traditional camera and the processes involved in taking and developing a photograph has improved immensely and with the development of technology into the digital era, taking photographs has become much easier in the last few years. Unfortunately this has a negative side to it because it has taken away some of the romanticism and exclusivity of taking a photograph and the developing processes.

The taking of a good photograph needs a good camera and involves the trained eye, the skills and the time. Time is so important when a photograph is taken, because within seconds the moment of capturing could be lost. Time is the key to creating a photograph of this quality that we see tonight. I must say, I have had my moments too of attempting the skill and I must confess, I have not been very successful. That was before the digital camera came into existence.

Photography is a medium as well as an art form that is understood by almost everyone: the educated, the uneducated, the young and the old. The message and the visual impact of a photograph on the viewer is one that can evoke happiness, sadness, fear, hope, love and hate. I would dare to say that a photograph is in many instances easier to understand than other art form. More people can identify themselves with images portrayed. It is a universal language.

Photojournalism has also played a significant role in capturing some epoch defining moments in socio-historical developments throughout the world. The photograph capturing the last moments of Hector Pieterson thirty (30) years ago, for example, continues to serve as a glue in our collective memory as a nation. It also serves as both an emotional and symbolic link, which roots the aspirations of our democracy with the international values of human rights. In fact, such images signify our shared history and humanity’s heritage.

Besides the public viewing of this exhibition, I am told that there will be schools guided tours, girl learner guided tours and photographic workshops which will be conducted, amongst other, by past and present World Press Photo winners. The workshops will be conducted in collaboration with the Market Photo Workshop. This training will include skills development in basic photography and visual literacy.

I am also very excited and grateful that there will be special focus on girls to promote women photographers as we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the protest march of over 20 000 women to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956. It is, indeed, a noble way of honouring those gallant women.

I trust that those that will benefit from this experience will invest their expertise in those that follow, so that we can continue this chain of knowledge and appreciation. In our society of today it is important that an approach be built on accepting the innate creativity of all people. A commitment must be made to giving everybody equal access to art and cultural resources, and actively encouraging our rich culture to express itself creatively, through art, design, music, photography and other means.

Given that the arts have an important role to play in education, the economy and social wellbeing, we want to see the arts grow without dictating directly or indirectly what they should be doing creatively. A vibrant, active and independent artistic community should therefore be the fabric of the society. This initiative by the World Press Photo is contributing largely to this development of the arts. The social and economic potential of press photography should not be undervalued.

Exhibitions are an educational tool to assist the formal educators to communicate and to implement new ideas within the photographic industry, whilst simultaneously promoting the future development of artistic and scientific talents of the already established skills of the industry. The education and job opportunities within photographic arena have been sadly neglected and unfortunately the digital era has not contributed greatly to the artistic quality of photography.

The value and contribution of photography to the cultural and social life of the community is often undervalued. The ordinary citizen often does not have the means to develop such an industry. Photography can provide a means to generate income for people and can contribute significantly to job-creation. We have not acknowledged photography as a sustainable industry and it has been largely part of the so-called second economy. It, therefore, needs to be developed into a viable industry.

We are involved in a very complex society and transitions taking place every day. We need to manage this transition carefully, to establish a strong civil society with vigilant and responsible citizens for a democratic culture to flourish in this splendid country of ours. The visual image of this complex society is brought forward by exhibitions like the one that we are viewing here tonight. This exhibition should serve as an incentive to the industry to make a difference in our society.

Our history in South Africa is told by photographs by our own world class photographers like Jurgen Schadeberg, Alf Khumalo, Bob Gosani and Peter Magubane. Women photographers like Lien Botha and Neo Ntsoma. As an award-winning graduate of Cape University of Technology and Technikon Pretoria, Ntsoma says: “I fell in love with the medium and never looked back. Memories from my childhood, which I never captured on camera, came back with such clarity. It felt like I had a calling to make the past live forever in images.” She has since won the CNN African Journalist of the Year photographic award and the National Geographic photo award for her project South African Youth ID: Kwaito Culture, which was showing recently in New York.

Photographers like Roger Ballen born in New York and living in South Africa for the last thirty years, who is known for his social comment in his publications also explores the shadow chamber of existence in his work and takes major leaps forward into a metaphoric dimension with multiple conscious and unconscious meaning. With his work he creates a way of seeing that makes an important and historic contribution to art photography.

Photography has assisted us in reconstructing our history and to deal with the unfortunate past. We have entered the “Age of Hope” and our photographs should depict that and contribute to the upliftment of our society. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to inform the community and the world of events and daily happenings around the globe. These visuals impact on our emotions and intellect. They inform us of injustices done to human and animal, the joys of celebration of a new life and the sadness of losing a life.

When we recently celebrated the 1976 Youth Uprisings on June 16, photographs once again played an important role in remembering this time in our rich history. Also, on 9 August when we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings we will again exhibit photographs that were taken on this day 50 years ago which are still playing a crucial role in history, constantly reminding us of what happened on that day.

Press photographs form the backbone of our National Archives. Photojournalist like Peter Magubane and others have made a valuable contribution to the recording of our new history and the rewriting of our past history that was distorted, which is now preserved in our archives for future generations.

The photographer as artistic expressionist contributes to the process of sharing a common interest and in creating communication channels between generations and between diverse cultures. Through the lens of the camera a history is written of diverse cultures, a growing democracy and the building of a strong nation.

I am aware that the issue of intellectual property rights and the royalties that photographers receive for their photographs, if any, are of great concern. I therefore urge photojournalists and other photographers to engage in discussion and debate around this matter and find a possible solution.

Your Excellency, Deputy Ambassador Wolters, may I also take this opportunity to thank the people of the Netherlands, our friends, for the support they gave the oppressed people of South Africa during the very difficult times under apartheid. We can never stop thanking you for what you did for us. We are sincerely grateful for your support.

Last year we were privileged to receive the audio-visual archives of the Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement here in South Africa. The permanent return of these images portray a significant contribution which journalists from all over the world made in capturing images of our struggle for democracy and freedom.

In some parts of the world, and here in South Africa, such valour was met with suppression, and in some instances, it even meant death. We should, therefore, take this occasion as an opportunity to pay tribute to those brave journalists who sacrificed their lives in the process of upholding the democratic values and principles of press freedom – freedom of expression.

And now, I have the pleasure of declaring the World Press Photo Exhibition officially open.

To all our international guests, please enjoy your stay in our beautiful country and may you have a great evening.

I thank you.