Once again, it’s that time of year for photographers, agency reps, editors (and groupies) to descend on the French city of Perpignan to celebrate the world’s oldest international photojournalism festival, Visa pour l’Image.

Founded by Jean-François Leroy, Visa — as it is commonly known — has been a hub for the global photojournalism community since 1989. During the professional week, held from August 31 to September 6, a stream of eager young photographers looking to show their portfolios line up at the Palais des Congres, while at night, the emblematic Café de la Poste transforms into a meeting point for those simply wanting to catch up.

Recently, Blink’s Kyla Woods spoke with the director of the festival, Mr. Jean-François Leroy, to discuss the beginnings of the festival and how it is moving into the future.

Kyla Woods (KW): You were a journalist before you started Visa pour l’Image. Can you talk about how and why you started Visa?

J-F Leroy (JFL): I started as a writer and then tried my hand at photojournalism. I quickly realised that I was terrible, and that’s when I started something that was quite new at that time — Visa pour l’Image, a photojournalism festival that has become as much a part of me, as I am part of it.

The incredible thing is that photojournalists really witness the world. For the longest time, I wanted to be one of these people — but soon learned I was better at promoting the work of these individuals. So, my passion turned into the creation of a gathering point for industry representatives; where professional photographers, and photo editors could meet with emerging talent, discuss and support current photojournalism. It always fascinates me as to how receptive the general public has been to the festival. People crave new information, things that haven’t been published or have had very little visibility. We live in a society that has accepted and relishes the disposability of the news content. This festival overcomes that cycle by offering a stable platform for reliable and free information.

KW: Can you speak about this year’s festival?

JFL: We tried to combine emerging talent with established photographers — this year, eight upcoming photographers will have their first exhibition at Visa pour l’Image, and they will be shown in conjunction with renowned photographers like Lynsey Addario and Bülent Kilic. We have always exposed new talent to the world. For example, Visa was the first festival to give Stanley Greene and Laurent Van der Stockt an exhibition. This rich history proves how the festival still has relevance and will continue to do so.

KW: What are your thoughts on photojournalism today? What is the value of it?

JFL: I think you can gauge the value of photojournalism by how receptive it is to the world. For example, when I speak to students during the education week, I am in awe of their inquisition and eagerness. Photojournalism is expanding everyday, with the inundation of new online platforms and easy access to stories.

KW: Please tell us about the conference with Lars Boeing, the Director of the World Press Photo?

JFL: This year, we decided that Visa would not to exhibit World Press Photo. We are a photojournalism festival and we take pride in exhibiting images that have been produced honestly. This is not to say I don’t respect Lars or World Press Photo. In fact, this is why I am having this talk with him, so that we can discuss the future of photojournalism and the honesty that these images should depict.

KW: What’s Visa’s Transmission?

JFL: “Transmission pour l’image” was created because of the need to transmit information, ideas and concepts from one generation of photojournalists to another. We have hosted it since 2010.

It lasts three days, and consists of two programs; one held in the morning and then another held in the evening. This year’s instructors include Christopher Morris (who will be running Transmission), Alice Gabriner, João Silva, Stephan Vanfleteren and Bülent Kiliç, all of whom are incredibly talented professionals.

However, it is not a portfolio review, or a “how to take photos” lecture. It really is aimed at delving into the deeper issues as these professionals talk about how to create an individual visual identity, the changing dynamics of the industry, how to deal with tough situations, ethics, etc. to over a dozen participants.

KW: What advice would you give to young photographers who visit Visa and are interested in pursuing a career in photojournalism?

JFL: You have to work hard to be a successful photojournalist. Read and immerse yourself in this world. If you are thinking of a subject, research it and make sure that you find a new angle.

For those of you who are coming to Visa, and want to see picture editors, please try to schedule an appointment. At the same time, understand that these people are only human, and the professional week is busy and stressful. Don’t be alarmed if a scheduled appointment is cancelled. Re-schedule it with a polite and non-aggressive approach.

KW: What do you see as the future of Visa? How will this year’s festival be focusing on engaging new audiences?

JFL: One of the most important things for me is securing the future of Visa. I understand that the only way to do this is by bringing in young minds who know the industry, understand photojournalism and can imagine how it could progress. We are in an age of infinite possibility, and I am optimistic about those who I have chosen to help see Visa into the future. I am interested in passing the reins onto someone else, and I have a few candidates that surpass the necessary criteria.

In general, we are taking all the steps to reach a new audience. For example, we have hired a team of digital strategists to work on our social media presence across platforms.

We are also collaborating with interesting projects — ones that push the boundaries of photojournalism, as well as holding innovative conferences that will then be broadcast for those who could not make it to the festival.

KW: Do you have any plans for the 30th year anniversary?

JFL: Hopefully, and I say hopefully because many things can change in three years, we will be introducing more interactive displays. We will also be hosting discussions with some of the first Visa-exhibited photojournalists to celebrate the rich history of the festival.

—Jean-François Leroy, interviewed by Kyla Woods

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Visa pour l’Image is the premier International Festival of Photojournalism. It is held in Perpignan, France each year. This festival is a unique event where you can join thousands of kindred spirits who share a love and passion for photography. View the greatest photojournalist work from around the world in exhibitions across the city.