The European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) has been in operation since 1985, providing the world with unique, powerful news photography. In the Agency’s own words, “No information is more authentic than professional news photography.”
Maria Mann is the director for international relations for the EPA. Previously, Mann was director of global current events at Corbis and also worked at the Agence France Presse in Paris.
In this interview, she talks about the current state of photojournalism while offering her advice on how photographers can stand out from the crowd. As a portfolio reviewer at the upcoming LensCulture / World Press Photo Portfolio Reviews 2016, she also speaks to how to get the most out of these valuable, career-building events.
LC: You have worked with EPA for many years. Can you say a bit more about your role there as Director for International Relations? What have been some of the most personally rewarding aspects of this position?
MM: My role has given me enormous opportunities to make known the work of our global photojournalists and the stories they document. It has also allowed me to meet a tremendous number of talented photojournalists, NGO leaders and volunteers. I participate on juries and curate exhibits on international issues, something I consider a privilege.
Within EPA, I coach our photographers—across many countries—in techniques of story development and methods of improving their communication and interpretational skills. This also involves being available for them when they need to talk about difficult situations in conflict areas, or when they are simply stuck as to where to take a story next. When they succeed, I am very proud of them—and this, to me, is the most rewarding.
LC: At the moment, it feels that we are being bombarded with visual inputs—what, then, are the characteristics that allow a photographic project to stand out and arouse your interest?
MM: “Bombarded” is the perfect word. Technology brings with it the irresistible temptation to produce far too much, transmit far too much—often without thought or feeling.
We have turned into a “Why Not?” society, instead of “Why?” The most important aspects of photography are knowledge of the situation, connection with the subject, anticipation of events and the understanding that with privilege comes responsibility.
What stands out for me is the ability of a photographer to produce an image or set of images that communicates immediately. It is visceral, emotional and intellectual—in that order. Each image should have its own weight. If this constellation occurs, the photograph has succeeded.
LC: Through the increased use of freelancers’ work, what has changed about the information that wire agencies provide? How important are freelancers for agencies today? What will the future look like in this regard?
MM: With staffs in many media outlets growing smaller, freelancers play a more important role because of their availability, geographic location and knowledge of the stories in their areas. Doing consistently good work and being able to transmit quickly can lead to a contract or eventually a permanent job offer.
The future can look bright or bleak depending on the medium for which they work—as well as the personality of the photographer. Freelancers must also work at being published, getting their work out on social media and networking. It is not an easy undertaking.
LC: Long-term photography projects are not new, but increasing numbers of photographers are embracing in-depth storytelling and creating series over longer periods of time. What are your thoughts regarding this growing trend?
MM: Long-term projects are one of my passions. We encourage our own photographers to undertake them whenever possible. For freelancers, it is a challenge to find a publication to buy into their idea, and funding does not come easily. There are a number of grants available, but photographers need to be aware of them and keep applying with unflagging persistence.
LC: You’ve been a portfolio reviewer on several occasions. What are a few pieces of advice you find yourself offering most frequently to aspiring or emerging photographers? And what are a few things that photographers can do to present their work in the best possible light during these occasions?
MM: The most important thing I can say is that I have never hired a portfolio. But I have hired many photojournalists because of who they are, how they present themselves and whether they have developed a visual language.In other words, I need for the person to be able to talk to me, tell me why they do what they do and where they want to go. They cannot show scattered images with no meaning, nor can they proclaim their desire to become an instant war photographer without a compelling context behind this dream. Sincerity, connectivity, intelligence and a good sense of the world around us are all important. Oh yes and humour, that’s essential.