Driven by one man, but now drawing thousands, Visa pour l’Image has become an unmissable event for anyone who’s serious about photojournalism. As the festival celebrates its 25th anniversary, we look at what makes it so important and why it’s especially close to our hearts.

It’s a perfect late summer evening in a small French town, close to the border with Spain. In the ancient market square, the tables outside the many bars and restaurants are overflowing with customers. Every other available space is thronged by visitors of all ages, from many countries. At one end of the square, the focus of everyone’s attention, a huge screen shows a succession of extraordinary images. Images from places where conflict, destruction and suffering prevail.

For this is Perpignan. This is Visa pour l’Image, the world’s biggest and most influential festival of photojournalism. And those in attendance are pretty much everyone who matters in the industry. The photographers who have created the images: the veterans, their faces marked by the witnessing of too much pain, and the young hopefuls, thrilled to be there and ambitious for the future. The people who represent and distribute their work. And the people who buy it.

They’re drawn to Visa, year after year, by the opportunity to see an unrivalled assembly of photojournalism at the various exhibitions and daily screenings, much of it never shown before. They also come to be part of what is undoubtedly the industry’s primary meeting point, to network with colleagues, friends and even rivals.

“Every community needs that one event where you can all get together to meet, discuss, cry, laugh, joke, raise a glass of memory, to discuss your industry…and there’s none better for that than Visa pour l’Image,” says Aidan Sullivan, VP for Photo Assignments at Getty Images.

Aidan was there for the second edition of Visa, when the attendance numbered barely a hundred, and hasn’t missed one since.
This year, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, around 4,000 people will be officially accredited and many thousands more will simply show up, sleeping in camp sites and on the beaches. Or simply not sleeping at all…Perpignan turns into a 24-hour town during Visa’s Professional Week.

Showing the flag at Visa

Getty Images has been a sponsor of the festival since 2008 and has built up an increasingly significant presence there, reflecting both the status of the event and our commitment to photojournalism. A big part of that presence now, is the once-in-a-year chance to bring our ever-expanding stable of photojournalists together.

“That’s hugely important,” Aidan emphasizes, “because most photojournalists tend to be rather solitary. I try to encourage our guys to come, so they actually get a chance to socialise with other members of the industry.” “You’ve got to remember that these guys can be on a shoot for three or six months in the middle of nowhere,” adds Adrian Murrell, our Senior VP for Editorial Imagery. “They have no idea what business is, what companies want to buy, to keep their existence going. We get them together and we tell them what’s happening in the industry.”

But our activities at Visa are mostly outward-facing. Our party on the Friday night has become one of the week’s focal points, and the Getty Images stand in the Palais des Congrès is something of a magnet, especially for young photographers.

Visa is also the perfect forum for announcing the results of the annual Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography. This program has been supporting photographers since 2005, awarding nearly $1m to help them with projects of personal or journalistic significance. We help the winners come to Perpignan, where they get great exposure and a fantastic showcase for their work.

“We’ve grown our reportage business from almost nothing, and it’s now got a real place in the business,” Adrian points out. “And we felt it was good to put something into Visa specifically, because it matters. Photography there matters. It’s not so commercial, but it’s people who are very passionate and care about the world.”

In fact ‘passion’ is most definitely the hallmark of Visa. And much of that emanates from Jean-François Leroy, the man who dreamt up the festival and has driven it ever since. “It’s one of those extraordinary stories of a man with a vision,” according to Aidan. “A man comes along with determination, huge energy and absolute stoicism…he’s just so determined and persuasive and single-minded. And he uses all those things to produce what has become, without doubt, the most important venue in our industry.”

With such commitment at its heart, the future for Visa – and for photojournalism in general, despite all the changes and challenges – can only be bright. “The business has changed,” Adrian admits. “It’s like the Industrial Revolution…and we’re in it. But the community in many ways seems to get bigger every year…there always seem to be more and more people down there. And all I see is a raise in the quality of shooting.”

For the full lowdown on this year’s Visa pour l’Image, visit http://www.visapourlimage.com/index.do

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