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14 / 09 / 2014
Answer from Jean Francois Leroy to Yunghi Kim
My answer to Yunghi Kim... (French version below)
Caught in the Crossfire
On Monday September 8, when the Visa pour l'Image professional week was over, I found my in box full of e mails: messages from private individuals, and also from associations in France (anti-racist and other groups). There were words such as revisionist, denier, disgust, anger, unspeakable, ignominious and many other violent terms used when referring to me, i.e. to myself and the festival to which I have devoted the last twenty-six years of my life. The issue at stake was the section on the Rwandan drama in Yunghi Kim's exhibition.
I was alone in Perpignan and staggered by the scale and virulence of the criticism. I made a decision, and that was to withdraw the ten pictures on the Rwanda story.
I immediately, and hastily, wrote a text, as a right of reply responding to the magazine 6 Mois which had "exposed" the controversy in an article by Mathieu Palain published under the title "L'Exposition qui réécrit l'Histoire" [The Exhibition that Rewrites History].
In my haste, I had forgotten to do what Mr. Palain as the author of the article should have done, i.e. give Yunghi Kim, and her agency (as well as the blog Lens which published a paper praising the exhibition) an opportunity to speak, rather than simply including a random quote.
I had done what I often criticize in some of the media: I had reacted in emergency mode, without checking the facts, without cross-checking different sources. I regret it, very sincerely.
Now I am caught in the crossfire. One side is targeting me on charges of revisionism for exhibiting work which circumvents the role the Hutus in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and from the other side I am the object of the wrath of those who consider I behaved like a fascist in censoring a photographer.
What side should I have chosen? Which is the right approach for honest journalism? Is it to display a photographer's work (which has been published and has won awards in the international press, including recently by Lens, the photojournalism blog of The New York Times) and so provide a forum for debate, or is it to refuse to do so?
Six days later, the answer now seems obvious to me, but I shall not be going back on the decision I made. I have never been to Rwanda, and I believe that this tragic period of history covered by Yunghi Kim deserves to be dealt with in greater depth, and requires explanations. This means stopping to think about it, and remaining rational and reasonable. This is also our role and out duty.
Yunghi Kim's photos on the Rwanda story will not be put back in the exhibition, but I wish to extend my apologies to her for the way I dealt with the situation.
Notwithstanding... While Yunghi Kim now says that she never made the comments attributed to her in the magazine 6 Mois, she did make them on another occasion, as seen in the following interview.
Visa pour l'Image defends photojournalists, and on Monday, September 8, we no doubt failed to do so. Once again, I regret this.
I hereby give a commitment for 2015, to invite Yunghi Kim to next year's festival so that a broad-ranging panel discussion can be held on the way journalists and photographers from different countries and backgrounds cover the same story.
A festival, and in particular Visa pour l'Image, should be a forum for debate, even when confronted with difficult and challenging subjects such as the 1994 genocide of the Tutsis. Showing evil, without ever making it appear ordinary or commonplace: this is our goal and has been our raison d'être for the past 26 years.
Jean François Leroy
I will not be responding to any comments regarding this post.