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Editorial: Can there be too much coverage of a conflict?

by Jean François Leroy


The question may seem disrespectful, but it still needs to be asked, and answered. The program at Visa pour l’Image this year features three exhibitions on the battle for Mosul: Laurent Van der Stockt for Le Monde, Alvaro Canovas for Paris Match, and Lorenzo Meloni for Magnum Photos, with Meloni having a more general approach presenting the collapse of the caliphate. The brutality of the attacks and the geopolitical issues involved are so critical that the battle certainly deserves attention, and extended attention. So there are three exhibitions: of a total of 25, three are on the battle for Mosul. As André Gide said: “Everything has already been said, but as no one was listening, it has to be said all over again.”

At Visa pour l’Image, our ambition is to show and see the whole world, and so we have wondered why, of the thirty or so armed conflicts around the world, only a small number are covered by a large proportion of photojournalists. Of the many stories submitted and reviewed by our teams, a few dozen, either directly or indirectly, have been on Mosul. And for the first time ever in the history of the festival, the four nominees for the Paris Match Visa d’or News award are on the same subject: Mosul.

What about Raqqa? What about the insidious, unnoticed civil wars wreaking havoc in Africa, for example, in Mali, Burundi, the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya? And what about the fight against the drug trade in Mexico, the second most deadly conflict in 2016? And if we want to keep talking about ISIS, what about its development in the Philippines ?

A few weeks ago, a photographer who had just returned from Mosul was indignant because he had not been able to sell his photos to a single newspaper, so decided to put them on line, free of charge. That decision is so absurd it scarcely deserves comment, yet it does raise one basic question: have picture editors seen too many stories on Mosul?

One of the great names in photojournalism, Don McCullin, drove the point home when speaking in Perpignan a few years ago: “Before you go off and cover wars, cover the poverty you see outside your own front door.” He has already said it, no doubt many times, but as nobody was listening, it has to be said all over again.

Jean-François Leroy
July 10, 2017