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The Visa Pour L'image Festival Catches its Breath

The Visa Pour L’image Festival Catches its Breath

After a 2020 edition held without any audience, the 33rd edition of the international photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France, opens its doors to the public again and continues to show a world in pain.
Kleidy fled the instability of Venezuela. Like Valeria and Denise, she found refuge in Casa Isabel, an emergency shelter for foreign minors in Ecuador. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the center’s capacity was reduced, but Kleidy was still able to stay there with her baby. Quito, Ecuador, February 1, 2021. Agnès Dherbeys / MYOP for the European Commission

The international photojournalism festival in Perpignan is back in full swing after a 2020 edition truncated by the pandemic. Visitors have once again taken over the exhibition spaces, and the photographers are also there to give tours, lectures and interviews. The projections of the best visual stories in outdoor screening are also back.

Obviously, some foreign photographers could not make the trip because of the sanitary measures still in force. But Perpignan vibrates again to the rhythm of the news and the upheavals of the world. The Armenian nightmare, with the precious work of Stéphane Agoudjian, the popular uprising in Burma covered by a photographer who remained anonymous for his safety, the double punishment of refugees during the health crisis by the Myop agency… All these photojournalists remind us through the strength of their images that the virus has not stopped conflicts, displacement of populations or natural disasters.

Distribution of food and clothes organized by the Artsakh authorities and various NGOs including the Red Cross. Stepanakert, capital of Artsakh. Antoine Agoudjian for Le Figaro Magazine

Tribute to Danish Siddiqui

The reunion would have been ideal if this edition had not been mourned by a tragedy. Danish Siddiqui was happy to travel to Perpignan and present his work on the health crisis in India. The Indian photojournalist was killed last July in Afghanistan while covering the Taliban offensive. His photos in India on display show his total commitment to his profession as a visual reporter. “A news photo is about capturing the moment to tell a story. But it must also respect the subject,” he said of his photos taken in New Delhi to document the Covid epidemic, an “invisible enemy”.

A man comforts a loved one whose father died of coronavirus. New Delhi, India, April 16, 2021. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Burial pyres of coronavirus victims inside a crematorium. New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

Éric Bouvet: 40 years surveying the world

Respecting the dignity of photographed people is the line of conduct applied by Eric Bouvet throughout his career. The 60-year-old photographer exhibits a selection of the best images he shot for new organizations during the last 40 years. From Afghanistan, covered since the early 1980s with the Gamma agency, to the “Yellow Vests” movement, Éric Bouvet has traveled the world to cover the major events of our recent history. His pictures of Kabul are terribly topical, for instance, that of a woman in a burqa alone in the middle of the ruins, taken in 2001. 

There is a strange impression that history is repeating itself, that the images are similar, 20 years later. Bouvet’s photos of Somalia and Chechnya plunge us into the unfathomable. A terrible vision of famine: a mother tries to breastfeed her newborn, but whose chest has only skin left. Sometimes, horror will prevent Eric Bouvet from pressing the shutter release. “Censorship as a banner, the lens at half-mast. However, he still continues today to bear witness, “in the service of the strict documentation of humanity.”

Chechnya, February 2000. I came to Grozny five times during the first war in 1995-1996, but I don’t recognize Minutka Square, the big southern gateway to the capital. Everything has been razed. I have just arrived, this is my first image. This woman was chased out of her house by the Russians who dynamite all the buildings for fear that the Chechen fighters would come back to hide there. Her husband and her two sons are dead, all she has left is the portrait of her husband and two carpets © Eric Bouvet
Kabul, Afghanistan, October 2001. Éric Bouvet

Syria: a decade of war

For 10 years, they too have tirelessly covered the agony of their country. Sixteen Syrian photographers are honored by Agence France Presse (AFP) in a major retrospective that looks back on this decade of war in Syria. Young Syrians who had never touched a camera before the beginning of the conflict. It remains perhaps the most striking image, that of Aeref Watad, of this child leaning on a pile of rusty shells, his eyes filled with anger and suffering. It was taken in Idlib Province in March 2021.

A man carrying a child in his suitcase walks towards Hamourieh, where an evacuation corridor has been opened to leave Eastern Ghouta. Beit Sawa, Eastern Ghouta, March 2018. Omar Sanadiki for UNOCHA
Near Ras al-Ain, families flee the area of clashes between Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces. Tell Tamer, Hassakeh, in northeastern Syria, October 15, 2019. © Delil Souleiman / AFP

A shaky republican ideal

There are series that hold the attention, that make people react. This one is one of them. Let’s underline the wonderful eye of Guillaume Herbaut. His work on the French Fifth Republic, “La Ve”, is a portrait full of irony and mischief of a country that is wavering, affected by the economic crisis, the “Yellow Vests” movements, the terrorist threat and a trembling republican ideal. Can institutions provide solutions to the crises that France is going through? That is the question his work asks. A photo shows a senator, slumped in his seat, snoozing during a question session with the government, provides an answer. A tasty detail: a photo of De Gaulle covers the back of this senator’s cell phone. The poor general would never recover.

Senator during the current affairs session with the Government. Senate, Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, June 24, 2020. Guillaume Herbaut / Agence VU’

Gun bless America!

Considering the reaction of the spectators in the exhibition room, the work of the Italian Gabriele Galimberti does not leave indifferent either. He had already done it by photographing the children of the world surrounded by their toys. He is doing it again for National Geographic, but this time with gun enthusiasts in the United States. Gabriele Galimberti knows the country well. This work is based on a statistic: there are more guns owned by individuals than inhabitants in the United States. However, her acquaintances do not have any guns in their homes. “But then, who owns all these guns? Through social networks, gun shops, shooting clubs, he manages to find those Americans who have more than 50 guns in their homes. “The Ameriguns” is a series with a mind-blowing mise-en-scene.

Stephen F. Wagner (66) – Town of State College, Pennsylvania Until the age of 50, Stephen had only hopes: he dreamed, he gauged, he studied history and patterns. Guns have fascinated him since childhood. Gabriele Galimberti / National Geographic

Alone, in couple, in family, of all ages, these citizens firmly attached to the second amendment of the American Constitution, pose proudly in the middle of insane collections of guns (from the key gun to the flamethrower), arranged geometrically. A delirious, not to say frightening, portrait of the gun culture in the land of excess. Perhaps we’d rather end with another face of America: David Burnett’s touching portraits of sports seniors. Field hockey players of 95 years old who force the respect. Wrinkles but above all smiles. A beautiful human story and a note of hope in a world that often doesn’t go round.

Brandon Brown (35), Ashtan (5) and Carson (3) – Harvest, Alabama Brandon Brown is rather terse: “I’m 35 years old, I’m from Huntsville and I love guns.” Single with two children, he lives and works near his hometown where he spent his entire childhood. Gabriele Galimberti / National Geographic


On Saturday, September 4, the traditional professional week ended with the Visa award ceremony. This was a first at Visa pour l’Image: the festival awarded the News Visa d’Or to a photographer who remained anonymous for security reasons, for his work on the “spring revolution” in Burma. “When I learned that a coup had just taken place in Burma on February 1, it was obvious to call on him, he is probably the best photographer in the country,” said Mikko Takkunen, photo editor for Asia at The New York Times, who has worked with the Burmese photographer for years. “Keeping a photographer anonymous is not a decision we take lightly, and it is always linked to the safety of our collaborators, which is our priority.”

Thousands of supporters of the National League for Democracy demonstrate. Some urge police to join their movement. Rangoon, Burma, February 6, 2021. Anonymous photographer in Burma for The New York Times

During this 33rd edition, the festival also wished to pay tribute to the famous Franco-Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, by awarding him the Figaro Magazine‘s Honorary Visa d’Or. “It is a great pleasure and honor,” said the photographer, now 77 years old. A prize that rewards a career spent documenting the condition of the poorest and the degradation of their environment.

© Sebastião Salgado

Par Michaël Naulin

Michaël Naulin is a journalist based in Paris. He is above all passionate about photography and more particularly photojournalism.

Festival Visa pour l’image de Perpignan, open every day until September 12, then September 18-19 and 25-26, 2021. Free admission.

Cover: Originally from Mai-Kadra, Tigray, Habrehaley (21) was beaten and left for dead by Amhara militiamen allied with the federal government. He was attacked, he says, because he is a Tigrayan. Amnesty International denounces a “massacre of civilians” in the Tigray region. Hamdayet, Sudan. Olivier Jobard / MYOP Winner of the Camille Lepage Award 2020

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