“The underlying theme to this year’s judging was good storytelling, good narrative threads,” says Keith W. Jenkins, chair of the 2013 World Press Photo Multimedia Contest jury. “There is a place for technique and technology used, but that was not primary for us. Did the piece have structure? Did it keep our attention? Was it enjoyable? Did we learn something? Was it likely to be successful?”
For the third annual WPP Multimedia Contest, the seven-member jury briefly considered each of the 287 submissions, selected 48 to view in their entireties and honored ten with awards.
“The quality level was much, much higher” this year, says Jenkins, who also chaired the jury last year. “There are two reasons for that: the field continues to evolve and the rules were much clearer this year. The previous year there was some confusion about how we were treating photography as part of the projects. This year we focused on storytelling.”
Despite a history as a photography contest going back to 1955, WPP this year for the first time did not require still photographs to be included in multimedia submissions. Some of the winners used only video; in some cases, they used multiple video tracks, allowing viewers to follow different story lines.
First prize in the Online Short category went to “Into the Shadows,” a five-minute black-and-white documentary about refugees in Johannesburg by Pep Bonet of Noor. The winner in the Online Feature group was “Too Young to Wed,” a six-and-a-half minute piece about a 15-year-old Ethiopian wife and mother, made by Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock of VII Photo with support from UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund).
In the Interactive Documentary category, the winner was “Alma: A Tale of Violence,” a 40-minute portrait of a young woman caught up in the brutality of gang life in Guatemala City by Miquel Dewever-Plana and Isabelle Fougère, a French team with backing from Agence VU and the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée, among other organizations.
An honorable mention was awarded to “Unknown Spring,” an independent project by New York City-based photojournalist Jake Price about a Japanese town recovering from the 2011 tsunami.
Though the contest honored complex narratives, Jenkins, who was supervising senior producer of multimedia at National Public Radio when he sat on the jury and has since joined National Geographic as director of online photography, reports that this year’s winners tended to make restrained use of online multimedia tools.
“Bells and whistles can get in the way of things,” says Jenkins. “Fancy techniques and complicated navigation can be distractions. Most of the projects we saw really didn’t go down that road. Most presented their stories pretty straight.”
Just three years ago, says Jenkins, most of the WPP Multimedia Contest submissions were produced using Adobe Flash. This year, most projects were produced using HTML5, the latest version of open source hypertext markup language.
“HTML5 allows interactivity on the browser without plug-ins,” Jenkins explains. “It takes less overhead, less technology, less bandwidth and it plays on any browser.”
The degree and kind of interactivity provided by the interactive documentaries differs greatly.
Interactivity, says Jenkins, “gives you a way to move through a piece in different ways. You can just hit play or you can jump around. ‘Bear 71’ [a 20-minute National Film Board of Canada interactive documentary] actually lets you be the storyteller. ‘Alma’ gave you a way out of the hardcore.”
Viewers troubled by the video confession of horrific gang crimes in “Alma” can click on frames for background information on Guatemala, gangs and violence-prevention efforts.
Jenkins singles out the Los Angeles Times, which won two WPP Multimedia Contest second prizes for Web documentaries on a transgendered youth and a prescription drug addict, as an exemplar of the effective use of new media.
“These are good stories told in a very cinematic style,” Jenkins says. “You’re seeing a short film, not a news video.”
The fact that most of the WPP Multimedia Contest winners had major newspapers, photo agencies and national news organization affiliations worries photographer Susan Meiselas, who served on the jury with Jenkins.
“As a photographer I see challenges ahead,” says Meiselas. “There is tremendous potential, but most of the submissions were by a few principle media companies. These are considerable investments of teams of people, not individually authored. There are significant differences in ambition and the scale of productions. These issues need to be sorted out thoughtfully by World Press Photo.”
But Jenkins points to the fact that indie projects did get recognition this year as a positive sign.
“You don’t necessarily have to have a big agency or news organization behind you to do well,” insists Jenkins.