Swiss Press Photo 15 is an exhibition of work by award winning Swiss press photographers taken in 2014. The photographs have been divided into six categories – News, Daily Life, Swiss Stories, People, Sports and World. In all there must have been about 100 images on display with most being colour. This is the first exhibition I have attended where the images have been printed onto some form of material, hung in a darkened environment and then backlit to display the image. The result was a cross between a computer display and a cinema screen. For me it added to the viewing experience.
For me this exhibition was all about the importance of context. Without understand the subject matter or the background story it would have been difficult to appreciate many of the images. Yes they were all technically very good but without the context the viewer would have a sense of wanting. Clearly by the nature of the exhibition we know that each of the images relates to some journalistic event, and therefore they would have either been published in a newspaper, journal or on-line and they are of sufficient quality/importance to have won an award.
Take for instance the picture of a football match by Reto Oeschger (see link below). Clearly we see it is of goal mouth action and something has happened. The more astute will see the teams are Switzerland and Argentina but that is all we can determine. What we find out from the text that accompanies the picture is that this is indeed a match between Switzerland and Argentina at World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Switzerland are 1:0 down and only need a draw to stay in the competition. This photo captures the point where in the last few minutes the Swiss player Dzmaili heads the ball, which hits the post. The Swiss lose the game and are out the competition.
The question is then raised of how much is this a good photograph in its own right or does its weight rely 100% on the context. In this case the timing and positioning of the shot is judged well but I would argue the image relies 85% on context. In taking the context and the image as a total it does not matter. The image and the context are mere parts which add together to give us the viewer the total understanding.
There are times when without external context or information we are not aware can, just by looking at the picture, we are led to the wrong conclusion. Take for example the image by Jean Revillard (see link below). We see a young lady cowering and frightened behind a large metal door. All around there looks destruction – the fallen rock and the burnt floor. From what we see clearly it is a scene of conflict, fear and hopelessness– Syria perhaps.
Yet the reality could not be further from our deduction. “People with electro-hypersensitivity purportedly experience physical symptoms when exposed to electromagnetic fields. In order to get rid of any excess charge, they earth themselves. To recuperate they withdraw to places far from the electromagnetic fields caused by WiFi networks, aerials and transformers, such as the wilderness of the French departments of Drôme or Hautes-Alpes”. How would we ever know that?
Therefore with this image it is interesting that it works at two levels (1) in which we can draw a conclusion (albeit incorrect) because it is a very strong stand alone image (compared to that of the football match picture) (2) by given context it completely changes our understanding and in this case would have aroused our curiosity in that we would want to know more thus would read the text of the whole story if we had seen it in the original printed journal form.
Context is a complicated subject an one I hope is explored further in other modules.
Overall I enjoyed the exhibition, the quality of the images, the way it was laid out and learnt much from the context of each photograph of series of photographs.
The exhibition runs from 6th Nov 2015 to 31st Jan 2016 and is at Le Musée National Suisse (MNS), Château de Prangins, Prangins, Switzerland
Visited 17th Jan 2015
 Revillard, Jean (2015) Ondes – Au pays des éléctrosensensibles, Hebdo, in Swiss Press Awards [Online]
http://www.swisspressaward.ch/en/user/a00006262/showcase/4u2/ [Last Accessed 10 February 2016]