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I went recently to the opening of the Nikon-Walkley press photo awards touring show at the Adelaide Festival Centre Artspace Gallery, on until 16 February. The event was preceded by a symposium on new media and photography. Directed mainly at tertiary media students, the discussion skirted around issues of photojournalism, education, interning, and so on. Photojournalist Nick Moir shared some of his experience shooting conflict. Picture editor Emma Brasier talked about the importance of credibility and reliability. Fivethousand editor Angela Schilling emphasised the importance of interning and cultivating experience. Greg Ackland, photography lecturer from Adelaide TAFE gave a view into his own curiosity and interests by talking about how artists like Adam Magyar and Daniel Crooks were using technology and photography to create, in his words, “innovative and quirky things”. Ackland hardly outlined a straightforward pathway into photojournalism, but he did take the discussion into the poetic. The assembled and generally enthusiastic media students responded well to both the practicalities of the journalists and the curiosity of the artists. The expansion of documentary practice into the poetic is a broader topic for another time, but it was gratifying to see it get a working out in this forum.

The main reason for the event itself, the Awards, showed us a more strictly-defined set of images. The images on the walls were mostly examples of straight photojournalism around a variety of topics in the news. There was a series on the rebellion in Syria from Ed Giles, a look at a little-known conflict in Burma by Steve Tickner, some strong news images from Australia and Hong Kong by Brian Massey. There was a combination of individual images and photographs in series, something we don’t see enough with news pictures. Most of the images are strong and striking; they and their stories deserve to be looked at more closely.

WalkleyFlickrPage

[Flickr page for the 2013 Nikon-Walkley Photojournalism Awards]

What I found most striking was the number of images that dealt with the issue of asylum-seekers, a fraught issue in Australia made more complicated in the public imagination by the Australian Government’s stance of obfuscation about boat arrivals.

Kate Geraghty’s photograph of asylum seekers showing the camera their IDs, for example, goes a long way towards personalizing and humanizing them, not just by showing their faces, but their names on their cards. It gainsays the typical incognito position that such people are often placed in (often for claims of privacy) and makes a direct plea for them to be known and individualized.

Barat Ali-Batoor’s photo essay of a journey of a group of Hazara asylum-seekers attempting the journey to Australia by boat is striking not just because the pictures show the actual attempt (getting a call at midnight about the boat being ready, people at sea popping up from under the decking for fresh air, lifejacketed passengers calling for help in the rain as their boat takes on water), but for the fact that Ali-Batoor himself is an asylum-seeker. It’s a view from the inside of the experience. Ali-Batoor eventually made it Australia.

What is interesting about a lot of this year’s Walkley images is that they were first published in the The Global Mail, a recently established news site from Australia that provide an independent look at issues with longform and multimedia storytelling. AubreyBelford, for example, has a story about meeting Ali-Batoor. Unfortunately it looks like the philanthropic support that the Global Mail has relied on so far needs to be replaced by another source of funds. Part of the strength of the Walkleys is that a publication like The Global Mail created a space for longer stories, extended analysis, and a novel use of images. It is a fascinating and valuable experiment that ought to continue.