Interview > Javier Arcenillas about Latin America

©Javier Arcenillas 

Photojournalist Javier Arcenillas, winner of the third World Press Photo 2018 award in the category of Long-Term Projects with “LatidoAmerica”, tells of his experience in the continent to Silvia Omedes, Director of our foundation.

Silvia Omedes (SO) What does it mean to you to have won a World Press Photo?

Javier Arcenillas (JA) For me, winning a World Press Photo award means a lot, because what I like most about my profession is that my work is broadcasted in all parts of the world. And that’s guaranteed with World Press Photo.

It is also a major milestone in my resume as a photojournalist. I could almost erase half of it and just say I have the World Press Photo. And finally, I am very proud: I believe that the prize is the aspiration of many photojournalists. In my case, it’s my “doctorate” for a job, or I feel that way.

The World Press Photo is a recognition of a project I have worked on for a long time. It’s not a great picture taken in a tense moment with some skill. No.  It is a reward for a job that has involved a lot of reflection, a lot of patience and sensitivity, a lot of time and money wasted, and a lot of emotional loss as I have lost friends along the way.

SO. Your photographs of Latin America often depict a violent and troubled society…

JA. It’s true. And in my opinion one of the reasons why this is the case is because of poor social planning, and insufficient and low-quality public education. I do not believe that we should invest in security, but in education. By this I don’t mean that the people there are all bad. On the contrary, they are rich in spirit, heart and as intelligent as we are, no one here is above anyone else. But, in many of these countries, the situation of state education is very bad: you only study if you can afford to go to a private school. And few can.

I take pictures of murderers, but I try not to judge. Is the killer guilty? Yeah… but what do we know about them? Why have they come to that? They are probably the result of a consequence, and that consequence is what I am trying to find out…, in a psychologically disturbed society.

When I’m there I try to understand them and be with them. When I go there I try to empathize with them and with the situation. And I’ve built up a lot of bonding there. Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, for me are my home.

SO. Your award-winning work is in the Long-Term Projects category…

JA. Yes, and that’s how I conceive my photographs. It is not that they do not exist “alone” but they have complete meaning in the context of long, time-consuming projects. And in which reflection, thought and technique are very present. I photograph to make a complete work together. I am not a “mono-picture maker” of photos. I feel the need to tell a complete story.

In this World Press Photo 2018, Daniel Beltrá has also been awarded for his work, but Daniel has been doing this “little job” for 20 years!

SO. Feeling the World Press Photo as a culmination to 9 years of dedication to a theme… Which one would you like to face in the next years? Can you tell us about a future project?

JA. I would like to do some fun photojournalism, not hopeful but purely fun, that makes you laugh. But I can’t do it, it’s hard for me.

I also like sports photography very much, because sport in general encompasses many feelings. A few years ago I liked a series of amateur portraits, also awarded in World Press Photo. And I thought: I want to do this! The portraits reflected the beautiful suffering of the fans, and the photographer had known how to see and reflect it in a wonderful way.

SO. Do you think that the legacy and the photographic canon with which we have built the memory of the 20th century corresponds to reality?

JA. No, of course not, photography and photojournalism are very hypocritical. I am not saying that they are not good and that they have not done great things but it is very hypocritical. We select a plot of what can be counted, there is no 360 degrees in anything we count. It would be necessary to establish some codes to know those situations that are photographed, since the different points of view of the different photographers towards the same photo/reality are not visible.

Photojournalism is also very Anglo-Saxon, very white and very macho. I would love to change that, and make room for all cultures, and for women. In this regard, we should be inflexible, and support women more strongly in presenting themselves to World Press Photo. I personally hate the expression “women’s point of view’. For me it’s always a photographer’s point of view. And the woman hasn’t been around until recently.

Joana Biarnés, a pioneer photojournalist in Spain, had to endure a lot in her professional career. I don’t think many male photographers are up to their moral standards….

SO. In this sense, what responsibility do you think the most prestigious international competitions such as the World Press Photo have had?

JA. They have a lot of responsibility. But little by little they are making efforts to open up paths to other cultures and increase the presence of female photojournalists.

As an advice I would recommend that they should not be so “Taliban” with the realities and societies they are looking at, that they should be much more open to Latin America, to Africa and to underdeveloped Asian societies. Photography and the diffusion of images benefit from all this, which is what I want as a photographer. I don’t want to win awards myself.