I was having a look at the winning images in this years World Press Photo competition and I was amused when I came across the third prize winner in the portrait stories category. Li Jiejun of the Chinese New Express Daily re-staged iconic war photographs using Action Men and GI Joe dolls. I'm a little bemused by how this qualifies as "portrait" photography but very amused at the same time.


© Neil Turner 1974

I don't know if you can remember the very first photograph that you ever took, but I can. I was ten years old and wanted to enter a photography competition at my primary school. I was playing with Action Man and GI Joe dolls a lot at the time and hit on the idea of setting up my band of partisans in my parent's back garden in a "realistic" pose.

It must have taken me quite a while - maybe twenty minutes - to get the dozen highly trained and battle hardened troops into the line up that you see above. I shot a whole two frames on the self set assignment and blew the other eight frames on the 620 format roll of film on snaps of my school friends.

Had there been a category in the competition for portraits/stories I might well have come third. As it was I didn't come anywhere and my picture wasn't even chosen for the consolation display outside the head teacher's office. I remember feeling at the time that the judges hadn't really grasped the deeply intellectual nature of my work and now that a similar genre of work has made the grade at World Press Photo I think that I would be justified in going back to the school, tracking the judges down and giving them a piece of my mind!

History has a strange way of teaching us a few lessons. I should have had the self-confidence to be proud of my work. I should have known that I was 35 years ahead of my time. I'm glad that losing that competition didn't do any lasting damage to my photographic ambitions but it was another four years before I actually had another go at taking pictures and a full seven years before I owned my first proper SLR.

World Press Photo is there to push a few boundaries, ask a few questions and give us all something to aspire to. There are, as always, some amazing images mixed with others that leave you wondering what the jury were thinking of. That's the thing about photography... good or bad? Winner or loser? It's all so subjective.

© Neil Turner February 2009

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