THE PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF CANADA

World Press Photo - October 18th, 2006

Lesley Sparks

In the fall of 2002, Toronto hosted a show of award winning photojournalism photographs from around the world. This exciting and controversial exhibition was brought here through the efforts of our speaker, Lesley Sparks.

Lesley has a long time interest in photography, especially documentary photography dating back to her childhood in London, Ontario. She feels strongly that photography offers equal opportunities to everyone. She was attracted to Toronto and Ryerson after graduating from high school, but returned home to complete her post secondary education at Fanshawe College.

Around 1980 Lesley joined Kodak in Toronto, beginning in the mail room and performing a variety of jobs over the next half dozen years, while never losing interest in her favourite documentary photography. 

Lesley was in Kodak's Marketing Information centre around 1989 when teachers began calling and asking for school programs. Leslie accepted the challenge and became Kodak's prime contact for these programs, a job she kept until 1997 when Kodak cut all education programs. At this point, Leslie left Kodak and worked with CONTACT, the annual Toronto photography show, which was just starting up.

Lesley Sparks by Robert Lansdale
Lesley sparks by
Robert Lansdale
Mexico City DVD

The World Press Photo exhibitions feature the best of the previous year's news photographs. A WPP award is considered the Oscar of photojournalism. Based in Amsterdam, World Press Photo receives support from the Dutch Postcode Lottery and is sponsored worldwide by Canon (cameras) and TNT (global express). Since 1955, the annual exhibitions of prize-winning photojournalism have brought world affairs and news to people worldwide, especially in countries without access to news events of the day. An illustrated catalogue gives added information on the WPP and the winning photographs and photographers.  Currently the travelling exhibition reaches over 2 million people in 40 countries.

In addition to the published catalogue, the WPP offers the exhibition co-ordinators a short DVD introducing the organization and its objectives. Each year a small selection of winning photographs are approved for promotional use outside the exhibition venue.

Sydney DVD
Stephen Mayes DVD

Lesley learned of the WPP while visiting Europe. In the late 1990s France hosted outdoor projection nights in late summer. The 2001 program featured a series of images on Afghanistan. These three story high projected images left a strong impression on Lesley. On her flight back home, she saw one fellow traveller wearing a burqa. The flight landed in Montreal on September 11th midst some confusion. Leslie and the rest of the passengers were unaware of the details of the tragic events that occurred in New York and Washington that day. 

Realizing the gap between the North American view of the world and what was happening elsewhere in places like Afghanistan, Leslie was determined to bring the World Press Photo exhibition to Toronto. The following year, she lined up the Globe & Mail as a sponsor and secured the Atrium at BCE Place as a venue for the WPP 2002 exhibition in October of 2002.

 Her efforts were nearly lost through a single negative incident. One of the tenants in BCE Place ran a fire drill during the first days of the show. One employee took exception to a picture taken at the World Trade Center on 9/11 of a body falling past the windows of the doomed building. Neither Lesley nor Brookfield, the company managing BCE Place, was informed of any complaints. Instead, the person contacted the National Post newspaper's gossip columnist and next morning's Post had a column headline "BCE PLACE IN BAD TASTE".

 Brookfield asked her to remove the offending image which under the WPP terms of the exhibition would have meant closing the entire show. That night Leslie emailed all those on her contact list and requested their help. Brookfield was flooded with supportive emails and fortunately withdrew their request.

Introduction to WPP
Slides from the WPP
Introduction DVD
WPP 02 Image
The controversial 2001
image from the 2002
Exhibition
WPP 06 Toronto Brochure

The following year started out even worse. If you lived in Toronto or read any of the news that summer, you know that SARS hit the city and Toronto was wracked with cancelled events. In the midst of this turmoil, Lesley received a call from Brookfield offering her the Atrium again, and some funding.

 By the 2004 exhibition, the Toronto show was in good financial shape. Lesley, now sensitive to the impact of controversial images such as the decapitation in one Liberian photograph, arranged for a small enclosed "room" at the exhibition. Visitors entering the room, first saw a warning about the images on display. 

An Ad agency helped with the 2005 show. Sponsors were lined up and an 8 page colour brochure was printed giving the viewing public information to take home.

 

      

WPP 06
brochure
for the
Toronto
showing
WPP 06 Catalogue Cover
WPP 06
Catalogue
featuring
Finnbarr O'Reilly's
Photograph of a
mother and child
in Niger, Africa

This year's exhibition began with the digital submission of some 83,000 photos taken by 4,500 photographers included 99 Canadians. Fourteen jurors reviewed the images, selecting those that merited further attention. This subset was evaluated further and eventually reduced to less than 200 images in various categories. The images were ranked as first, second, third and honourable mention.

Each year one of the final images is chosen as "World Press Photo of the Year" and featured on exhibition posters. This year, the Photo of the Year is a portrait of a young mother (Fatou Ousseini) at an emergency feeding centre in Northwestern Niger, her malnourished child's hand touching her lips. The picture was taken by Canadian photographer Finbarr O'Reily working in Africa for Reuters.

 While the exhibition has sponsors, its success is based on word of mouth advertising. In Toronto, the exhibition is held free of charge in a public space and viewed by tens of thousands of visitors with thousands more taking a causal peek on their way to other destinations in BCE Place.

The night following this year's launch, Leslie hosted a special evening for high school teachers which resulted in attendance by students from over 60 high schools. The students were given assignments to complete while viewing the exhibition. 

In North America, the travelling exhibition is also shown in Montreal and New York. Visitors to last year's exhibition in Montreal donated $6,000. This year, the Montreal venue charged $5 admission to its 18,000 attendees.   

By offering great pictures and working with the young, the annual World Press Photo exhibition heightens awareness of global issues.

Attendees at the PHSC meeting received a copy of the 2006 brochure and the opportunity to purchase the World Press Photo 06 catalogue.

Students on Assignment
Warning Poster
Students doing an
assigment at the show
Bull Attacking Horse - Henry Agudelo
Warning Poster
Viewers in BCE Place
Looking Across to Melilla - Olivier Jobard
Viewers in BCE Place
Helping in Freetown - Yannis Kontos
public viewing at
BCE Place, Toronto
Australian Jockey Club - M & J Evans

You can see these photos and all the other award winners in the World Press Photo 06 catalogue published by Thames & Hudson. 183 illustrations, 108 in colour ($35.00 CDN).

Shown here are:
1st Prize Singles - Bull Attacking Horse - Henry Agudelo
1st Prize Stories - Looking Across to Melilla - Olivier Jobard
1st Prize Singles - Helping in Freetown - Yannis Kontos
1st Prize Stories - Australian Jockey Club - M & J Evans
2nd Prize Singles - Featherweight Jo'burg - Sydney Seshibedi

Featherweight Jo'burg - Sydney Seshibedi

Except for Lesley's portrait and the cover scans, the images show here were captured from the screen with a Sony F828 camera and adjusted in Photoshop CS2 and Lightroom Beta 4. The screen capture images are ©2006 by WPP or Lesley Sparks. The portrait is ©2006 by Robert Lansdale. Contact PHSC if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

Click on the small images to see a larger version in a separate window.

Bob Carter

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