Salvador Dali once pronounced Perpignan, in southern France, as the centre of the universe. For photojournalists who make the annual pilgrimage to Visa pour l’image, the world’s most important festival of photojournalism, Dali’s statement certainly holds true.
Perpignan itself is a medieval town with about 100,000 residents, about five hours from Paris by high-speed train. Located at the foothills of the Pyrenees not far from the Mediterranean, the city has a distinctly Catalonian feel. In fact, the Spanish border is only 50 kilometres away.
The Pro Week of the 21st Visa pour l’image kicked off on 31 July this year, and one of the festival’s drawcards is the opportunity for freelancers to show their portfolios to photo editors and hopefully sell some stories.
After arriving in Perpignan, everyone heads to pick up their accreditation at Hotel Pams, a grandiose, but now defunct 18th century hotel that houses the Visa pour l’image management and press offices during the festival. Everyone – including the Charby, the press office dog – is issued with a credit card-sized name tag that states whether the owner is a photographer, a member of the press, an agency, a sponsor, an institution or staff. In previous years, the different occupations were distinguished by a coloured strip – red for photographers, burgundy for agencies, blue for press and so on.
Although the strip was replaced by text this year, hungry freelancers such as myself spend an inordinate amount of time peering at name tags to see whether the owner might be from an high-profile publication such as National Geographic, Stern, Paris Match or The New York Times.