It’s that time of the year again. Messages keep popping up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds with the same questions: “Who’s going to Perpignan this year?”, “Who has a place to stay?”, “Can I share a ride?”
Perpignan is, without doubt, a rugby stronghold. But, once a year, around the first week of September, it’s the home of photojournalism, when thousands of photographers and photo editors, as well as sponsors such as Canon, Getty Images and France 24, to cite just three, gather in the French city to celebrate (or critique) the best of photojournalism produced over the past 12 months.
It’s time for Visa pour l’Image.
Since 2012, I’ve published my Beginner’s Guide to this festival, the world’s largest and most popular festival dedicated to photojournalism and press photography. This year, I wondered whether a new edition of that guide was needed. That was until, a few weeks ago, I received an email from a young Syrian photographer, who had a terrible experience in Perpignan in 2013 but who was cheered up to read that, seven years ago, when I first attended the festival, my experience was just as bad. In previous editions of this guide, I explained that attending Visa could be an overwhelming experience, especially for a young photographer fresh out of university. But, I argued that if you stick to it and come back the following years, you’ll start to realise how beneficial this festival can be for your work and your career.
This email convinced me to produce this edition of my guide, which, for the first time this year, is also published in French on Our Age is Thirteen, an amazing photography online magazine that deserves everyone’s attention (I’m especially talking to you, PR and marketing people reading this)!
When and Where
Professional Week at Visa pour l’Image takes place from Monday, September 1 to Sunday, September 7, 2014, with the bulk of the activities happening from Thursday to Saturday (this is when most photo editors are in Perpignan). I’m usually there from the first Monday, in order to find the time to see all of the exhibitions before the rush.
In the map below, you’ll find the location of all the exhibitions and official festival events, but also a few other useful addresses such as where to find free Wifi or a supermarket. This map will be updated in the coming days with details of some open-to-the-general-public parties and other events.
If you are an agency, a photographer or a third-party company and are holding an event you would like me to flag up on the map, let me know at olivierclaurent[at]gmail[dot]com.
Getting to Perpignan
From Perpignan Airport to the city center
There are taxis at the airport, but they can be expensive if you’re alone. The best numbers to use to call one are: +33 4 68 35 15 15 and +33 4 68 83 83 83 (a word of advice, when you order a taxi, it will come from Perpignan’s city center, so you’ll have to wait 20 minutes - so call as soon as your plane lands).
The city also runs a bus shuttle that departs around 30 minutes after your plane has landed (Perpignan Airport is very small, so it won’t take more than 15 minutes to clear customs). The shuttle costs around €5 and will get you to the centre of town in 20 minutes. Don’t miss it though, the bus driver won’t wait for you to finish your cigarette.
From Perpignan’s train station to the city center
You could grab a cab from the station to city centre, but with your luggage and other fees, you’ll end up paying a minimum of €15 for a five to 10 minute ride. Or you could just walk. The city centre is close to the station — 15 to 20 walking distance maximum.
Once you’ve made it into your hotel or rented flat (a lot of apartment owners will take the first week of September off to earn some cash by renting their flats to photojournalists), your first stop should be the city’s Palais des Congrès (see map above) where you’ll get your official accreditation, which costs €60.
I hear a lot of people complain about that price tag, but if you’re starting in photojournalism and want to meet some international photo editors, it’s worth the price (more on this later).
The Palais des Congrès is also where the large majority of talks, workshops and portfolio reviews take place - and a couple of rooms offer free Wi-Fi.
Each evening, from 9.45PM, the festival presents a series of photography screenings at Campo Santos (see map above). Each screening is made up of two parts – one part recounts what has happened around the world in the previous 12 months (with a thrilling, but repetitive music score), while the second part is dedicated to individual projects and photographers.
Do not be late, as once the show starts, the doors will be closed. Also, there are two lines to get in Campo Santos - one for badge holders and another one for the locals/non-badge holders. Both lines will be long, especially if you show up at 9.45PM.
The screenings last until 11PM - 11.30PM most nights. One piece of advice, if you know you’re going to have to leave earlier, find a seat on the left-end side of the theatre so you’re close to the left exit. If you’re on the right-end side, know that when you stand up to leave, you’ll be walking past most the photographers whose work is being shown, as well as the festival’s director and staff, as well as city officials.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the screenings can also be watched from Place de la République, allowing you to have dinner at a reasonable pace while watching the show. Best to book your table ahead of time!
Meetings with photo editors
For many photojournalists, Visa is the opportunity to meet with some of the world’s top photo editors. Each year, representatives of The New York Times, TIME, National Geographic, Stern, Geo, Le Monde, Washington Post, etc. come to the festival. And while most of them will have set up appointments with photographers they work with or are looking to hire for future shoots, some generous souls will spend some of their time looking at people’s work.
There are two predominant spots where you can meet these photo editors: on the second floor of the Palais des Congrès or on the 7th floor of that same building. The second floor is the official spot, where agencies will have stands as part of the festival’s media centre. This year, the following agencies have taken a stand:
(Yes, you’ve read that list correctly, some of the best-known photo agencies and collectives are not officially represented at the festival - go figure!)
Those that are there will have a schedule of available times for free portfolio reviews. But, show up early to secure a space – for example, in Getty Images’ case, if you don’t show up as soon as the doors of the Palais des Congrès open (Tuesday to Saturday at 10am), you will have missed your chance: within minutes, all of the day’s spots will have been booked - and you can’t book an appointment for the next day - you just have to get up early!
The Association Nationale des Iconographes (a fancy French word for Photo Editor) also hosts portfolio reviews on the second floor from 10am to 1pm and 3pm to 6pm, Monday, September 1 to Saturday, September 6.
Your second option – the unofficial one – is the 7th floor of the Palais des Congrès, where some photo editors will seat down at a table and look at photographers’ work (there is no assigned position, they will grab a table when they find one).
As I said, most often, these editors have already booked meetings with photographers they know and want to see – so my advice: email the editors you want to meet ahead of Visa pour l’Image. Yet, by coming to the 7th floor of the Palais, these photo editors know what they’re doing. They know that if they sit down at a table, a queue of photographers will form. This is how it works.
The best advice I can give you is to know who these editors are. With a bit of research on Google or even Facebook you should be able find out who is who. Ask the people in line as well - some petulent photographers will want to keep that knowledge to themselves, but trust me, photo editors can tell who they are!
A few words of advice, though. If you’ve been waiting in line for a hour to meet a photo editor and he or she decides to leave before you had a chance to show them your work, do not track them down or start arguing with them (I’ve seen it happen so many times!). Most likely, that editor has a good reason to leave, but more importantly, the last thing you want to do is annoy a potential future client. In a lot of cases, that editor will be back at the Palais des Congrès the following day.
Also it’s not because you have an opportunity to meet with The New York Times’ photo editors that you should actually show them your work – know whether you are ready to meet that person, if your work corresponds to what they usually publish, and ask yourself if you will be wasting their time or not. Sometimes, photo editors will appreciate being told: “I don’t think my work is good enough right now, but could I get your business card for next year?”
On the ground floor of the Palais des Congrès, Canon will also, at times, organize some portfolio reviews and other events. Check with their staff for more information.
The Famous Café de la Poste
Le Grand Café de la Poste has become one of the festival’s emblematic meeting points (see map above). In the beginning, this is where photojournalists on show at Visa would gather for a drink after the evening screenings. And year after year, they were be joined by other photographers, young and old, until the wee hours of the morning.
Since the Café is open 23 hours a day during professional week, you can expect to find photographers there even at 5AM, especially on Thursday, Friday and Saturday when the Café will be overtaken by more than 1500 of them. It’s overwhelming the first time you see it!
If you end up staying at La Poste until closing time, grab a bottle of wine, wait one hour until it opens up again, and you can finish your night or start your day with coffee and croissants.
This year, le Café de la Poste has been renovated. It has new fancy furniture, an improved bar, and a new menu (with new inflated prices!) but, be reassured, the funny and grumpy waiters are still there!
Who will I meet?
Visa pour l’Image has a great page on its site with the names of everyone that has checked-in at the Palais des Congrès to get their accreditations. It’s precious information, especially if you want to know which magazines and newspapers have sent photo editors.
Agence France-Presse, Getty Images, National Geographic, Canon, Paris Match, etc. will be organising private parties during professional week. The keyword here is “private”. Unless you’ve been formerly invited or are someone’s +1, you will not be allowed in. Sorry.
But on Saturday, Visa pour l’Image organises the official closing party at the Couvent des Minimes from 11PM. It’s fun and will be your opportunity to dance with some of the world’s top photo editors (nothing better to break the ice the next time you meet them).
On the Sunday, there’s also the beach party, which takes place at Canet Plage (20-minute taxi ride from Perpignan). Entry costs €50 (dinner included) and you can expect to see the festival’s organisers and official staff, as well as some top photo editors and photographers.
Perpignan is not a coastal town, but it’s just a few miles away from the nearest beach, which is Canet Plage. If you’ve rented a car, just follow the signs for Canet.
But, you can get bus number 6 from the Castillet (see map above) or the Palais des Congrès. Expect a bus every 25 minutes in both directions. Be careful, though, the last bus usually leaves Canet Plage at 9PM, so don’t fall asleep on the beach! On your way back, the bus will be packed. Just remember that unlike in the UK and in the US, in France people don’t queue, so you will have to push your way in an already-packed bus.
Visa pour l’Image runs a lot of official events, from talks with the photographers and symposiums. You can find the full list on the official website here: http://www.visapourlimage.com/festival/meetings/calendar.do
If your organization or collective is running a special event, and you’d like to be featured here, do contact me at olivierclaurent[at]gmail[dot]com.
Don’t make this one visit your last one
If it’s your first year at Visa pour l’Image, be prepared. It can be intimidating. You will find yourself among thousands of photographers who are, just like you, trying to make it in a very competitive market. You might not know who to talk to, where to hang out, what to do. But don’t give up. Come back the following year, and the one after that. It’s great fun!