Friday, May 19, 2006

In which I impart my knowledge of the lively arts to the benighted locals

The Guatemalan print media offer a broad array of journalistic styles, appealing to various segments of the reading public. Just like Americans can choose between the lunchpail directness of the New York Post or the bourgie semi-sophistication of the New York Times, Guatemalans can choose between the near-New York Post-level sophistication of the Prensa Libre, or the sub-literate-level sophistication of Nuestro Diario and many options in between. It is left as an exercise for the reader to decide where the Holla falls on this scale. While the Prensa Libre tends to feature pictures of congressmen staring off camera in important hearings, the Diario tends to feature young women staring directly at camera in as little as possible. The common ground that unites them all is the evergreen of Guatemalan photojournalism, the picture of someone recently murdered in the street with a family member kneeling nearby, their grief made public for the country by the valiant free press.

In an effort to inspire the Guatemalan photo corps to stretch a little, the Embassy has started an annual contest for the local photogs, awarding prizes in a variety of categories. As an American who the Press Officer has spotted holding a camera before, your correspondent was invited to serve as a judge. After wading through and eliminating all the pictures of murder victims on the street, there were some excellent, striking pictures (and a few not-so-striking pictures) left. Considering that the camera used by a staff photographer at the Greeley Tribune is probably worth what the Pensa Libre photographers make in a year, plenty of slack was allowed on certain technical dimensions. But even in categories with titles like "Extraordinary Citizens," "This is My Country," or, "Teamwork," half the pictures were of dead people and mourning relatives, some more artfully shot than the others. Despite the subject matter, it was a bit odd to think that your correspondent, who routinely takes pictures like this, was judging the work of these dedicated professionals.

At the end of the evening, they announced winners by name and sometimes by title of the picture. Unfortunately, they didn't announce them by descriptive phrases like "The picture of the helicopter dropping aid to disaster victims," or "The one with the sunset and the fluffy clouds over the volcano," or "The portrait of the President of Guatemala and Ronald McDonald" (all actual pictures -- the last of which was a finalist in the "Extraordinary Citizens" category, by default), so this judge left the competition having no idea whether his opinions corresponded with those of the expert celebrity judge (a University of Texas journalism professor). The winners and their friends all seemed delighted with their prizes, and thus the event seemed to be having its desired effect for both the Embassy and the invitees, so it seemed for the best that I not shatter their illusions of competence in the majority of the judging pool.

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