Documenting the Danger to Democracy

On Wednesday, 17 January 2024, VII Insider, in collaboration with Forhanna Foundation, organized our first hybrid (in-person and online) event at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Here you can watch the recording of this special event, which had a varied program of interviews, discussions, and visual presentations.

The topic for the evening was the fact democracy is in danger. A global political trend toward authoritarianism threatens the democratic culture that sustains independent media. Whether it is the big lie of the election denial in the United States, the rise of right-wing parties in Europe, or the loss of citizen’s rights in countries like India, Turkey, and Venezuela, the cultural space necessary for journalists, photographers, artists, and critics to work freely is being squeezed by political actors and their media enablers. For creatives who want to document contemporary issues, how should you respond? What stories should you be telling? What can and should you do?

Program and video chapters:

00:00 – Welcome, by Bahram Sadeghi.

03:36 – VII Insider in partnership with PhotoWings.

11:11 – Visual column by Dr. David Campbell
Covering the January 6 Insurrection in America
The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was the visible manifestation of an attempted coup d’etat by President Donald Trump and his allies. It was an attempt to seize power illegally by preventing the certification of the 2020 presidential election from taking place on that day. The big lie–that Trump rather than President Biden won the election–is propagated by all Republican candidates for the 2024 election and continues to shape American politics. Dr. David Campbell will present a visual column showing the work of VII photographers who covered the January 6 insurrection.

20:55 – Marc Prüst in conversation with Dr. Claire Wardle and Peter Burger
How To Respond to Global Information Disorder
Democracy requires trustworthy information. One clear and present danger is that we face fundamental challenges to trust and truth in the digital age. This is because we are witnessing something new: information pollution on a global scale, whether this be repurposed images, overt lies, or the rise of AI. Dr. Claire Wardle will set out the challenges of global information disorder. There are simple and powerful ways to respond to this disorder. Peter Burger from Nieuwscheckers will demonstrate fact-checking techniques.

49:14 – Lecture by Frits Gierstberg
New Stories for a Democratic Culture
Responding to the dangers facing democracy does not require all visual journalists and storytellers to report on politics directly. Frits Gierstberg, curator at the Dutch Photography Museum in Rotterdam, will showcase the efforts of visual storytellers contributing to a democratic culture. Looking at photography series of early pioneers and their role in taking control of image formation, as well as presenting projects by new creators that grapple with the challenges and influences of social media omnipresence.

01:03:42 – Forhanna Foundation

01:06:23 – Willem Poelstra lecture by Jonas Bendiksen
The Willem Poelstra Lecture by Forhanna
Dedicated to the loving memory of Dutch photographer Willem Poelstra, Forhanna each year organizes ‘The Willem Poelstra Lecture’. This year, Forhanna gives the stage to Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen. Bendiksen began his career as an intern at Magnum’s London office before leaving for Russia to pursue his work as a photojournalist. Throughout the years he spent there, Bendiksen photographed stories from the fringes of the former USSR. Following this he experimented with 360° photography about daily life in four urban slums. In 2017, he published ‘The Last Testament’ and, more recently ‘The Book of Veles,’ which probed the vulnerabilities of our perceptions and became hotly debated after Bendiksen revealed that what had appeared to be a classical piece of photojournalism was in large part synthetic computer-generated renderings

02:01:51 – Closing remarks

This program was organized by VII Insider, a program of The VII Foundation in partnership with PhotoWings, in collaboration with Forhanna. It took place on 17 January 2024 at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and was streamed live. 

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