STUDENT HOAX WINS MAGAZINE'S TOP PRIZE
By John Lichfield
June 27, 2009
Amid its traditional mixture of glossy celebrity and gritty reportage, the magazine Paris Match published this week a searing double-page spread on student poverty in France.
The excellent black and white photographs of students prostituting themselves or looking for food in dustbins won the magazine's annual prize for student photojournalism. Student poverty certainly exists in France but the photos were entirely faked.
Before they received their trophy and 5,000-euro (£4,260) check at a ceremony on Wednesday, the prize-winners, Guillaume Chauvin and Rémi Hubert, read out a statement admitting to the hoax, stating that they had wanted to make a "powerful artistic gesture" attacking the "voyeurism" and gullibility of parts of the press.
The prize jury looked crestfallen but managed to applaud all the same. The two students, from the Strasbourg School of Decorative Arts, were handed their 5,000-euro check, which was later blocked by Paris Match.
The students said later that their teachers had approved the fake reportage. "There was nothing in the rules of the competition to say that rigged photos were banned," M. Hubert told Le Monde.
"We pushed the clichés to the limit. We thought the whole thing was so hackneyed that it could never win . . . We wanted to call into question the inner-workings of the attitude of the kind of media which portrays human distress with complacency and voyeurism," they said.
[Interview with on France 3]
"PARIS MATCH ISN'T QUESTIONING ITSELF AT ALL"
** Two students from Strasbourg's Arts-Déco won a contest organized by Paris Match with a story on how students live with powerful images that were... all stagecraft. They explain what they were up to. **
June 26, 2009
* Where did you get the idea of participating in the photo-essay contest?
RÉMI HUBERT: We have both been fascinated for a long time by images in the news and photojournalism. We have developed a certain critical perspective on the subject. Too often, published images produce emotion more than really conveying news. We looked for a way of upsetting the supposed objectivity of photography. We came up with the idea of bearing witness to reality with something fake.
GUILLAUME CHAUVIN: Our approach sought to awaken the public's consciousness of two things: student poverty and the status of images in the news. Their power and their ambiguity.
* Your success has evoked many reactions...
G.C.: We feel a little overwhelmed, we didn't expect there to be such a quick and violent reaction. We've received a lot of expressions of support. What bothers us is that our initial artistic gesture has been pushed into the background and is being completely lost to the schoolboy prank angle. And the media is using it to beat up on Paris Match, though we would could have taken the same approach with another magazine...
* Let's go back to the night of the award ceremony...
R.H.: On Wednesday, June 24, we were invited with all the other winners to the Sorbonne. When they gave us the grand prize, we told them that we had a speech to make. It wasn't an in-your-face text: it was designed for them to realize what had happened gently. But at the time, there was no reaction. At the end of the speech, they gave us the prize and the check that went with it. That's all. Leaving that evening, we discovered the week's Paris Match issue, with our two-page spread already printed.
* Since then, have the people in charge at Paris Match woken up?
R.H.: The day after the ceremony, they published on their Internet site a statement indicating that we had not respected the rules and that therefore the prize with withdrawn and the check cancelled. However, nothing in the rules of the contest forbade stagecraft. We're going to contact them to talk about it. We would also to have some soul-searching about our work. This silence on their part is not very polite. They're not at all questioning themselves...
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Chair, Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, Washington 98447-0003