Seeing world leaders at shoe level

January 28, 2013

Davos, Switzerland

By Denis Balibouse

Seeing world leaders at shoe level – you can tell a lot about them.

Last week my colleague Pascal Lauener and I covered the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Alpine ski resort of Davos in Switzerland. According to its website the WEF is “an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”

The 2,500 participants can take their pick from 258 official sessions over a four-day period. Some only come for informal meetings in the hotels surrounding Davos’ congress center, where discreet talks covering business, politics and deal-making thrive away from the spotlight. Contracts are signed, soirees take place, deals are made.

For some reason, wire agency photographers can access all sessions in order to photograph the participants. Some sessions are not open to the reporting press, as talks are held under The Chatham House Rule, which requires that you can make use of the information dispersed at an event, but can not divulge or mention the identity or affiliation of those involved in the event.

Plenary sessions are held in the biggest hall but all other sessions are held in smaller rooms with 100 to 200 seats. Our movements had to be discreet, meaning that we took pictures at the front before the start of a session and moved to the back of the room once the session started. Live TV capturing talks by broadcasters required that our movements be kept to a minimum. A side effect of this restriction was that our up-front position gave us a direct view of the speakers’ footwear, in all its diversity. If you’re one who subscribes to the idea that you can tell a lot about a person by their footwear, being a wire agency photographer at the WEF provides you with some plum pop psychology moments.

Can you spot the intruder in the combination of pictures above? (answer at the bottom of the blog)

Most come to Davos as they go to the office, wearing a suit and smart leather shoes. In Davos, where the use of salt to de-ice the roads is restricted, it was soon obvious who was arriving at the sessions by limousine and who was walking the snow-covered streets. On Saturday morning the temperature was -16 C (3 degrees Fahrenheit) as we made our way to the Forum. Some removed their winter boots as soon as they entered the building, swapping for more suitable footwear for the occasion. Some should probably have taken a longer, closer look at the state of their footwear before heading to the Swiss Alps.

Here’s Swiss President Ueli Maurer tying his shoelace, thereby preventing a potentially embarrassing moment before giving his opening speech.

For our part, this is our WEF footwear: on the left is Pascal Lauener and on the right Denis Balibouse.

Answer: the first picture on the second row shows a Femen protester, who had no accreditation (and no shirt) but who bravely climbed the fence to try to gain entry to the Forum.

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