The Year in Review at World Press Photo
Montrealers fending off PTSD from student strikes and the election can take comfort that the rest of the planet is not without its share of drama. Those in need of a reminder should check out the winners of the 55th annual World Press Photo’s professional photojournalism contest. Lucky, brave, stupid or perhaps a bit of both, these photojournalists turn us into witnesses of the world’s stories – many of which would remain invisible without their heroic efforts.
The pictures are from 2011, so not only are the stories familiar, but we look at them with an eerie prescience. The events of Tahrir Square brought Egypt a parliament largely composed of the Muslim Brotherhood. The wreckage of the Japanese tsunami is washing up on BC beaches. But even with the advantage of hindsight, the images retain their immediacy, reminding us that the stories captured don’t end, even when mass media coverage does.
The winning photo by Spanish photojournalist Samuel Aranda features a Yemeni woman cradling the frail body of her injured 18 year old son in her arms. The composition echoes a Catholic pieta, only here Jesus is fragile from the effects of tear gas, and Mary is niqab-clad. Though the story (an attack on protesters, a desperate search to find a missing son who turns up in a mosque-turned-field hospital) is contemporary, Aranda’s piece captures the universality of a mother-son relationship.
Aranda’s photo is moving, but the judges easily could have chosen a dozen others from any of the nine themed categories. Koichiro Tezuka shows us Japan’s tsunami in its first horrific moments, with houses and roads still intact just before the inundation. Guillaume Herbaut’s picture of a topless Ukrainian protestor with her fist held high is as uplifting as it is powerful. Portraits in an interrogation room, child brides, Afghani police recruits, a Senegalese model at a tailor’s shop – each photo is as compelling as the next, a window into other lives and places.
Professional photojournalism struggles against the omnipresence of every would-be amateur with a mobile phone and a public that unthinkingly trades costly expertise for cheaper, albeit unverifiable alternatives. For example, the Associate Press and Reuters routinely turn to Flickr and iStockphoto, sometimes at their peril. Ever classy, World Press Photo pays homage to the new role of citizen journalists by awarding a Special Mention to a still from a video taken on a mobile phone of Muammar Gaddafi being pulled onto a military vehicle.
Alongside the World Press exhibition are two worthy satellite exhibitions. The first of these is AnthropoGraphia. Founded in 2008 in Montreal by Matthieu Rytz, AnthropoGraphia’s mission is to document and illuminate little-known human rights abuses through photography. The photo-essays on display include Walter Astrada’s series on violence against women in Norway and Zhang Lijie’s series of people in China suffering from rare diseases.
The second of these is Rouge2, a series of photos and lithographs related to Quebec’s student – and more general public – protests of the past year. The photographs taken by both professional and citizen journalists capture the passion, the determination, and even the violence of the movement, as well as the brutality of the police. Alongside are prints by members of the École de la Montagne Rouge.
In addition to this excellent showcase of photography, three public lectures by guest photographers will be offered in the coming weeks at Dawson College. The speakers include former winners in the World Press Photo contest and this year’s third place winner in the Portraits category. ■
The World Press Photo and two satellite exhibitions are on now at Marché Bonsecours (350 St-Paul E.) from Sept. 7 – 30.