World Press Photo Contests
For 60 years already, World Press Photo has encouraged the highest standards in photojournalism. The resulting archive is not only a record of more than half a century of human history, but a showcase of successive styles in visual storytelling.
In 2010, nature showed its destructive power in different shapes: floods almost drowned Pakistan; Mount Merapi on Java blasted a deadly stream of hot rock, volcanic ash and pyroclastic flows; while massive earthquakes hit China and Haiti, which went under in rubble, fire and looting. Photographers were there to witness, record, and show the natural disasters, just as they were in Bangkok during demonstrations, in Budapest when a man jumped to his death, in Dalian after two oil pipelines exploded, in Duisburg when people were trampled to death, and in Karachi during target shootings.
In the United States, 2009 started with US President George W. Bush passing the torch to Barack Obama. The former president’s last and the new president’s first moments in the White House were captured in one of the winning stories. Meanwhile, the Gaza War, Israel’s offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza strip, dominated the news headlines and subsequently the news categories of the 2010 World Press Photo Contest.
In 2008, a massive earthquake hit China, a cyclone ravaged Burma, riots gripped Greece, and Russia and Georgia went to war over South Ossetia. Less tangible, but not less intrusive, was the financial crisis that began to emerge from the severity of losses that US banks had incurred over sub-prime mortgages in 2007.
In December 2007, Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, became Time magazine’s Person of the Year. The remarkable portrait that Platon shot for the cover was awarded first prize and became an icon over the years. Many of the breaking-news stories that were awarded happened at the end of the year.
In 2005, the superhuman force of nature dealt heavy blows across the globe. While people struggled to rebuild their lives after the tsunami in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc in Louisiana and Mississippi, leaving the United States helpless to respond accurately in the face of such disaster.
The World Press Photo of the Year 1994 showed the mutilated face of a Rwandan man at a Red Cross hospital, photographed by James Nachtwey. The haunting image became the face of the genocide that took place in Rwanda during the spring of 1994, when between 500,000 and 1 million people were slaughtered in the span of three months.
On 13 September 1993, a historical handshake took place between the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister Yitszhak Rabin after they signed the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian National Authority and granted it partial control over parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Although scores of pictures of the handshake were submitted to the contest, it was an image from Larry Towell’s photo report about life in the occupied zones that won the World Press Photo of the Year 1993.
In 1990, the opening-up of Central and Eastern Europe, after the Iron Curtain came down, led to profound shifts in political and social relations. In Poland, former trade union leader and activist Lech Walesa won the presidential elections, East and West Germany were reunited, and in the Soviet Union the demand for democratic reforms became louder and louder.
1989 was one of those years that stand out in history, providing journalists with an endless stream of tumultuous events to cover. In Europe, a wave of revolutions swept through the socialist countries of the Warsaw Pact, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, the death of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu on Christmas Day and the installation of human rights leader and playwright Vaclav Havel as president of Czechoslovakia.
Few war photographs were awarded in the 1989 World Press Photo Contest. However, prize-winning images included pictures of the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland and of the First Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which gained momentum in 1988.
Events from 1987 that were featured in the 1988 contest included: the cross-channel ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise that capsized off Zeebrugge, Gestapo chef Klaus Barbie receiving a life sentence for Nazi war crimes, German pilot Mathias Rust after he landed his plane on Moscow’s Red Square, panic on Wall Street during plummeting stock market levels, the sabotaged presidential elections in Haiti, and US President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev signing the nuclear arms reduction treaty.
In November 1985, the Nevado del Ruíz volcano in Colombia erupted, producing a fast-flowing sea of mud and debris which swallowed the town of Armero and killed 25,000 people. A 13-year-old girl named Omayra Sanchez became the tragic symbol of the authorities’ inability to set up an effective rescue operation.
Judging from the 1984 World Press Photo Contest, 1983 did not seem to be an uplifting year. A devastating earthquake struck Erzurum in Northeast Turkey, killing more than 1,000 people. In Lebanon, the capital city Beirut, once known as the Paris of the Middle East, was rapidly being reduced to ruins by the ongoing civil war.
In 1982, the civil war in Lebanon intensified when Christian militia killed many hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, while the Israeli army looked on without interfering. American photojournalist Robin Moyer managed to get into the camps and photographed the aftermath of the massacre, for which he was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year 1982.
In January 1979, the Vietnamese army captured the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and ended the Khmer Rouge regime. The Vietnamese invasion caused a mass migration of Cambodians fleeing to makeshift camps near the Thai border. Later, they moved to holding centers in Thailand, where David Burnett made his award-winning photo of a Cambodian mother and her child.
The 1979 World Press Photo Contest gave a kaleidoscopic overview of 1978 in the absence of one standout global news event. It included photos of the oil disaster in Brittany caused by the supertanker Amoco Cadiz, and of the crash of a Pacific Southwest Airlines jet in San Diego, killing 150 people.
The 1978 World Press Photo Contest reflected the troubled situation in South Africa, which frequently made the international headlines in 1977. The Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976, in protest of the enforced teaching in Afrikaans, had set off a wave of disturbances in other townships that lasted for almost a year.
1976 started violently in Lebanon when, in January, Christian militias overran Beirut’s Karantina district, killing approximately 1,000 to 1,500 Muslims. French photojournalist Françoise Demulder witnessed the massacre in Karantina, and became the first woman to be awarded the World Press Photo of the Year with her heartrending photo of a pleading Palestinian woman.
In 1965, the Vietnam War became more and more visible in the news, as a result of the rapidly growing presence of American and other foreign troops in South Vietnam. In their wake, journalists from all over the world travelled to the battlefields to cover the war’s course. Japanese photographer Kyoichi Sawada won his first of two World Press Photos of the Year with a picture of a South Vietnamese family fleeing an American bombardment.
The Cyprus Civil War, which began in spring 1964, proved to be the most conspicuous international event in the ninth World Press Photo Contest. Don McCullin was duly awarded for his impressive photos, taken during his first war assignment, of the devastating intercommunal violence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
John F. Kennedy campaigning for US president, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on a stroll, horrifying scenes from the Congo Crisis, and a Japanese politician assassinated in front of the cameras. In 1961, World Press Photo finally arrived on the threshold of becoming a serious world competition for press photography.