1955 Photo Contest in context

The very first World Press Photo of the Year shows an unknown motorcyclist tumbling from his bike during a motocross race in Randers, Denmark. Danish photographer Mogens von Haven was in the right place at the right time to take this classic press photo, capturing news as it happened.

Von Haven was praised for his quick response, perfect technique and nerves of steel, qualities highly admired in a press photographer.

The first World Press Photo Contest was an initiative of the Dutch Association of Photojournalists NVF (Nederlandse Vereniging van Fotojournalisten), and originated from a desire to improve press photography in the Netherlands. Since 1946, a local exhibition and competition had been organized annually to stimulate the quality of the profession: the Zilveren Camera (Silver Camera). Hoping that Dutch press photographers would also benefit from exposure to work of international colleagues, photojournalists Sem Presser, Bram Wisman and Ben van Meerendonk set out to organize the first international competition in 1955. Supported by Henk Kersting, who ran the Dutch desk of The Associated Press, they asked international press agencies and press photographer associations to encourage their members to participate.

Entries from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States came pouring in. They presented a mix of local news events, sports, royalty and feature pictures. On 3 December 1955, the exhibition was officially opened by Dutch Minister of Education, Arts and Sciences Joseph Cals in the building of the Amsterdam arts society Arti et Amicitiae. Mogens von Haven received an engraved crystal bowl (currently kept in Denmark’s Mediemuseum), an Agfa Ambi Silette camera with three lenses and a check worth 500 Dutch guilders (the equivalent of a workman’s monthly wage in those days) to spend on Ilford material, such as films and printing paper.

First runner-up in the competition was Dutch photographer Simon Smit and his picture of three nuns watching the Delft Tattoo from a rooftop. British photographer Derek Berwin became second runner-up with his portrait of a troubled princess Margaret returning home after a weekend with Captain Peter Townsend, whom she was not allowed to marry.

Entry statistics
  • 42 photographers
  • 11 countries
  • 310 pictures
1955 Photo Contest jury
  • Karl Beckmeier, West Germany, editor Stern
  • Paul Frédéric, France, editor Paris Match
  • Theo Ramaker, the Netherlands, picture editor Het Parool
  • Dr. M. van de Wyer, Belgium, Féderation Internationale de l’Art Photographique
Chair of the jury
  • Simon Clyne, UK, picture editor Daily Mirror

    Piet Magielsen, Vice-President of the Board of the Dutch Association of Photojournalists NVF, and Mogens von Haven with the 1955 World Press Photo trophy (© Mogens von Haven)

    Mogens von Haven at the Awards Ceremony in Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, 3 December 1955 (© Ben van Meerendonk/Algemeen Hollands Fotoperbureau/ISSG)

    Mogens von Haven at the entrance of Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam (© Mogens von Haven)

    1955 World Press Photo exhibition in Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam (© Mogens von Haven)

    Winning photos by runners-up Simon Smit and Dereck Berwin, De Fotojournalist, April 1956

    1955 Exhibition poster Amsterdam