1956 Photo Contest in context

More than 10 years after World World II had ended, the last German prisoners of war were released from Soviet captivity. Their often emotional return home was captured on film many times, as could be seen at World Press Photo’s second exhibition.

Other subjects that scored high in the contest were the tragic mining disaster in Marcinelle, Belgium, and the triumphs of Austrian skier Toni Sailer at the Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Photos of the Soviet invasion of Budapest in November 1956, following the Hungarian Revolution, were pointedly absent. The event nevertheless hovered over World Press Photo, as it had caused a deep crisis within the organization. Early in 1956, the organizers had put in great effort to obtain entries from the Soviet Union and other countries behind the Iron Curtain. In October 1956, after months of silence, a package from Moscow finally arrived in Amsterdam. Other communist countries that participated for the first time were Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and China. The political situation in Hungary, however, triggered a heated debate among members of the Dutch Association of Photojournalists about the question whether the exhibition should not be cancelled altogether out of solidarity with journalists in Hungary, who saw their freedom of press being curtailed.

To calm the situation, the exhibition was eventually postponed from November 1956 to March 1957. When the exhibition opened in Amsterdam, many saw a connection between World Press Photo and Edward Steichen’s influential exhibition The Family of Man, which had been touring the world since 1955. “If you can disengage yourself from any political associations and prejudices”, Dutch newspaper Het Parool wrote about World Press Photo in March 1957, “you will have to acknowledge, that the nature of press photography does not differ very much worldwide. The great joy (of labor and family life, of sports and love) is equal everywhere. As is sorrow.”

Entry statistics
  • 181 photographers
  • 20 countries
  • 515 pictures
1956 Photo Contest jury
  • C. Arnoldy, the Netherlands, De Telegraaf
  • Nikola Bibic, Yugoslavia, Borba
  • Helmer Lund Hansen, Denmark, photojournalist Billedbladet
  • Bernard Kroutchtein, France, L’Équipe
  • Marie Luise Löffler, West Germany, Hamburger Abendblatt
  • Ad van Tassel, Belgium, De Post
Chair of the jury
  • Simon Clyne, United Kingdom, picture editor Daily Mirror

    Simon Clyne and Marie Luise Löffler during the judging process (© unknown)

    Ben van Meerendonk, board member of the Dutch Association of Photojournalists NVF, presents a package with the first Soviet entry to the 1956 World Press Photo Contest, October 1956 (© Ben van Meerendonk/ISSG)

    Helmuth Pirath and his winning images in Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, March 1957 (© Ben van Meerendonk/ISSG)

    1956 Exhibition brochure

    Entry form of the 1956 Contest in De Fotojournalist, p. 10