1961 Photo Contest in context

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.

By awarding some truly shocking pictures for the first time, debate about the purpose and desirability of this type of photography arose and would do so again and again in the years to come.

In the Dutch press, Yasushi Nagao’s winning photo evoked a fierce discussion about whether the photographer had violated the privacy of a dying person. Some assumed that the sensational nature of the photo did not root in the quality of the image itself nor in the photographer’s expertise, but in the conditions under which the photo had been made. Others maintained that the photojournalist’s task is to make news visible, whatever subject it concerns. According to jury member Gerard Vermeulen, Asanuma’s death was not a private affair: “The man was a public figure, who spoke at a public meeting and who wanted attention for his speech.”

In 1961, World Press Photo had also become a separate entity from the Dutch Association of Photojournalists, after the establishment of the World Press Photo Competition Foundation, under the patronage of HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

Entry statistics
  • 374 photographers
  • 37 countries
  • 1137 pictures
1961 Photo Contest jury
  • Dr. Ettore Basevi, Italy, president Sindicato Romano Giornalisti Fotografi
  • Karl Hájek, Czechoslovakia, photojournalist
  • R. Mottar, USA, photojournalist
  • Gerard Vermeulen, the Netherlands, editor in chief Panorama
  • L.J.F. Wijsenbeek, the Netherlands, director Haags Gemeentemuseum
  • Dr. Herbert Zachäus, West Germany, picture editor Quick
Chair of the jury
  • Simon Clyne, UK, picture editor Daily Mirror

    Yasushi Nagao and Peter van Breukelen, President of the Board of the World Press Photo Foundation (From the 1962 brochure)

    Entry form 1961 contest (front)

    1961 Exhibition poster

    1961 competition rules