1963 Photo Contest in context

A photo of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc setting himself ablaze in Saigon was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year 1963. The haunting image, which acquired iconic status over time, preceded the Vietnam War that was to dominate World Press Photo for many years to come.

Other prize-wining photos included images of a devastating earthquake in Yugoslavia, Sonny Liston’s spectacular knockout of heavyweight world champion Floyd Patterson, a sober portrait of retiring German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and a photo story of young children born with thalidomide syndrome.

Photos of US President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 did not compete in the contest as the deadline of the exhibition had already expired, but they were included in the 1963 yearbook. The editors deemed it to be highly peculiar if these images would be missing in a book that still showed the president in “the prime of his bustling activities.” They also observed several new developments: the participation of international news agencies, such as The Associated Press, UPI, Keystone, Reuters and Tass, had strengthened the news category, while the Russian entries were more playful and humane, as opposed to the stiff heroism of many pictures sent in before.

Peter van Breukelen, World Press Photo’s chairman, explained in an interview with De Fotojournalist some of the practical problems the organization was facing. Some countries did not have good printing paper at their disposal. The entire Yugoslavian entry, for example, had been printed on paper provided by World Press Photo. Van Breukelen was also hesitant about the use of color, which he thought to be insignificant when it came to the meaning of a press photo. Some photos in the exhibition had therefore been printed in black-and-white from color negatives.

In the same magazine, Dutch jury member Piet van der Vliet identified television as a dangerous competitor in the production and transmission of visual news. The photographer was therefore expected to work differently and to give an energetic, dynamic, in-depth view of the world using his mobility and agility.

Entry statistics
  • 695 photographers
  • 53 countries
  • 2157 pictures
1963 Photo Contest jury
  • Fritz Basch, Austria, Chairman of the Syndicate of Press Photographers, Photographic Agencies and Film Reporters in Austria
  • Dr. Ettore Basevi, Italy, President Sindicato Romano Giornalisti Fotografi
  • Marina Bugaeva, Soviet Union, Soviet Photo
  • Walter Carone, France, Paris Match
  • Morris Gordon, USA, Chairman American Society of Magazine Photographers
  • P.L. van der Vliet, the Netherlands, Chief Photo Editor de Volkskrant
  • Dr. Herbert Zachäus, West Germany, Picture Editor Quick
  • Jan H.M. Cottaar, the Netherlands, sports journalist (Jury for the Best Sports Photo)
  • K. Hig, Poland, Sports editor (Jury for the Best Sports Photo)
  • José Pastor, Spain, Photojournalist Arriba (Jury for the Best Sports Photo)
  • W. Jos de Gruyter, the Netherlands, Chief Curator, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (Jury for the Most Artistic Photo)
  • Dr. W. Hulsker, the Netherlands, Head Arts department Ministry of Education, Arts and Sciences (Jury for the Most Artistic Photo)
  • Prof. dr. Otto Steinert, West Germany, Folkwang Hochschule Essen (Jury for the Most Artistic Photo)
  • André Vigneau, France, photographer (Jury for the Most Artistic Photo)
Chair of the jury
  • Simon Clyne, UK, Picture Editor Daily Mirror

    Prince Bernhard and Malcolm Browne at the Awards Ceremony in the Haags Gemeentemuseum, 14 December 1963 (© AP)

    1963 yearbook, p. 8

    1963 exhibition poster

    Certificate of Peter Thomann