1968-1969 Photo Contest in context

“History will recall 1968 as the year of major tragedies,” World Press Photo’s 1968-1969 yearbook read. “The continuing war in Vietnam, the Biafra conflict, the senseless assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of Robert Kennedy, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the May and June ‘mini-revolution’ in France, which sparked off much unrest in neighboring countries, all provided a most fertile source for the news and camera men.”

The yearbook opened with 11 pages of photos covering the invasion of Prague by the Warsaw Pact troops, which made an end to the Prague Spring, as the brief period of political reform in Czechoslovakia was called. Hilmar Pabel’s photo story of the event came very close to beating Eddie Adams’ picture of a summary execution on the streets of Saigon in the competition for World Press Photo of the Year, jury chair Joop Swart later recalled. Eddie Adams received his prize more than a year after his picture made the covers of newspapers worldwide. During the intervening period, the political wind changed in the United States. For the first time, a majority of Americans did not support the war in Vietnam, and US President Johnson announced that no new troops would be sent over. The photo became a timeless symbol of a senseless war.

World Press Photo 1968-1969 also witnessed new developments in the contest. The jury created a new category, photo sequences, intended for photo series of successive takes of a single action. Russian photographer Igor Utkin was the first to win in this category with his photo of an intensely concentrated volleyball player at work. Another new prize was the award for the Best Press Photographer of the Year, which was presented to Argentinian Pedro Raota. By adding this new award, the organization hoped to prevent photographers from entering only their most sensational pictures, and to give others, not working in conflict and catastrophe areas, a fair chance.

Entry statistics
  • 610 photographers
  • 47 countries
  • 3160 pictures
  • 2777 black and white
  • 383 color
1968-1969 Photo Contest jury
  • Y. Alexeyev, Soviet Union, Editor International Photo Service Photokhronika Tass
  • Karl Breyer, West Germany, Photojournalist Sebaldus Verlag
  • Walter Heilig, East Germany, Photo Editor Zentralbild
  • Alexander Katkov, Soviet Union, Chief International Photo Service Photokhronika Tass
  • Charles Lane, UK, Chief European Photo Service, The Associated Press
  • Jean-Louis Lepigeon, France, Photo Editor France Soir
  • R.H. Mason, UK, Editor Amateur Photographer, Vice President of the Royal Society of Photography
  • Arthur Rothstein, USA, Director Look magazine
  • R.J. Spencer, UK, News Picture Editor United Press International
Chair of the jury
  • Joop Swart, the Netherlands, Editor in Chief Avenue

    The jury at work in the Nederlands Congresgebouw, The Hague, March 1969 (© Rob Taconis/ANP)

    The jury at work, March 1969 (© unknown)

    Eddie Adams in front of the Nederlands Congresgebouw, The Hague, 14 March 1969 (© Dick Coersen/ANP)

    Eddie Adams receives his awards from J. Verhoeve, Director General of the Dutch Ministery of Culture at the ceremony in the Nederlands Congresgebouw, The Hague, 15 March 1969 (© NFP/Spaarnestad Photo)

    Mrs. Klijn at the Awards Ceremony in the Nederlands Congresgebouw, The Hague, with the awards her husband won at 1968/69 World Press Photo contest, 15 March 1969 (© Ruud Hoff/ANP)

    Eddie Adams and his awards, Nederlands Congresgebouw, The Hague, 15 March 1969 (© Ruud Hoff/ANP)

    Cover 1968/69 yearbook