1979 Photo Contest in context

The 1979 World Press Photo Contest gave a kaleidoscopic overview of 1978 in the absence of one standout global news event. It included photos of the oil disaster in Brittany caused by the supertanker Amoco Cadiz, and of the crash of a Pacific Southwest Airlines jet in San Diego, killing 150 people.

The Commonwealth Games in Australia were well represented in the sports category, as was Argentina’s FIFA World Cup victory. The Jonestown Massacre in the United States and the first public flogging in Pakistan provided some shocking images as did the photo of a demonstrator engulfed in flames at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, which became World Press Photo of the Year 1978.

In March 1978, after 14 years of civil war, Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith and Bishop Abel Muzorewa signed an agreement, known as the Internal Settlement. Civil war, however, continued and would not end before December 1979. A prize-winning photo story gave an interesting look into ‘White life in Rhodesia’. In Zaire, European and Zairian inhabitants of the city of Kolwezi experienced some very scary moments, when they were taken hostage by rebels opposing President Mobutu. A swift intervention by Belgian and French paratroopers led to their rescue and evacuation.

A long-standing wish of World Press Photo’s chairman Joop Swart was realized in April 1979, when, prior to the opening of the exhibition, the Amsterdam Conference on Photojournalism was held. Subjects discussed were the photojournalist’s position in the editorial staff, the ethics of photojournalism and new developments. Keynote speakers were Harold Evans (The Sunday Times), Fritz Gruber (Photokina), Eva Keleti (Budapest Photographic Academy), John Morris (formerly of The New York Times) and Michael Rand (Sunday Times Magazine). Many photographers and photo editors attended the conference. Although they complained that photography still played second fiddle in the editing room, the conference also brought forward the conclusion that photography was gaining more prestige. Magazines presented an increasing diversity in photographic perspectives, styles and subjects. The previous year’s relaunch of legendary picture magazines Life and Look evoked high hopes.

Entry statistics
  • 720 photographers
  • 50 countries
  • 3760 pictures
  • 3258 black and white
  • 502 color
1979 Photo Contest jury
  • Juliane Berensmann, West Germany, picture editor Die Zeit
  • Mario De Biasi, Italy, chief staff photographer Epoca
  • Hal Buell, USA, assistant general manager news pictures, The Associated Press
  • Harold Evans, UK, editor in chief Sunday Times
  • Lester Howard, Australia, picture editor Melbourne Herald
  • Peter Korniss, Hungary, photographer
  • Yuri Korolev, USSR, special photographer Soviet Union Magazine
  • Lous Robert, the Netherlands, managing director ABC Press
Chair of the jury
  • Guus van der Heijden, the Netherlands, managing director Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau Foto

    The jury at work, KLM Headquarters, Amstelveen, February 1979 (© Vincent Mentzel)

    The jury at work, KLM Headquarters, Amstelveen, February 1979 (© Vincent Mentzel)

    1979 entry form

    1979 entry rules

    Cover 1979 yearbook

    1979 Amsterdam exhibition poster