1994 Photo Contest in context

On 13 September 1993, a historical handshake took place between the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister Yitszhak Rabin after they signed the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian National Authority and granted it partial control over parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Although scores of pictures of the handshake were submitted to the contest, it was an image from Larry Towell’s photo report about life in the occupied zones that won the World Press Photo of the Year 1993.

Towell’s portrait of Palestinian boys with toy guns transcended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by being a comment, in the jury’s opinion, on other wars that devour children. Jury member Diego Goldberg in World Press Photo’s Newsletter: “In the first place the feeling was that, even though the picture had to be from an important event, that was by no means the decisive issue. We wanted to emphasize that the award is about excellence in photography; we all knew that there was a perception ‘out there’ that in the past this had sometimes been overlooked for the sake of shocking events. In this sense, this year’s choice is certainly a departure from previous competitions.”

In other respects, the 1994 contest reflected a tendency towards well-considered background stories that offered another angle on news events. For example, life in Sarajevo after two years of virtual siege, victims of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster receiving medical treatment in Cuba, and Chinese avant-garde artists working in subtle defiance of the communist regime. Nonetheless, pictures from the frontline also received due merit, showing street fights in Mostar, the rebellion and occupation of the Moscow White House by anti-Yeltsin hardliners, and the lifeless body of an American marine being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by a jeering crowd.

The annual World Press Photo debate during April’s Awards Days addressed the relation between television and photojournalism and whether they should be seen as competing or complementary. Year winner and panel member Larry Towell declared that he preferred to work where television was absent. While accepting that television often brought breaking news first, he maintained that photography had the better capacity to be a record of history. The discussion did not reach a clear-cut conclusion, but most agreed that a market for photojournalism would continue to exist, although other forms such as multimedia would become more important, and that there would be a convergence with video.

Entry statistics
  • 2429 photographers
  • 93 countries
  • 22775 pictures
  • 8160 black and white
  • 14615 color
1994 Photo Contest jury
  • Shahidul Alam, Bangladesh, managing director Drik Picture Library
  • Elisabeth Biondi, Germany, picture editor Stern
  • Giovanna Calvenzi, Italy, picture editor Moda
  • Diego Goldberg, Argentina, photographer Sygma
  • Alexander Joe, Kenya, photographer Agence France Presse
  • Lev Sherstennikov, Russia, photographer Ogonyok
  • Michele Stephenson, USA, picture editor Time
  • Bert Verhoeff, the Netherlands, photographer
Chair of the jury
  • Sylvie Rebbot, France, picture editor Geo France
Secretary of the jury
  • Adriaan Monshouwer

The 1994 World Press Photo jury (© Ruud Taal/Capital Photos)

The jury at work, KLM Headquarters, Amstelveen, February 1994 (© Wubbo de Jong/Maria Austria Instituut)

The jury at work, KLM Headquarters, Amstelveen, February 1994 (© Wubbo de Jong/Maria Austria Instituut)

The 1994 children’s jury (© Henk Rougoor)

The 1994 children’s jury at work (© World Press Photo)

Larry Towell and Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers at the Awards Ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 26 April 1994 (© World Press Photo)

Debate about the relation between news television and photojournalism in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 26 April 1994 (© Marcel Molle)

Cover 1994 yearbook (photo by Antoine Gyori)