1995 Photo Contest in context

The World Press Photo of the Year 1994 showed the mutilated face of a Rwandan man at a Red Cross hospital, photographed by James Nachtwey. The haunting image became the face of the genocide that took place in Rwanda during the spring of 1994, when between 500,000 and 1 million people were slaughtered in the span of three months.

More than one million Rwandans fled to neighboring Zaire, where a cholera epidemic awaited them in makeshift refugee camps. Photographers showed their horrible plight in heartrending and shocking photo stories.

More shocking images came from Haiti, where the fight for food, following the American military intervention, turned into widespread looting and murder, and from Chechnya, where the Russian invasion and bombardments claimed many casualties. Good news in 1994 came from South Africa where Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the country’s first black president, ending a period of intense violence between members of the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. A government of national unity was installed and the remaining international sanctions were lifted.

The future of shock photography, well represented in the 1995 contest, was the theme of the annual World Press Photo debate, preceding the 1995 Awards Ceremony. The discussion centered around whether the public’s right to know permits photojournalists to photograph everything, using whatever means necessary. The panel included year winner James Nachtwey, who pointed out that his pictures were not made for their shock value, but because the depicted situations were shocking and needed to be communicated to the outside world. As editor Colin Jacobson put it: pictures may turn the reader off if they are too shocking. It is the message, which an image conveys, that counts. Many agreed that the attention for one single shocking image, often displayed by editors, devalued photographers’ in-depth photo reports, which were always more difficult to get published.

In 1995, World Press Photo celebrated its 40th anniversary with the publication of the book This Critical Mirror, offering a wide range of photos selected by experts in press photography from all over the world. Stephen Mayes, who edited the book, explained in the Newsletter that, looking through the World Press Photo yearbooks, it struck him most that history always repeats itself, like our response and the photographic representation of what we see. “We are concerned with the culture of photojournalism. A lot of people still see photographs as absolute reality. Of course it never is: it’s a mirror, but a distorting mirror that is making a comment,” Mayes said.

Entry statistics
  • 2997 photographers
  • 97 countries
  • 29985 pictures
  • 11072 black and white
  • 18813 color
1995 Photo Contest jury
  • Shahidul Alam, Bangladesh, Managing Director Drik Picture Library
  • Steve Blogg, UK, Editorial Director Katz Pictures
  • Christiane Gehner, Germany, Picture Editor Merian
  • Nicolai Ignatiev, Russia, photographer
  • Wubbo de Jong, the Netherlands, photographer Het Parool
  • Greg Marinovich, South Africa, photographer Matrix
  • Alain Mingam, France, Editorial Director Sygma
  • Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Mexico, photographer
Chair of the jury
  • Michele Stephenson, USA, Picture Editor Time
Secretary of the jury
  • Adriaan Monshouwer

The 1995 World Press Photo jury (© Ruud Taal/Capital Photos)

Jury member Shahidul Alam, KLM Headquarters, Amstelveen, February 1995 (© Louis Lemaire)

The jury at work, KLM Headquarters, Amstelveen, February 1995 (© World Press Photo)

The 1995 children’s jury at work, February 1995 (© Louis Lemaire)

Winners of the 1995 World Press Photo contest in front of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, April 1995 (© Geert van Kesteren)

James Nachtwey in front of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, April 1995 (© Geert van Kesteren)

Carol Guzy receives her award from Michele Stephenson at the Awards Ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 25 April 1995 (© Geert van Kesteren)

Debate on The Future of Shock prior to the Awards Ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 25 April 1995 (© Geert van Kesteren)

Cover 1995 yearbook (photo by Keith Bernstein)

Cover of This Critical Mirror (designed by Anthon Beeke)