1997 Contest in context

In 1996, Angola experienced a temporary period of relief in the civil war that had been ravaging the country since its independence in 1975. Very few photographs of the devastating conflict reached World Press Photo over the years.

The World Press Photo of the Year 1996, however, showed the traumatic effects of this protracted war on Angola’s younger generations: disabled children, maimed by exploding land mines in a country littered with millions of uncharted and unexploded mines. The 1997 jury chose a picture that spoke not just of the past, but also of the future.

Francesco Zizola’s World Press Photo of the Year and his prize-winning photo story of the same subject certainly must have met the expectations of the jury and its chairman Neil Burgess. In an interview with World Press Photo’s Newsletter, prior to judging, Burgess described his idea of a winning picture, which would capture “something of an historical event, heavily overlaid with a photographer’s clear individual perspective.” He also expressed his hope to find pictures that “not necessarily hit the front pages, but which tell the multitude of smaller stories going on in the world.”

The 1997 contest certainly presented the bigger and smaller stories of 1996. It included pictures of a dancing Boris Yeltsin in the run-up to the Russian presidential elections, and of the urban battleground in Grozny where Yeltsin’s army sustained heavy losses. It showed images of excessive violence in Liberia, of Rwandans returning home from the refugee camps in Zaire, and of the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul, promptly imposing strict Islamic law on its inhabitants. The BSE crisis – where BSE is commonly known as mad cow disease – also featured in the 1997 awards, as did the bitter clashes between police and protesters in Newbury, England, the rescue of a Puerto Rican family from a flooding river caused by Hurricane Hortense, and Gail Devers, star of the Atlanta Summer Olympics.

Notwithstanding World Press Photo’s expansion both in quantity and quality, the 1997 jury warned against the recent globalization of media interests in vast corporations. “What the new breed of publisher is interested in is the bottom line of the balance sheet—not the quality of the journalism. It is clear that the large profits generated by the multinational corporations are not channeled back into journalism, but into other ventures. At the same time editors across the world complain that they are being starved of editorial resources,” the jury chairman wrote in the 1997 yearbook.

The annual World Press Photo Awards Days debate addressed one of the most profound questions in photography: Can we trust photojournalism as a medium to report reality? As it appeared, the answer had to be found in words, or context, rather than in the images themselves. Don’t trust pictures without words, one panelist advised. Photographers need to take their responsibility for captioning and transmitting information, another explained.

Entry statistics
  • 3663 photographers
  • 119 countries
  • 35650 pictures
  • 14470 black and white
  • 21180 color
1997 Photo Contest jury
  • David Burnett, USA, photographer Contact Press Images
  • Michael Evstafiev, Russia, picture editor Reuters Moscow
  • Ana Cecilia Gonzales-Vigil, Peru, picture editor in chief El Comercio
  • George Hallett, South Africa, photographer
  • Françoise Huguier, France, photographer Rapho
  • Roberto Koch, Italy, director Agenzia Contrasto
  • Raghu Rai, India, photographer Magnum Photos
  • Joost van der Vaart, the Netherlands, deputy editor in chief NRC Handelsblad
Chair of the jury
  • Neil Burgess, UK, managing editor Network Photographers
Secretary of the jury
  • Adriaan Monshouwer

The 1997 World Press Photo jury at work, KLM Headquarters, Amstelveen, February 1997 (© Ruud Taal/Capital Photos)

The jury at work, Amstelveen, February 1997 (© George Hallett)

The jury at work, Amstelveen, February 1997 (© Raghu Rai/George Hallett)

The ground floor at the KLM Headquarters in Amstelveen, February 1997 (© George Hallett)

The 1997 children’s jury being photographed, February 1997 (© Louis Lemaire)

The 1997 Children’s jury at work, February 1997 (© Louis Lemaire)

Francesco Zizola receives his award from Aad Nuis, Dutch State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 28 April 1997 (© Ruud Taal/Capital Photos)

Francesco Zizola with his Golden Eye Award, Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 28 April 1998 (© Ruud Taal/Capital Photos)

Francesco Zizola's Golden Eye Award, designed by Gijs Bakker (© Co de Kruijf)

Cover 1997 yearbook (photo by Eric Bouvet)