1999 Photo Contest in context

Between March and September 1998, the ethnic tension in Kosovo escalated and turned into an open conflict between the Serb police and the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Albanians were driven from their homes.

While NATO prepared for an intervention, The Washington Post staffer Dayna Smith travelled to Kosovo to cover the plight of the Albanian Kosovars in the light of the coming winter, and shot her prize-winning picture of a KLA soldier’s grieving widow. Although The Washington Post published a different version, this photo was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year 1998 and attracted a lot of attention afterwards.

1998 was also the year that Suharto resigned after 32 years as president of Indonesia, following months of economic and political unrest. The country was scourged by riots, often aimed at ethnic Chinese and Christians, which escalated in May. A photo sequence of a Christian man being lynched in Jakarta was awarded a second prize in the spot news category. The spot news category also included a photo taken right after the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi, which killed hundreds of people.

On the nature front, floods ravaged many countries around the globe in 1998. Hurricane Mitch sowed death and destruction in Central America, where historic amounts of rainfall caused catastrophic floods. In Bangladesh, the monsoon floods were among the most extreme that the country ever endured. And in Peru, ‘El Niño’, the warm current that sweeps across the Pacific in late December, lingered for months, creating devastating floods.

Meanwhile, the FIFA World Cup in France provided worldwide entertainment, excitement, and diversion. A spectacular picture of French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez foiling Brazilian superstar striker Ronaldo during the finals won first prize in the sports category. The people in the news category would not have been complete without US President Bill Clinton, whose alleged relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky led to intense media speculation in 1998. The year ended with his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

In 1998, digital entries were admitted to the World Press Photo Contest for the first time. In 1999, the annual World Press Photo Awards Days debate examined the impact of new technologies on photojournalistic values. The central question was: Do we risk losing our collective visual memory? Photographers and editors attending the discussion proved to be hesitant in their acceptance of digital techniques. Some viewed the resulting proliferation of images as a threat to the public’s ability to take in information. Others feared that billions of stored digital images would be lost, as long as a new language of cataloguing was lacking. However, everyone agreed that the future also had much to offer: lightweight luggage, ease of transmission, and cheaper archiving. As David Burnett, chairman of the jury, summed up: “We are being teased about what the computer age is going to be like. We spent so much time in front of a terminal looking at the little egg-timer spinning, waiting for a screen to load. In five or ten years’ time, it will all be instantaneous.”

Entry statistics
  • 3726 photographers
  • 116 countries
  • 40181 pictures
  • 15576 black and white
  • 25605 color
1999 Photo Contest jury
  • Michael Evstafiev, Russia, photographer/sub-editor Reuters (first-round jury)
  • Alain Mingam, France, former editor in chief grand reportages Le Figaro Magazine (first-round jury)
  • Roberto Koch, Italy, director Contrasto (first-round jury)
  • Shahidul Alam, Bangladesh, director Drik Picture Library (first-round jury)
  • Pablo Bartholomew, India, photographer Gamma Liaison (second-round jury)
  • Robin Comley, South Africa, picture editor The Star (second-round jury)
  • Peter Dejong, the Netherlands, photographer The Associated Press (second-round jury)
  • Mark Grosset, France, director Rapho (second-round jury)
  • Witold Krassowski, Poland, photographer Network Photographers (second-round jury)
  • Mônica Maia, Brazil, picture editor Agência Estado (second-round jury)
  • Monika Rettschnick, Germany, picture editor Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin (second-round jury)
  • Sven-Erik Sjöberg, Sweden, photographer Dagens Nyheter (second-round jury)
Chair of the jury
  • David Burnett, USA, photographer Contact Press Images
Secretary of the jury
  • Adriaan Monshouwer

The 1999 World Press Photo jury (© Louis Lemaire)

The 1999 jury judges color slides, February 1999 (© Peter Dejong)

Jury member Mônica Maia gives her vote, February 1999 (© Louis Lemaire)

Winners of the 1999 World Press Photo contest in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 19 April 1999 (© Capital Photos)

Winners of the 1999 World Press Photo contest in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 19 April 1999 (© Rob Becker)

Dayna Smith at the press preview in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 19 April 1999 (© Rob Becker)

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

Former jury members Colin Jacobson and Simon Clyne at the 1999 Awards Ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 19 April 1999 (© Ama Kaag)

Simon Clyne, former picture editor of the Daily Mirror and chairman of the World Press Photo jury between 1955 and 1963, with his son Jeremy (left) and Neil Burgess (right) in the office of World Press Photo, April 1999 (© Ben ten Berge/World Press Photo)

Cover 1999 yearbook