2003 Photo Contest in context

The year 2002 was characterized by the jury as a year of waiting: waiting for UN resolutions to be applied equally to all, waiting for aggressors to be punished, waiting for a war in Iraq that the world seemed unable to stop.

Meanwhile, the world was far from being at peace, as many winning images illustrated. Peace did come to Sierra Leone in January 2002, when the long-running civil war came to an end. But not to the Ivory Coast, where a mutiny by soldiers, unhappy at being demobilized, grew into a full-blown rebellion. In Gujarat, India, tensions between Hindus and Muslims led to excessive bloodshed, and Colombian civilians got caught in the battle between government troops and the FARC guerrillas.

Civilians in the West Bank were also at their most vulnerable when Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, aimed at putting an end to Palestinian suicide bombings that put Israeli civilians in jeopardy. Much of the fighting took place in heavily populated areas, such as Jenin refugee camp. Photojournalists had a hard time covering the operation, as access to the battle zones was severely restricted. Nevertheless, Carolyn Cole’s reportage of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity under siege, where Palestinians had sought refuge, won first prize in the people in the news category. Larry Towell’s evocative photo story of scarred Jenin homes was awarded an honorable mention.

In the 2003 yearbook, jury chairman Shahidul Alam argued in favor of all photographers who went out to cover stories “which should have been news but weren’t, about people who should have mattered but didn’t.” He wrote: “In a world where all lives are not equal, some lives are easily forgotten. Their daily plight does not count. Their struggles are insignificant. No war machines come to their rescue. Unless material interests intervene.” One of those photographers was Eric Grigorian, whose photo of a boy mourning his father’s death in the earthquake that hit Iran in June, was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year 2002. His image was not published until it won the premium award. Grigorian explained: “I was told that as it was in black-and-white, and because it was two days old and no longer news, it couldn’t be sold.”

During the 2003 Awards Days, a new tradition was established: the Sem Presser Lecture, which replaced the annual debate. The lecture was named after a prominent Dutch photojournalist of the post-war era, and organized in collaboration with the foundation that preserved his work. Sem Presser had been a tireless activist for the photographic profession, fighting for higher fees, proper photo credits, and assertion of copyrights. He was also a board member of World Press Photo during its early years. The first Sem Presser Lecture was given by American critic and author Vicky Goldberg, who provided food for thought about the history of war photography.

Entry statistics
  • 3913 photographers
  • 118 countries
  • 53597 pictures
2003 Photo Contest jury
  • Margot Klingsporn, Germany, director Focus Photo und Presseagentur
  • Brechtje Rood, the Netherlands, picture editor Trouw
  • Maggie Steber, USA, director of photography The Miami Herald
  • Andrew Wong, People’s Republic of China, chief photographer Greater China Reuters
  • Pierre Fernandez, France, photo editor in chief Agence France-Presse
  • Eva Fischer, Germany, picture editor Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin
  • Sarah Harbutt, USA, director of photography Newsweek
  • Mitsuaki Iwago, Japan, photographer
  • Herbert Mabuza, South Africa, photographer and picture editor Sunday Times
  • Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Mexico, photographer and picture editor Letras Libres
  • Paolo Pellegrin, Italy, photographer Magnum Photos
  • Alexander Zemlianichenko, Russia, chief photographer Moscow Bureau The Associated Press
Chair of the jury
  • Shahidul Alam, Bangladesh, photographer and director Drik Picture Library
Secretary of the jury
  • Adriaan Monshouwer

The 2003 World Press Photo jury (© Peter Dejong)

The first-round jury (© Peter Denkema)

Chairman Shahidul Alam, Amsterdam, February 2003 (© Peter Dejong)

Jury member Herbert Mabuza, Amsterdam, February 2003 (© Peter Dejong)

Jury member Mitsuaki Iwago, Amsterdam, February 2003 (© Peter Dejong)

The 2003 Children’s Jury (© Femke Rotteveel)

Press conference 2003 Children’s Jury (© Peter Denkema)

Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende and Eric Grigorian at the Awards Ceremony in the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, 27 April 2003 (© Claudia Hinterseer)

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

Cover 2003 yearbook