Anonymous winners

by World Press Photo

In 1991, the World Press Photo jury decided to give a special mention to a reportage of the execution of Chinese ‘counter revolutionaries’ in July 1989, accused of setting a truck on fire during the student protests in Tiananmen Square.

The pictures had been smuggled out of China and were published by British newspaper, The Independent, in June 1990 on the condition that neither the execution site nor the photographer would be identified. The photographer, who made the pictures for government record, became known under the pseudonym given to him by the agency: Pascal G.

In countries where freedom of information and expression is limited or non-existent and government censorship is strict, denouncing abuse can be life threatening for all involved. This perhaps explains the historical gaps in the World Press Photo collection better than any lack of suitable entries or the criteria used by the judges. In the first 60 years of the contest, it was simply too dangerous for journalists to do their job properly in many countries and situations worldwide, facing imprisonment at the least. 


To guarantee the photographers’ safety at home, some of the most memorable news photos have been distributed anonymously. One of these pictures became World Press Photo of the Year 1973 and shows the Chilean president Salvador Allende during the military coup of 11 September 1973, moments before his death. The New York Times, which received and published the pictures in January 1974, submitted them to the 1974 contest. The photographer remained anonymous until 2007, when he died and his identity was revealed to be Orlando Lagos, a staff photographer at the La Moneda presidential palace at the time. Until 1983, pictures of Chile were virtually absent from the World Press Photo contest.

Many years later, Chilean journalist Fernando Paulsen, member of the 1989 World Press Photo jury, explained in an interview with De Journalist what being a journalist in Chile had been like since 1973: “Censorship came in many shapes: classical and even typical Chilean ones. There was a time, for example, when all texts and photos had to be submitted to the authorities for approval. After that, a very bizarre period began. Magazines of the opposition were not allowed to publish any illustrations. For months on end, these magazines appeared with blank spaces where photos and cartoons should have been. Later, we also experienced that we could publish photos but without captions.” In 1989—Pinochet’s days were numbered—only funny pictures of the army or of the Pinochet family were still problematic. Nevertheless, Paulsen, having been imprisoned more than once for ‘offending the army’, still ran the risk of being arrested upon his return to Chile from the Netherlands, for publishing an unwelcome article before he left.

Iranian revolution

Imprisoned during the regime of the Shah for his photographic activities and persecuted by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s new regime as well, Iranian photographer Reza left Iran in 1981 and never returned. His brother Manoocher stayed, working under very difficult circumstances, until 1985 when he too was forced into exile. For Reza and Manoocher, both multiple World Press Photo winners as well as former jury members, the Iranian Revolution had marked the beginning of their journalistic careers that brought them everywhere but home. Pictures of the regime change in Iran in 1979 went around the world and were also published in the 1980 World Press Photo yearbook, many by American and European photojournalists.

The only one awarded, however, was made by an anonymous Iranian photographer who had photographed the execution of Kurdish rebels in the north. In Iran, the photo had been published anonymously by an Iranian newspaper, where it was picked up by a United Press International picked it up and transmitted it worldwide. In 2006, the photographer’s name, Jahangir Razmi, was revealed in an interview for The Wall Street Journal. In 1983, an anonymous photographer, who witnessed the execution of opponents of the regime, was awarded. His identity has never been revealed.


Another anonymous photographer, whose identity has still not been disclosed at time of writing, was awarded in 1998 for his picture of a murdered child being pulled from a village well in Algeria. That year’s World Press Photo of the Year also came from Algeria, where the civil war had intensified and the Armed Islamic Group was conducting one of the most violent campaigns of civilian massacres since the beginning of the war in 1992. At the Awards Ceremony, Algerian winner Hocine, whose last name was not disclosed, could only be photographed unrecognizable, that is to say from behind.  Hocine, who works for Agence France-Presse, was confronted in Algeria by people trying to discredit his picture. The eventual legal proceedings made pursuing a photographic career in Algeria difficult for Hocine.

In all these cases, the validity and truthfulness of the awarded photos could be affirmed. However, the publication, and subsequent awarding, of anonymous photographs can be tricky, as it remains difficult to draw any certain conclusions without supporting recorded facts.

Pascal G.

Orlando Lagos

Jahangir Razmi



Manoocher Deghati