Concept & experiment

by World Press Photo

In 1973, Hungarian photographer László Török received a first prize for his photo of a family, which did not depict a real family but his idea of a family.

Since then, World Press Photo has awarded photographers who experiment with new ways of creating images, often using a conceptual approach rather than a straightforward documentary style to portray a particular topic or issue. A recent example is Tomas van Houtryve who mounted a camera to a drone to photograph situations across the United States similar to those mentioned in U.S. drone strike reports in Pakistan and Yemen that killed several thousands of people. He also flew his camera over settings in which drones are used for surveillance, such as prisons, oil fields and the U.S.-Mexico border.

Passage of time

Several photographers were awarded for new ways to capture the passage of time. British photographer Simon Norfolk presented his portraits of British military in Afghanistan next to photos made by his fellow countryman John Burke during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880). By combining them, Norfolk wanted to create more historic awareness for the current British involvement in Afghanistan. In 2010, Israeli photographer Amit Sha’al travelled around Israel with a selection of archive photos, which he juxtaposed in front of the camera against their present-day backdrop. The viewer was invited to call to mind the dramatic events that had happened in between. Peter Thomann deployed the same strategy in 1981, when Berlin celebrated the 280th anniversary of Prussia. The old paintings of Berlin he used contrast strongly with the Cold War scenery of the divided city.

Interfering with reality

French artist JR played even more directly with reality, when he placarded black-and-white photos of women’s eyes on trains riding through the Kenyan shantytowns in Kibera. It earned him second prize in the Arts and Entertainment category of the 2010 World Press Photo Contest. In 2001, photojournalists Robert Huber and Stephan Vanfleteren traveled through America taking pictures of each other dressed as Elvis Presley, experiencing what it is like to be in front instead of behind the camera. And Chinese TV presenter and performance artist Ou Zhihang received an honorable mention in 2010 for his self-portraits doing naked pushups at sensitive locations in China.

Staged portraits

In 1997, the Portraits category was reintroduced, providing photographers with more opportunities to submit pictures they had created rather than taken. Harry Borden, for example, won third prize that year for his surreal portrait of the adventurous entrepreneur Richard Branson wearing wings. Fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, famous for their cutting-edge use of digital techniques, were awarded in 2004 for their portrait of South-African actress Charlize Theron. Photographers have also used the portrait to bring political and socio-economical issues into the limelight. Andrew McConnell literally did so in 2010, when he portrayed Saharawi people, lighting them in the darkness of the Western Sahara desert. In his 2014 winning story, Fu Yongjun broached the subject of 220 million migrant workers in China by portraying children left behind by their parents in their rural village.

New technologies

To explore the concept of a digital identity, German photographer Wolfram Hahn asked fellow Berliners to re-enact the ‘selfies’ they took for social network MySpace. Another German photographer, Michael Wolf, went even further to expose the implications of the use and dissemination of photos on the internet. By placing a camera on a tripod in front of a computer screen, he photographed unfortunate events that Google Street View cars had captured unintentionally, thus laying bare the privacy issues that come with the creation of new technologies.

László Török

Tomas van Houtryve

Simon Norfolk

Amit Sha'al

Peter Thomann


Robert Huber & Stephan Vanfleteren

Ou Zhihang

Harry Borden

Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin

Andrew McConnell

Fu Yongjun

Wolfram Hahn

Michael Wolf