Jury perspectives: global winners

Fiona Shields, global jury chair

As we gathered to look back over a year in photography, we were reminded that the news cycle is relentless. Stories of human suffering such as the horrific events of 7 October in Israel, followed by the brutal assault on Gaza; the ongoing war in Ukraine; and catastrophic environmental disasters tended to dominate, but we were also presented with moments of humanity, with resilience, and the beauty of the natural world captured by our colleagues in the field. This is an opportunity to applaud their work, made with courage, intelligence, and ingenuity and to amplify the importance of the stories they are telling, often in unimaginable circumstances.

The challenges of how we reflect on the photojournalism and documentary work presented to us in this year’s competition have been met by a global jury made up of regional chairs, who brought the voices and expert opinions of their juries to the table from all corners of the world. The regional model initiated by World Press Photo in 2022 allows judges to share nuanced local knowledge of stories and events and to consider cultural attitudes and references.

Representation and finding balance was a real concern this year. Trying to assess the imagery from the Israel-Hamas war, alongside stories from elsewhere in the Asia region which is made up of 38 countries (ranging from Israel and Palestine to Japan), was particularly difficult. The question we kept returning to involved images of violence and death – with which the media are saturated, drowning out all other narratives – versus those giving a more expansive, diverse view of the region. However, we needed to address the significance of the seismic events taking place in the Middle East, and so this year the jury requested a special mention for photographers. In response, World Press Photo has opened up space beyond the regional model to pay tribute to photographers reporting from both sides of the divide, who so often have to absorb a huge amount of trauma to deliver the news.

Throughout the competition, we were engaged by the variety of photographic styles from each region. We saw projects that, for example, have their aesthetic origins in traditional art forms from sub-Saharan Africa, that pay homage to the heritage of the Mapuche communities in South America, and that have employed painterly techniques to transport us to the Dreamtime of the Australian bush now in peril from wildfires. It has been exciting to explore different visual languages that have been given air to breathe by the Open Format category. Here we were able to watch stories expand beyond the still image.

This is an opportunity for photographers to really flex their creative minds and bring a wonderfully rich texture to their storytelling. Some of the audio and illustration coupled with innovative filmmaking skills have been mesmerizing; whispering to us of memories lost, transporting us across migration routes, alerting us to the injustices of prejudice. Many of the entries used this category to take a deep dive into a subject that really benefited from multimedia formats to chart evidence, display data and thoroughly approach the complexities of a situation.

The regional juries have also given an invaluable perspective on how an image intended to give a certain message can be interpreted to the contrary, when seen through a different prism. We debated how this might influence or affect a social or political situation – this is especially sensitive in the current climate of political polarization and concerns over misinformation. Each of us has come to the World Press Photo Contest judging process with a unique context and lived experience, but we were united in our attitudes toward the importance of standards, ethics, and inclusion in our industry and this was apparent in the choices we made together when settling on the global winners.

The Story of the Year winner from Africa on living with dementia is a heartwarming project of love, of family, and of community, and importantly breaks the tropes of Africa, which is too often portrayed as a place of victimization and dysfunctionality. The Long-Term Project Award winner is a body of work on the plight of migrants making their way to the United States. This may be a familiar theme but this project has a particular intimacy – the photographer from Venezuela has made this subject a personal crusade – and it is a masterclass in composition and meaningful photojournalism. The Open Format Award winner stood out for their compelling use of multimedia to create a distinct, poetic diary of living through the war in Ukraine. The Photo of the Year award is given to a profoundly affecting image from Gaza. It is a powerful photograph of love and loss that speaks both literally and metaphorically to the horror and futility of violent conflict worldwide.

These final works selected are a tapestry of our world today, centered on images we believe were made with respect and integrity that could speak universally and resonate far beyond their origins.

Fiona Shields
2024 World Press Photo Contest global jury chair

For more information about why each 2024 World Press Contest awarded work was selected by the independent jury, read the jury report