2022 Contest global winners announced

“Together the global winners pay tribute to the past while inhabiting the present and looking toward the future”

The World Press Photo Foundation is proud to present the four global winners of the 2022 World Press Photo Contest. An independent jury selected the awarded photographs and stories from the regional winners announced on 24 March 2022, chosen from tens of thousands of entered photographs.

The awarded work invites us to step outside the news cycle and reflect on the devastating effects of colonization and the importance of preserving indigenous knowledge.

Global jury chair Rena Effendi: “The stories and photographs of the global winners are interconnected. All four of them, in their own unique ways, address the consequences of humanity’s rush for progress, and its devastating effects on our planet. These projects not only reflect upon the immediate urgency of the climate crisis but also give us an insight into possible solutions.”

She adds: “Together the global winners pay tribute to the past while inhabiting the present and looking toward the future.” 

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Introducing the winners: 

World Press Photo of the Year
Kamloops Residential School
Amber Bracken, for The New York Times

For the first time in the World Press Photo’s 67-year history, the World Press Photo of the Year is a photograph without any people in it.

Amber Bracken’s photograph commemorates the children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, an institution created to assimilate Indigenous children, following the detection of as many as 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Effendi said about the photograph: “This is a quiet moment of global reckoning for the history of colonization, not only in Canada but around the world.”

Residential schools began operating in the 19th century as part of a policy of assimilating people from various Indigenous communities into Western, and predominantly Christian, culture. Upwards of 150,000 children passed through the doors of residential schools, and at least 4,100 students died while at the schools, as a result of mistreatment, neglect, disease or accident.

Bracken said about her photograph: “Colonial history is not ancient history [...] this is a living history that survivors are still grappling with. If we want to talk about reconciliation or healing, we need to really hold and honor the heart that still exists there.”

The story gained relevance again this month when Pope Francis apologized to a Canadian First Nations delegation for the Catholic Church's role in the country's residential school system.

Pope Francis said during a speech at the Vatican: “I feel sorrow and shame – for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values. All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry.”

Bracken is the fifth female World Press Photo of the Year winner. Her recent work has focused on the ongoing legacy of intergenerational trauma from residential schools for Cree and Metis youth, Wet'suwet'en reoccupation and land rights fights, the overrepresentation of un-housed Indigenous people displaced in their historic territories, and interrogating the impact of race in her own family.

World Press Photo Story of the Year
Saving Forests with Fire
Matthew Abbott, for National Geographic/Panos Pictures

In 2021, fires ravaged different parts of the planet, from Greece to Siberia. Saving Forests with Fire by Matthew Abbott shows how the Nawarddeken people, the traditional owners of West Arnhem Land in the north of Australia, live with and strategically use fire to protect their environment.

Matthew Abbott, the photographer, said: “This story goes back a long time. In 2008, I was living and working in Arnhem Land and I was invited to a bush walk with the Nawarddeken people. That's where I met them for the first time and I learned how they were caring for their country. Over 10 years later, I returned, this time with National Geographic, to work on a story about how the Nawarddeken people are strategically burning their lands to prevent destructive wildfires and how this process is actually helping to save the environment.”

The photographer followed the Warddeken rangers and their practice known as cool burning, in which fires move slowly, burn only the undergrowth, and remove the build-up of fuel that feeds bigger blazes. As a result, these traditional burns prevent larger, more destructive fires from occurring in the hotter, dryer months of the year.

The Nawarddeken people see fire as a way to rejuvenate the land and use it as a tool to manage their 1.39 million hectare homeland. Warddeken rangers use traditional knowledge and combine it with contemporary technologies such as aerial burning and digital mapping to prevent wildfires. In doing so, they have successfully decreased the amount of climate-heating CO2.

Global jury chair Rena Effendi about this story: "It was so well put together that you cannot even think of the images in disparate ways. You look at it as a whole, and it was a seamless narrative."

Matthew Abbott is recognized for photographing social, cultural and political stories covering contemporary suburban and regional Australia. Abbott is interested in intimate storytelling, shining a light on quiet moments that usually go unseen. He believes that storytelling works best when it comes from a close connection to his subjects.

World Press Photo Long-Term Project Award
Amazonian Dystopia
Lalo de Almeida, for Folha de São Paulo/Panos Pictures

For the first time, as part of our regional model, the Long-Term Project Award recognizes stories that provide a long-term look at a specific issue.

Spanning over 12 years, Amazonian Dystopia by Lalo de Almeida delves into the social, political and environmental effects of deforestation, mining, and exploitation of resources in the Brazilian Amazon.

Since 2019, devastation of the Brazilian Amazon has been running at its fastest pace in a decade. Exploitation of the Amazon not only has devastating effects on the Amazon's ecosystem, with its extraordinary biodiversity, it also has a number of social impacts, particularly on Indigenous communities who are forced to deal with significant degradation of their environment, as well as their way of life.

Lalo de Almeida, the photographer, said: “You can't separate the environmental and the social questions as if they are two different things. You see that the majority of towns that have high levels of deforestation, have the highest levels of poverty as well. So these are elements that are completely connected: poverty, violence, environmental degradation and deforestation.”

Conservation regulation and enforcement have been eroded under Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. The president encourages farming and mining in protected areas, arguing this will combat poverty. In addition, large infrastructure schemes have been built. Bolsonaro frequently speaks out against environmental protection measures, and makes comments undermining Brazilian courts’ attempts to punish offenders. Environmentalists say that this is encouraging deforestation and creating a climate of impunity.

Rena Effendi on why this project was selected: “Amazonian Dystopia unveils a multitude of disastrous results of the exploitation of land and natural resources – the impact of shortsighted decisions driven by greed and enforced by those in power without any regard for the planet’s future.”

Lalo de Almeida has worked for Folha de São Paulo for 27 years while producing other documentary projects including The Man and the Land concerning traditional Brazilian populations and their relationship with the environment.

World Press Photo Open Format Award
Blood is a Seed
Isadora Romero

The first World Press Photo Open Format Global Award went to Ecuadorian visual storyteller Isadora Romero for her video Blood is a Seed (La Sangre Es Una Semilla).

Rena Effendi said about the video: “The Open Format Award winner Blood is a Seed addresses the consequences of colonization, eradication of culture and loss of heritage, while reclaiming traditional agricultural practices in an act of resistance.”

In a journey to her family’s ancestral village of Une, Cundinamarca, Colombia, Romero hopes to learn about their history and explore the forgotten memories of the land and crops, and about her grandfather and great-grandmother who were ‘seed guardians' and cultivated several potato varieties, from which only two still mainly exist.

Through Romero’s personal family story, the project questions the disappearance of seeds, forced migration, racism, colonization, and the subsequent loss of ancestral knowledge. During the course of the 20th century, 75% of agricultural plant genetic diversity was lost globally. A main driving force of declining agrobiodiversity is the push for the cultivation of monocultures of modified and often non-native varieties, for higher-yield crops.

Romero explains: “Losing diversity and seed varieties is not only affecting us as a community because we are losing nutrients and probably some special species will disappear completely. Cultural memory is getting lost as well. This knowledge has been passed from generation to generation, and this knowledge is not usually validated by the Western scientific community. I think it's very important to understand how we are losing this memory.”

The video is composed of digital and film photographs, some of which were taken on expired 35mm film and later drawn on by Romero’s father. Although the project is an exploration into the past, it engages with contemporary techniques – playing with the parallels between genetic codes and binary codes of digital photographs – in order to preserve this ancient knowledge for the future.

Isadora Romero is interested in social, gender, and environmental issues. Her visual essays, exploring the border between art and photojournalism, seek different approaches using various narrative tools.

World Press Photo Exhibition 2022

The awarded photographs, stories and productions will premiere at De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on 15 April before starting on the exhibition’s global tour. Upcoming exhibitions are confirmed and added to the calendar throughout the year.

We congratulate the winners and thank all the documentary photographers and photojournalists around the world who entered this year.