Looking back at 2023

A year of learning and amazing stories

Once again, this year we saw a wide range of reactions to the images and stories it is our privilege to share with the world. From Evgeniy Maloletka’s impactful Photo of the Year, where people would be seen in our exhibitions staring with tears in their eyes, to the hundreds of letters people wrote to the residence of Al Max, a displaced fishing community in Alexandria, Egypt, after seeing Mohamed Mahdy’s work.

This year has been a journey of learning and growth for the World Press Photo Foundation. We witnessed the tangible outcomes of our strategic shift towards greater inclusivity and diversity. Our commitment to highlighting unique stories from around the world took center stage in 2023, informing all of our activities, from the annual contest to our exhibitions and educational programs.

In 2021, we introduced our regional model to increase the balance among contest entrants, narratives, and winners and it has continued to prove effective. Each year we see that the regional juries are able to surface world-class winners and stories that might have been previously overlooked. This year, out of the 3,752 photographers who entered the contest, 5% were from Africa, 8% from South America, and 5% from Southeast Asia and Oceania. Out of the total number of participants, 22% identified as female or non-binary. These numbers show an increase in comparison to previous editions of the contest, which is a sign that our new strategy is working, but we also know that it will be a long process to achieve greater diversity and representation. This will continue to be a key focus in the coming year.

For the second time, the entries were judged by regional juries, each of them composed of a diverse blend of experts with in-depth knowledge and understanding of the issues specific to their regions. After two years of organizing the judging fully remotely due to the pandemic, we were very happy to host the Asia regional jury in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in collaboration with our regional partner Drik Picture Library.

In February, we welcomed the Global Jury in Amsterdam for a week of long and passionate discussions to select this year’s winners. Amongst the awarded projects, we saw images of war and conflict, migration and displacement, but also stories of hope and resilience. We were very pleased to see that 16 out of the 24 winning projects and honorable mentions had been produced by photographers who are local to the areas where the story is told.

In May, most of the winners and honorable mentions joined us in Amsterdam for the Winners’ Program, a week of networking events, workshops, and celebrations that culminated in the Awards Ceremony, in which the photographers received their awards from His Royal Highness Prince Constantijn. This year, for the first time, we organized a Public Day at De Nieuwe Kerk, a day of lectures, panel discussions, and conversations with the photographers open to the general public. This public program proved to be a success - over 500 people attended!

The winning stories from last year’s contest were shared in 69 locations, resonating with diverse audiences worldwide. We were happy to bring our annual show back to Hong Kong, where press freedom has significantly decreased in the past years, bringing the stories that matter back to the public. Besides our annual exhibition, we expanded our international reach by bringing our thematic shows to 20 locations, including Kyoto, Valletta, Dak Lak, Krakow, Veracruz, St. Augustine, Bangkok, and Johannesburg, amongst others.

Here are some more highlights about the 2023 exhibition:

  • Our flagship exhibition at De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam had 82,499 visitors in 2023.
  • Montreal welcomed a staggering 66,000 visitors, while Vienna hosted over 50,000 visitors.
  • A touching moment unfolded in Kyiv, Ukraine, with a solidarity exhibition uniting the local photo industry for the first time after the full-scale invasion, fostering a sense of community and vitality.
  • Our exhibitions were also at prominent photo festivals, including Zoom Photo Festival Saguenay, Photolux in Lucca, and Festival della Fotografia Etica in Lodi.
We also welcomed a new regional partner: Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa. Through this partnership, we aim to focus on expanding the impact of the stories from the Africa region, enhance awareness about regional educational initiatives and available funding opportunities.

However, this year, amidst the celebrations, we also faced some challenges that demanded our attention. In October, the government in Budapest banned access to the World Press Photo exhibition to anyone under 18 due to the inclusion of this story. "Home for the Golden Gays", by Hannah Reyes Morales, provides a sincere and insightful documentation of the experiences of an elderly LGBTQI+ community in the Philippines. As we made clear in our statement, freedom of expression should be respected and encouraged worldwide.

2023 was yet again a year where press freedom was under threat especially in terms of deaths of journalists. This was already reflected in the World Press Photo Exhibition 2023 with the photo of Maya Levin on Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral. Akleh, a veteran reporter of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, was shot in May 2022 while covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin, West Bank. Yet, we were still shocked by the events of this year. Up to date, the Israel/Hamas war has been the deadliest conflict for journalists that the Committee to Protect Journalists has ever recorded - with 61 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 3 Lebanese journalists confirmed dead as of 21 December.

The Israel-Hamas war also once again highlighted the dangers posed by fake images and disinformation, and the role of new AI tools in this. World Press Photo joined other organizations and individual experts to develop a set of ethical principles to help guide decisions by photojournalists and media when confronting these challenges. One of the realizations driving these is that AI tools cannot create photographs because photographs capture light on a sensor or film and are a record of a physical moment. As a result and after feedback from our community, we have for the coming annual contest prohibited all AI generated images (both generative fill and fully generated images) in all categories.

As a response to the constant threats that photojournalists are facing worldwide, we developed a press freedom strategy, which aims at providing training and emergency support to photojournalists and documentary photographers working in high-risk areas. Our first training will be in 2024, thanks to a grant from the Goeie Grutten Foundation.
In terms of funding and partnerships, we were able to secure in 2023 significant funding from various foundations. We also renewed our partnership with the Nationale Postcode Loterij for the coming 5 years, and continued our successful collaboration with our strategic partner PwC The Netherlands. Our mission would not be possible without the support of all of our partners and associates.

Overall, our intentions for next year are to continue towards our mission: Connecting the world to the stories that matter. We will do this through our exhibitions and educational programs, creating more opportunities for photojournalists and documentary photographers to meet and learn from each other. We will continue to celebrate the importance of trustworthy journalism and visual storytelling, and to defend freedom of expression as the pillar of a democratic society. And we will be doing this from our new office at Polonceaukade 20, 1014 DA Amsterdam!

As we look back on 2023, we are filled with gratitude for the unwavering support of our community. Together, we have made a lasting impact, and we eagerly anticipate the opportunities and challenges that the coming year will bring. Thank you for your continued commitment and support, and we wish you a great start to the new year!

-- Joumana El Zein Khoury, executive director

Photo credits: Frank van Beek/ANP, Antonio Pellegrino, Frank van Beek/ANP