How different juries dealt with stories of conflict and war

Conflict and war, and stories that matter

Felipe Dana, Battle for Mosul, 2017 World Press Photo Contest

From Ukraine to Palestine to Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Lebanon, Vietnam, and far too many other examples to mention here - photographers have documented the reality of war and been recognized for their work by World Press Photo.

The approach used differs over time and between photographers. The work always requires courage, dedication and skill, but there are many different ways of going about it. So how do the independent jurors decide which images should be awarded?

To begin with, each jury is unique, made up of different well-qualified professionals who know the context of what they are judging. Each juror comes to the process with their own experiences and perspectives. That regularly leads to profound and spirited discussions about the merits of each photo.

To explore this process, we asked two past jury members from recent years to talk about one of the photos selected that year (a 2023 image from Ukraine, and a 2022 image from Palestine).


Today, conflicts are erupting in all regions of our world, and we see stories of violence and processes of dehumanization every day. The abundance of such visual material contributes to its rejection. But at the same time, I propose to look at this issue from a different perspective. Understanding and knowing the number of conflicts and their direct connection leads to an understanding of how close and dangerous it is and can stimulate global responsibility and joint action.
– Kateryna Radchenko, 2023 World Press Photo Contest Europe region jury chair

Kateryna Radchenko is a curator, artist and photography researcher based in Ukraine. She was the Chair of the 2023 Europe regional jury. She says the story each picture tells "is unique and has a right to be shown,” but in order to choose one, a jury should always take into account a combination of factors.

These include the importance of a topic – how well known or unknown the story is; the visual language of the image – the method the photographer uses; the author’s voice or vision; the context in which the story was made and how deeply immersed the author is in the topic; and the technical quality of the image.

How each of these factors is weighed may vary for different images and may be different each year with different juries. Kateryna says other jurors have given her new insights: ”It was in discussions and exchanges of views that we searched together for the stories that were important to show the world."

In the 2023 winning selection from Mariupol, Ukraine, Kateryna says the details tell a complex story of the fragility of life. The context of the image was important. Photographer Evgeniy Maloletka was one of the last journalists in Mariupol during the siege of the city by Russian troops. His photos "made it possible to see how the capture and destruction of the city and civilians actually took place.” Without them, Kateryna says, ”we would never have known how the city was captured and what inhumane conditions the city's residents found themselves in."


Photographs that have an enduring impact for me are those depicting realities of conflict from a more nuanced human angle. It's important to report on the current events unfolding in a conflict, but I am more interested in hidden moments, between combat.
– Rena Effendi, 2022 World Press Photo Contest global jury chair

Rena Effendi is a documentary photographer from Azerbaijan. She was chair of the global jury in 2022. She went on to say:

Once, an Armenian soldier who fought in the second Karabakh war, which raged between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, told me about the time he spent in a trench during the hours of lull between the fighting: "Hey Armenian, do you have any cigarettes?" an Azerbaijani soldier would yell across the field from the trench on the opposite side of the frontline, just a few meters away. They would then exchange cigarettes and water and crack jokes and laugh. "I wish this moment could last forever", the soldier told me. War is a terrible, evil business, but there is humanity, which shines in the most unexpected places.

Looking for photos that show that humanity on the fringes of the action, or the of the aftermath, showing “how people cope with the tragedies of war, how they adapt and persevere in the face of pain” she was drawn to this photo by Fatima Shbair of Palestinian children huddled around candles in a makeshift tent as night descends on the ruined landscape of Gaza.

For Rena, it captures ”a moment of silence amidst the chaos.” "It’s moments like this,” Rena says, "which test the endurance of the people, as they pause to consider the losses and face the trauma and the impact of violence, disrupting their daily existence.”

Each story is unique and needs to be assessed individually. In the end, photos that deal with the horrors of war and violent conflict will always be confronting. At the same time, we can take inspiration from the work these photographers do, often at great physical and psychological risk, to help us understand, at least in a small way, a reality that is almost unimaginable to most of us.

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