The sad truth is that brutal, traumatic events produce compelling, even beautiful photography. The immediate capture of emotion, the elemental fury of real danger and the flinching discomfort of people rebelling against or coming to terms with circumstance. Now in its 55th year, World Press Photo brings together a selection from the over 100,000 images the jury receives. The gallery is now online, catalogue no doubt to follow soon in shops and if its like previous years an exhibition will be at the Royal Festival Hall in the autumn. Once more the choices are compelling and once more there’s no need to look anywhere else for the best in reportage photography.
The winning image is by Samuel Aranda. It stands out because the emotion is so raw yet there is no clear sight of a face. A mother holds her son. He is injured and this is a makeshift hospital inside a mosque. She is mostly hidden by traditional Islamic dress, his face is burrowed into her clothes. She holds him tightly whilst wearing dirty, smudged surgical gloves. To the side we see the shapes of other men. No doubt injured too. The light is striking: the man’s shoulders and head are lit, the rest of the world in grade of shadow. It is a difficult image to take on board. There is the political: this is a protester in Yemen. There is the personal: the mother and the son. And there is the unanswered: what happened before and what happened next. It is a worthy winner.
My personal favourite is by Tomasz Lazar (above). I like how it feels like a contemporary reworking of Weegee – all New York raw with cops, reactions and skewed angles. It comes from the ongoing skirmishes between the forces of the status quo and the unknown folk of Occupy Wall Street. Again, the political is global but the moment is in yer face personal. I also have to draw attention to Roy McManus’s great shot of muddied rugby players fighting for the ball as the rain sheets down because it shows how great photography can come away from the stereotyped big locations. It’s from Old Belvedere, an AIB League team whose ground can hold a not exactly head turning 1,000 people but looking at the weather undoubtedly far fewer were there that day. I hope McManus had an effective waterproof.
The Arab Spring and the Tsunami are well-represented and there are enough devestated families from around the world to keep most doom hunters happy. What there isn’t is any gratuitous bleeding or nasty, cruel close-ups of personal pain. This is the final feature that makes World Press Photo something to treasure: it understands that it is the humanity in events, be they big or small, that matters. And the result is that whilst you won’t find many laughs (and the ‘rival’ Press Photographers Year has a lot more happy diversions) you will find plenty that sparks your desire to learn more about your world.
See the gallery here.