The World Press Photo exhibition reaches 4 million people each year, travelling to 100 cities in 45 countries.
The Newsroom’s Nicole Iliagoueva, who attended the 2016 exhibition when it was briefly in Sydney found the images leave a permanent mark.
Entering the low-lit space of the World Press Photo Gallery in the NSW State Library gives the warm feeling of being in a refuge of knowledge. But on occasion that knowledge can be confronting and cold.
Exhibition coordinator Avryl Whitnall told The Newsroom the aim of the exhibition was to “bring distress to our doorsteps in order to raise awareness of the events of the last 12 months”. Because life isn’t always rosy-cheeks and rainbows, there is a sign warning visitors about the content.
These superbly captured visceral moments in time, present an alternative opportunity to educate oneself on important topical issues through the lens of a camera rather than through a textbook. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The winning entries from the 2016 World Press Photo competition were on display in Sydney from May 21 to June 19. Spread across three rooms, it started with gentler themes like nature and sport but then moved into heavier contemporary material like war, police brutality, terror attacks and sexual assault.
The star of the 59th World Press Photo awards was Warren Richardson’s Hope for a new life. He is the first Australian winner of the top prize.
Ms Whitnall said the photo stood out because it was black and white – “In this day and age, everything is colourful” – and expressed an emotive, topical issue. The photo encapsulates the shuddering reality of the refugee crisis as a Syrian refugee who had crossed into Hungary is handed a baby (whose is not known) through a small gap in barbed wire.
The rapid exchange is emphasised by the blurriness of the image, hinting that there was no time for second thoughts. The juxtaposition of the innocent baby with the harshness of the dangerous, wired fence highlights the raw intensity of the moment and the extreme measures people will go to to protect those they love. To them there is no other choice but to hope. Photos like this allow the audience to come close to understanding what life is like for these people.
Another piece that stood out for me was Mexican photographer Anuar Patjae Floriuk’s mystical masterpiece Whale whisperers, also in black and white. Many people find beauty in fantasy creatures and fairytales, but here you don’t need to escape into the unknown – real magic is right in front of your eyes. The photo is tinged with a beautiful sadness, which reminded me of the story of the “loneliest whale in the world” which sings at a higher frequency to other whales. (It was popularly supposed to wander the waters of the Pacific Ocean alone, in search of companionship, calling but never being heard.) This surreal photo highlights the contemporary issue of large whales being an endangered species, almost hunted to extinction during the era of commercial whaling. To me it was a reminder to protect the extraordinary creatures of the sea.
Other photographs of particular power were Sexual Assault in America’s Military by Mary F, Calvert (1st prize in long-term project stories) and Corentin Fohlen’s March against terrorism in Paris (2nd prize for single image in Spot News category).
The photos were conventionally framed, allowing the viewer to drown out unnecessary noise and focus on the works. In fact the whole gallery was minimalistic. If it weren’t for the gentle nature of other visitors quietly analysing the curve of a shadow in one photo or discuss the overarching idea of another with strangers, the white-walls of the gallery would have seemed intimidating, the sound of my own footsteps across the wooden floors would have been too loud.
I left the exhibition in satisfied silence, that feeling you get after finishing a really good, long book – that your soul is sated, for the time being at least. Walking home, I felt I could really appreciate the small things in life, like the different shades of green in Hyde Park and the woman with an ethereal voice singing French opera on the streets. It was a pleasant consequence of zooming into the detail of photos capturing the shifts and transformations of the world.
This exhibition allowed me to study those changes, be moved by them, long enough to change me.
If you want to locate an exhibition near you, check the WPP website. Otherwise, you can view all the winners online at http://www.worldpressphoto.org/exhibitions. – Nicole Iliagoueva