Note to self: never go to an exhibition on a Sunday, especially if it’s free and Christmas is approaching. Although the sun was shining bright outside, the Southbank Centre was absolutely packed, and looking at the pictures I had been waiting a while to see was closer to a nightmare than a Sunday afternoon leisure activity. Thankfully, the beauty of the photographs showcased was once again enough to make me endure all the rest.
The World Press Photo exhibition is something to look forward to every November. Now in its 56th year it is, as its slogan says, “a window on the world through award-winning photojournalism”. Divided into various categories, from Contemporary Issues to Daily Life, from Sports to Nature, the winners were selected from over 100,000 submissions sent in from 124 countries.
This year, the main recurring theme is, not surprisingly, the Syrian conflict: from Sebastiano Tomada’s evocative photograph of a wounded baby boy crying while awaiting treatment in a hospital in Aleppo to Alessio Romenzi’s picture of a young girl mourning her father’s death in front of his open coffin, the shots are always full of emotion.
…pictures the bodies of two-year-old Suhaib and his three-year-old brother Muhammad as they are carried by their uncles…
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another important theme. The World Press Photo of the Year, taken by Paul Hansen, pictures the bodies of two-year-old Suhaib and his three-year-old brother Muhammad as they are carried by their uncles to a mosque for their funeral in Gaza City. Other photographs, taken by Bernat Armangue, portray a man crying over the bodies of four dead children and the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike.
The other pictures cover a wide range of topics: a series of photographs by Xiaoqun Zheng shows the conditions of animals in captivity in China; Tomás Munita’s story tackles the problem of gang violence in El Salvador, and what is being done to solve it; Iranian women dressed for the ceremony of Chehel Manbar are the subjects of Ebrahim Noroozi’s portraits, while Paul Nicklen’s stunning photos depict the life of emperor penguins.
…boys playing in a football field with their slum in the background…
While some artists may deal with killings, prostitution and war, my two personal favourites are from the Daily Life category, and revolve around football: Frederik Buyckx’s “Pacified Favelas” series includes a stunning photograph of boys playing in a football field with their slum in the background, while Daniel Rodrigues won the 1st prize in this category for his photograph of boys and girls playing together in Guinea-Bissau.
Although some of the images displayed can be shocking, provoking and sometimes even unsettling, the World Press Photo exhibition remains one of the best of the year. It simply represents the world: in all its beauty and in all its ugliness.