World Press Photo 2009

Overall, this year’s World Press Photo finalists were, as always, excellent. It’s one of the strongest collections in recent years, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the winning shot, taken by Anthony Suau from a series on the US economic crisis. In context, the shot is great, but isolated as it was for the win, it lacked a bit for me. I thought the shot Suau took of the traders at the end of the day at the NYSE was far more striking, and said much more on the subject he’d chosen to depict in his photos.

Having said that, picking a winner from some of the most extraordinary shots taken over the past 12 months is no enviable task – not that I would turn it down if offered the chance to judge. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d pass my opinion on what I consider to be the best of the photos that made it into the winners’ gallery.

Gleb Garanich, Ukraine, Reuters: Georgian man mourns his brother after bombardment, Gori, Georgia, 9 August
This was the image that hit hardest for me. There are a lot of images to look through when you inspect the World Press Photo winners. This particular one was burned into my memory by the time I had finished. It’s a tragic image, and the painful irony is the beauty of its capture. Everything about it helps to tell the story – the figures in the foreground, framed spectacularly by the devastation all around.

World Press Photo

It may seem strange to describe such a hard-hitting photograph in this way, but put yourself in the photographer’s shoes, and you realise how tough it is to take a picture like this, and help us – the viewers – understand the pain and suffering war brings.

Garanich would have been in the midst of the same bursting shells that led to the death of the man in his image. He would have been scurrying around the battleground seeking for cover, the end of his life potentially a moment away. Yet somehow, he saw this image, and took it.

There is a popular misconception about photojournalists around the world – that they’re heartless, intrusive vermin that think nothing of the harrowing situations they report on. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most put themselves in situations of grave danger in order to inform you and I of the tragedies that go on around the world unnoticed and too often unchecked by other nations more concerned with their own well being.

Sebastian D’Souza, India, Mumbai Mirror: Attack inside Chatrapati Shivaji railway terminus, Mumbai, India, 26 November
The terrorist attacks in Mumbai were terrifying for those of us thousands of miles away, let alone any innocents caught up in the shootings. Sebastian D’Souza’s image captures that terror in so many ways. The desolate station, where so many fled from the gunmen, is juxtaposed perfectly by the movement in the policeman – no doubt both from fear and natural movement. What’s more frightening is the mystery that lurks beyond the door, and the ticket desk. It’s another exceptional capture.

Kevin Frayer, Canada, The Associated Press: Palestinian protestors take cover from Israeli tear gas, West Bank, 27 May
Some of the most beautiful parts of the world are inaccessible to ordinary men, women, and children because of the danger that resides there. Afghanistan is the obvious example. Palestine is another. Kevin Frayer’s image brings this home, with the natural beauty at the heart of this image destroyed brutally by the smoking tear gas canister and fearful protestors.

Olivier Laban-Mattei, France, Agence France-Presse: Myanmar (Burma) cyclone aftermath, May
Cyclone Nargis was the worst natural disaster to hit Myanmar. It killed 146,000 people, and thousands more remain missing as a result of its unforgiving power. The tragedy received little attention in media in Australia. It was almost silent when compared to the devastating tsunami of Boxing Day, 2004. Why? It’s a god question. The recognition afforded to Olivier Laban-Mattei’s images has uncovered a story too many of us failed to hear about, so congratulations should go to him.

Chiba Yasuyoshi, Japan, Agence France Presse: Inter-tribal conflict, Western Kenya, 1 March
This image is extraordinary for the fact the fighters in it are carrying bows and arrows. It reminds me very much of the movie Zulu. It seems bizarre to think that not much has changed since those days. We still fight.

Callie Shell, USA, Aurora Photos for Time: Barack Obama presidential campaign, January-October
Barack Obama’s presidential campaign will be remembered as one of the most inspiring of all. Here was a black American, with a muslim name, aiming to become the leader of the free world. He’d follow arguably one of the most infamous US Presidential terms of all time – right up there with Richrd Nixon. Obama is a symbol of hope, and so much of that hope comes across in Callie Shell’s awesome documenting of his campaign – perhaps most vividly in this image, which shows the youth of America, looking up to a man who has infected an entire planet with his enthusiasm for change.

Philippe Dudouit, Switzerland, Contact Press Images: Tuareg rebels, Mali and Niger
This collection of images is fascinating, frightening, and even comedic at times. The portraits are excellent, but perhaps the most poignant one for me is the one of the band. It looks like a scene from Borat. Superb.

Julian Abram Wainwright, Canada, for EPA: Men’s 10m platform divers, Beijing Olympic Games, 22-23 August
Probably the most aesthetically pleasing collection of images this year is this. There is little that needs to be said about these pictures. They’re simply stunning.

Xiaoling Wu, China, Xinhua News Agency: Judoka Ange Mercie Jean-Baptiste at Beijing Olympic Games, 11 August
My second favourite image this year is this – a wonderful moment that shows the commitment and passion that goes into being an Olympic judoka. The droplet crown of blood is just perfect. It’s an absolutely wonderful capture. Haiti’s  Ange Mercie Jean-Baptiste id not win this bought, but this image proves her courage is in no doubt.

Howard Schatz, USA: At the Fights: Boxers before and after the bout
This series of images is superb. It depicts the brutality of boxing, a sport that divides opinion on whether it should be allowed or banned as a sport. Personally, I am a fan of boxing. It teaches discipline, passion, commitment, courage, and above all respect – not only for your corner, but that of your opponent. I’ve spent a lot of time with boxers over the years, and far from being dull-headed masses of muscle that can’t think for themselves, they’ve often been some of the most honourable characters I’ve encountered.

Lissette Lemus, El Salvador, El Diario de Hoy: Petrona Rivas, victim of gang violence, El Salvador, 15 October
For pure shock value, this image arguably takes the biscuit. It’s not so much the corpse in the foreground, but the no longer innocent eyes that gaze upon it from the minibus. Children should never be subjected to such horrors at this age. It’s a memory nobody should be forced to live with.

Eraldo Peres, Brazil, The Associated Press: People gather around the body of Thiago Franklino Lima at Coque slum, Recife, Brazil
This image acts as an almost perfect sequel to that of Lissette Lemus in the Daily Life category. The majority of onlookers are now older, and appear completely indifferent to the dead body that lies before them. Some laugh, others appear pre-occupied by more trivial matters. The message is that after seeing enough violence, death, murder and hardship, it becomes a way of life, and thus cycle continues.

Yuri Kozyrev, Russia, Noor for Time: Rajiha Jihad Jassim with her son Sarhan, Baghdad, Iraq
This portrait could almost be a painting. The light is exceptional, and the mood striking. It offers the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq. We can only hope such sentiment comes to be.

Li Jiejun , China, New Express Daily: Icons of war photography
Using toys for portraiture is a fast growing trend among photographers. Using the to depict great war photography is as unique an idea as any, and Li Jiejun’s set is a triumph.

Kacper Kowalski, Poland, Kosycarz Foto Press: A day on the beach, Wladyslawowo, Poland, 27 July
Like Jiejun’s set, Kacper Kowalski forces us to look at a common scene in a different way. This bird’s eye view of a beach in Poland at different times of the same day is wonderful, and shows just how little space we humans require in order to allow sun, sand and sea to cleanse our minds of the stresses and strains of our lives.

Fu Yongjun, China, Hangzhou City Express: A tree by the West Lake, Hangzhou
Like Kowalski’s beach set, Fu Yongjun has created a lovely little documentary of the life of a tree, showing just how much it can change over the course of 12 months.

It seems the perfect way to place a full stop on this post for like Yongjun’s tree, these pictures show how dramatically the world can change over the 12 months that make up any year. What World Press Photo will bring us in 2010 I, for one, cannot wait to see.

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