World Press Photo 2010

It’s that time of year again where I write my review of the World Press Photo exhibition. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get to this, largely because I was left a little flat by this year’s winners. Not sure why, but there was nothing that really stood out for me for some reason.

As always, I didn’t like the overall winner. While Italian photographer Pietro Masturzo’s captures of women shouting their dissent from a Tehran rooftop after Iran’s disputed presidential election last year was a commendable record of a worthy story, the photos themselves were uninspiring.

Michael Wolf's excellent capture from the Tokyo subway.

But this is perhaps the third year running now that the winner has left me cold. I guess the judges have a different set of criteria to me.

The overriding theme of this year’s exhibition for me was one of a bitter and twisted world, particularly in the news categories. While bad news is often good news for photojournalists – packed with drama, tension, violence and a myriad of other incomprehensible human actions – for me there were too few good news stories told for the 2010 prizes.

Perhaps the most outstanding shots this year fell into the sport category. Elizabeth Kreutz’s series on Lance Armstrong from the 2009 Tour de France was excellent. It showed the determination of a man who inspire many, and did so in high contrast black and white. Cycling is a colourful sport. To achieve what she did in monochrome, playing on Armstrong’s seemingly unbreakable resolve, was a terrific use of the medium.

But my favourite set in the sport stories category finished second to her. Denis Rouvre, a French photographer, picked a unique subject for his entry, Senegalese wrestling, and absolutely nailed it. Not only were his subjects beautifully shot, but they were shrouded in mystery and wrapped in a story that I doubt anyone that has seen this year’s exhibition was aware of before. It was an artistic and journalistic masterpiece.

Contemporary issues third-place prize went to British snapper Zed Nelson, and caught my eye not so much because of the story it told, but because I thought it was a shot of Heroes actor Zachary Quinto.

One of my ultimate faves was Michael Wolf’s entry into the daily life category. His capture of a woman crammed into a Tokyo subway train, condensation trickling across the glass between her and fresher air, said so much. A brilliant catch, and more than worthy of the first prize it rightfully won.

Dutch photographer Annie van Gemert also created a great set in the portrait stories category, challenging the mind with a set of shots of pre-pubescent kids whose androgyny was highlighted in a fascinating and very imaginative way. Her countryman Roderick Henderson, who pipped her for first place, did a great job too, simply shooting faces stuck in traffic in Transvold, Williams Lake, British Columbia. Again, superb.

So what stuck in my head most? Well, not a good news story, but a chilling essay on drug cartels and smugglers in Guinea-Bissau, where Italy’s Marco Vernaschi appeared to gain extraordinary access to what looks to be one of the most dangerous groups of people in the world. His group shot of the alleged assassins of President Vieira was exceptional, and the scene of that killing as grotesque an image as you can imagine, so much so it was hard to look away, despite every instinct telling you that you should.

I hope for a better and, perhaps, happier collection when the 2011 winners come around. Let’s hope our world can produce more joy and less hardship in the time that remains before they are judged.

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