World Press Photo: A Year in Frames

The World Press Photo exhibition at the Westlicht Gallery proves that a picture is worth more than a thousand words

European coloring director at Sasoon, Peter Dawson (left) prepares his team | Photo: Doris Neulinger

A soldier in Afghanistan | Photo: Tim Hetherington

A marathon winner | Photo: Erik Refner

A retired circus artist | Photo: Rafal Milach

soldier

A soldier in Afghanistan | Photo: Tim Hetherington

It is the 16th of September 2007, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan; the valley has been the scene of some of the heaviest and most brutal combat in the country. The expression on the soldier’s face conveys exhaustion. As he sinks onto the bunker, his body language is so iconic it almost looks posed; the green of his camouflage uniform blends seamlessly into the background, and only the bright white shade of his skin gives him away.

Here the aphorism holds: sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words.

“The picture shows one man’s exhaustion – and that of a nation,” says Gary Knight, president of the jury of the World Press Photo competition. “We are all connected with it. It is the picture of a man at the end of his tether.” The soldier’s photograph, taken by British Vanity Fair photographer Tim Hetherington is the winner of the 51st World Press Photo of the Year 2007 competition.

marathon winner

A marathon winner | Photo: Erik Refner

Only a handful of photographs – selected from the flood of over 80,000 submissions each year – are awarded one of the coveted prizes and displayed in the framework of the travelling exhibition viewed by over 2 million visitors at 100 locations worldwide  – a testament to the best of photo journalism, and a retrospective of the past year’s events in politics, sports, culture, or science.

In Vienna, the show is mounted at the Westlicht gallery in the 7th district, a 1950’s glass factory turned loft, that also accommodates an extensive collection of historic cameras and other photographic equipment, as well as a variety of exhibitions on the history of photography in Austria.

Among the few selected photographs taken over the course of the last year, are many from everyday life – an elderly couple trudging home after a birthday party; another, a series on lives of three children of different religions living in and around Bethlehem.

One series shows four TV sets – one in China, one in Mexico, Nigeria and the UK – next to photographs of their respective owners, revealing the surroundings and the eyes of those engrossed on this window to the world.

clown

A retired circus artist | Photo: Rafal Milach

Other pictures are heavily political – sexual abuse and assault victims in Colombia; a close-up portrait of former president Putin; smoke against an orange tinted sunrise backdrop of missiles launched towards Israel from Gaza City; a bustling street of traumatized faces, wounded victims, flames and chaos, taken after the assassination of Pakistan’s Benezir Bhutto – slightly out of focus, yet so dead on.

So many stories of success, of failure, of despair, and love, and struggle; so many people, so many lives, so much to know, and so little we do.  It is a reminder of how easy it is to forget, that our lives are so ephemeral, each a small grain of sand, or a drop of water in the ocean. And thinking of the butterfly effect, I wonder how we  have been affected by the events, and the people and the fates documented in these pictures.

For more on the annual World Press Photo exhibit, see “Finding Beauty in Hardship” in Oct 2011 TVR, or visit www.westlicht.at.

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