The Power of an Image – World Press Photos of 2013

I have just finished browsing the winners for the 2013 World Press Photo Competition. I was blown away with the quality of the images, and the ability of these amazing photographers to put themselves in a position to capture them. The ability to put themselves in a situation like this, and still be able to focus on anything at all, let alone all the technical attributes that go into taking the photo is quite simply amazing.

The overall winner of the 56th World Press Photo Contest is Swedish photographer Paul Hansen for his image from Gaza. The photo shows the bodies of two children being carried by family members to their funeral.

The bodies of two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and his elder brother Muhammad, almost four, are carried by their uncles to a mosque for their funeral, in Gaza City.. Photographer: Paul Hansen
The bodies of two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and his elder brother Muhammad, almost four, are carried by their uncles to a mosque for their funeral, in Gaza City.  Photographer: Paul Hansen

After looking at the collection of images that had won, and placed highly in the competition, I started feeling a bit depressed. This is the world that we live in. The most important, captivating and award winning press photos for the year are of death & sadness. Is this really what people are wanting to read about and look at? I understand that this is reality, and unfortunately these things are happening throughout our world. But would our world be a better and happier place if the images we are seeing everyday on line, in our newspapers and on our television were images of hope, success and beauty?

Being a photographer, I tried putting myself in the shoes of Paul Hansen, the photographer of that winning image. How would I feel having taken that photo? How would I feel winning such a prestigious award for taking that photo? Is it really a winning photo when it depicts such strong emotions of human suffering?

“The strength of the picture lies in the way it contrasts the anger and sorrow of the adults with the innocence of the children. It’s a picture I will not forget.” – Mayu Mohanna, Jury member from Peru.

As a press photo, I guess this is what its all about. Creating an image that is not forgotten by someone wading through the thousands of images a day that we all come across in this media rich world we live in. The telling of the story is important. And hopefully, in some way, can help make a change in the situation in Gaza. Will it make people stand up and take notice? Will it change the way people think, act and respond to this ongoing conflict? Will it cause us, as humans, to demand a change, to demand our leaders and politicians step in and do what ever it takes to make things better?

All to often I think we take these sort of images for granted. Sure the photographer chooses to go and can leave when they want. But I still can’t help thinking about the emotional impact that a job like this has on a person. You’re a photographer, you have a camera, how can you help people in some of the worst situations mankind has ever created for itself?

A Pulitzer Prize winning photographer from 1993 obviously struggled with this same concept. The photographer by the name of Kevin Carter (Yes that’s my dad’s name, and no he is not related to me) took the following photo of the famine in Sudan:

Child trying to reach a feeding center, Sudan 1993. Photographer: Kevin Carter.
Child trying to reach a feeding center, Sudan 1993. Photographer: Kevin Carter.

The photographer was in Sudan capturing images of the famine for the worlds media and came across the small child trying to get to a feeding station with the vulture lurking in the background. The image was published in the New York Times in 1993 and went on to win the highest photographic prize, the Pulitzer in 1994. While this kind of award, and the prestige and publicity that goes with it could have catapulted Kevin Carter to the top end of the photojournalism world,  it was only months later that he took his own life, leaving the following suicide note:

“I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken [recently deceased colleague Ken Oosterbroek] if I am that lucky.”

The newsworthy and important images that we see, that show us what is happening in our world, that are used to sell newspapers, magazines and TV ratings are captured at such a high cost. Costly to the people in them, and to the people taking them. Perhaps we will take a little bit longer, and even say a short prayer, when we look at the front page of this mornings newspaper and think about the people in the photo and the people taking it.

Here are a few more photos from this years World Press Photography Awards:



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