The Power of Conflict Imagery — Commentary + Appreciation for the 2013 World Press Photo Contest Winners

Photo by Paul Hansen / World Press Photo

Paul Hansen of Sweden had his moving photo of a group of men in Gaza City carrying the bodies of two dead children selected as the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year. The photo, taken on November 20, 2012, was captured as the group was transporting the bodies to a mosque for a burial ceremony. The boys — two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and his older brother Muhammad — were killed when their home was hit by an Israeli missile strike. Behind the first line of men you can make out another body being carried, that of the boys’ father.

The jury-selected photo was announced as the winner this past February 15. I’ve been struggling with whether or not to call attention to this photo and several other “war & conflict” winners since that date…not because they’re not worthy, but because I’m human and this stuff carries powerful emotions on board.

Said Mayu Mohanna, jury member from Peru, of Hansen’s winning photo:

“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.”

I can’t forget it either – and nor can I forget so many of the conflict photos I see.

Certainly I know intuitively and also as you — this community of photographers — underpin this for our community every day… when featuring, sharing, “dealing” with war and conflict photos we have to treat them with a special reverence. [Sometimes those lessons are learned by fellow bloggers are witnessed by all of us...] For me, even the notion of selecting an image like this as a “winner” of anything makes me grimace – at a fundamentally human level. Certainly the timing and narrative of the image is of the highest quality, and, granted, the Press Photo Contest is not intended to glorify war and conflict or rejoice in the subject matter it presents, but deserved as it may be, given it’s many merits, I struggle to shake the image of a blue ribbon pinned to the bottom right corner of Hansen’s photo –or any such photo– because I’m human.

I, when pushed, can separate the work from the unpleasant message, and I’m able to champion the line “these images deserve to be seen by the world” but it’s always a struggle for me to take these in… And while I’m not a photojournalist by trade, we’re all photographers and related somehow by the power of the image, and we know that at least one of us can’t leave moments like these alone. So we do as Mohanna does, and we take the shot. For better or worse. For the spread of awareness or the spread of violence.

The rest is up to the global discourse.

[Fortunately, the World Press Photo Contest picks winners across nine categories - not just War and Conflict. So while I'm most moved by the war & conflict material, I've highlighted a selection the First Place Winners below. But don't substitute just these photos for the full array of work here on the WorldPressPhoto.org site. They'd love for you to visit them, and so would I. Hats off to them and the photographers worldwide who immerse themselves in this work.]

Winner, Contemporary Issues. "At the Dandora Dump." Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by Micah Albert / World Press Photo

Winner, Observed Portraits. "Little Survivor." Belgrade, Serbia. Photo by Nemaja Pancic / World Press Photo

Winner, Staged Portraits. "Daniel Kaluuya. London, UK. Photo by Nadav Kander / World Press Photo

Winner, Daily Life. "Football in Guinea-Bissau." Dulombi, Guinea-Bissau. Photo by Daniel Rodrigues / World Press Photo

Winner, Sports Action. "Joy at the End of the Run." West Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Wei Seng Chen / World Press Photo

Winner, General News. "Aida." Idlib, Syria. Photo by Rodrigo Adb / World Press Photo

Winner, Sports Feature. "I Just Want to Dunk." Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo by Jan Grarup / World Press Photo

Winner, Nature. "Southern Cassowary." Black Mountain Road, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Christian Ziegler / World Press Photo

Winner, Spot News. "Interrogation." Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Emin Ozmen / World Press Photo

Reminder: more WorldPressPhoto.org photos here.

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7 Responses to The Power of Conflict Imagery — Commentary + Appreciation for the 2013 World Press Photo Contest Winners

  1. faisal March 19, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    This is not easy to do but kudos to those who do it well.

  2. Paul Santos March 19, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Photography, like art, relies on emotion – the ability to extract a reaction of sort from the viewer. Now while my (our?) voyeuristic tendencies like to see images like this – It still feels to me that having an image like the Gaza CIty image being a winner, just feels like some sort of uncomfortable line has been crossed.

  3. Paul Santos March 19, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Still a wonderfully powerful collection of images though.

  4. Peter Mills March 23, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    The image of the woman at the Dandora dump is one of the saddest and yet somehow motivating thing I have ever seen.
    Through no fault of her own she was born in Africa, not Australia, the USA or Europe.
    I imagine she is reading some lifestyle magazine showing people how inhabit another world.
    How we gripe and complain at the smallest inconvenience. Who the f..k do we think we are?
    Hope you don’t mind Chase but I printed a small copy of it for my diary to help keep things in perspective.
    Cheers, Peter Mills.

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  6. Denise May 6, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    Beautiful images and all deserving of recognition.

    Interesting that the winning sports image is almost identical to the Sony World Photo Open competition winner from 2011 http://www.worldphoto.org/images/image/125246/?FromImageGalleryID=5588 by Chan Kwok Hung. Incidentally Hung also won best Environmental Image 2011 with a photo of children in a garbage dump in Nepal…http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/10/pictures/111027-best-nature-pictures-2011-environment-animals-science/

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