POIGNANT, compelling and sometimes unsettling, the World Press Photo Exhibition opened last Friday at the Royal Festival Hall, showcasing the award-winning images of the year.
Violence is inevitably rife among the series of photographs, although an astounding collection, it can be difficult to stomach.
Founded in 1955, World Press Photo has annually held this competition celebrating the most influential and significant photojournalism. This year more than 350 winners from 23 different countries were selected out of a record 108, 059 entries.
The winning photos portray and preserve pivotal past events, combining action shots in sports, portraits of people in the news, close encounters of nature and instances of grave drama.
Jodi Bieber, a South African photographer for Time magazine won first prize with her stunning portrait of Bibi Aisha, an 18-year-old woman from Oruzgan province in Afghanistan who has had her nose and ears cut off. The iconic photograph depicts the retribution Aisha suffered from the Taliban for fleeing her abusive husband. Gazing into the face of Bibi Aisha, it is initially shocking, but the discovery of the back story loads the image with anger at her suffering, hope for her strength and grief for the long-standing plight of many Afghan women.
Violence is inevitably rife among the series of photographs, although an astounding collection, it can be difficult to stomach. One particular haunting picture focusing on the Haiti aftermath shows a man throwing a child’s dead body at the morgue of the general hospital in Port-au-Prince. The photo took first prize in the General News stories section, it is not easy viewing but nothing depicted here is manufactured for a Hollywood shock-factor – this is a genuinely eye-opening insight to the real horrors of the world that inspire much of our creative culture.
Alternatively, the blue spotlight shone by Seamus Murphy into founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange’s eyes creates a humorously satirical detective allusion.
Key moments in the general news and sporting action shots can provide light-hearted intervals beside the horror: The Flying Cholitas – Bolivian woman wrestlers dressed in bowler hats – are placed alongside a matador being gored. Wolfgang Hahn’s humorous series of Berliners recreates the dramatic art of taking self-portraits for their MySpace pages. While Michael Wolf’s ‘A series of Unfortunate events’, photographed using Google Street View will leave you amused and stunned by the collection.
Viewing the world through the lens of these extraordinary photographers will leave certain scenes lingering in your mind for some time after, but while there is horror to shock, there is also beauty in these images that will capture you, preserved until they vanish under next year’s happenings.
The exhibition is open every day from 10am – 11pm, and entrance is free.
The World Press Photo Exhibition is on Level 2 at the Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre until 29 November.
Visit SouthbankCentre.co.uk/world-press-photo for more information.
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