World Press Photo 2011
Now in its 54th year the World Press Photo exhibition is possibly one of the most emotive experiences in the art/journalism calendar. The exhibition highlights the very best in journalism photography encompassing around 200 images collected from over 100,000 submissions from news agencies and freelancers all over the globe. Capturing, through their lenses, our flaws, achievements, anguish, joy, humanity and, most movingly, our lack of humanity. The exhibition is a document of our legacy and more often than not this is one of pain and suffering. It is hard not to read the images as a damnation of our souls when our collectively self-inflicted misery is laid bare with an almost schizophrenic proximity to our ability to create joy.
This year’s winning entry came from South African photographer Jodi Bieber who captured the disfigurement of Afghan woman Bibi Aisha at the hands of the Taliban. Actually, Bibi was barely a woman when she had her nose and ears cut off after she left her abusive husband at the age of 18. Culturally, a man whose wife has left him is said to have had his nose cut off, a literal interpretation of the metaphor is therefore considered a suitable retaliation. Whilst this photo does not explicitly correlate to any particular news story as last year’s winning entry did, rather it functions as a reminder of the state of Afghanistan and the failure of coalition forces to rid the country of Taliban influence and control, a decade after invasion. Afghanistan is the Vietnam of the 2000s, a quagmire of body bags and misplaced morality defined by figures of military spending and casualties, but rarely by the shattered lives of those within the conflict zone.
The fragility of the human body was most touchingly and honestly dealt with by American Darcy Padilla in her moving study of HIV sufferer and drug abuser Julie. The Julie Project is a heart-breaking journey through the last 18 years Julies life, capturing some of her family’s most intimate moments. The photographs form a document that explores the suffering that poverty, drugs and HIV cause, touching on both the births and removal of custody of her children and, most devastatingly of all, Julie’s death from HIV, affording us a glimpse of the final time she is held in her partner Jason’s arms.
In 2010 Haiti was victim of one of nature’s most powerful forces; an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale and 50 subsequent aftershocks. 230,000 people were killed and a further 300,000 were injured. When a country is forced to deal with death on that scale any sense of occasion surrounding death is lost and it comes down to logistics. As Olivier Laban-Mattei captures this mortician throwing a child’s body on the pile we are immediately faced with an evident lack of humanity but in reality this is a human necessity, a coping mechanism to deal with such horror, because the truth is that there is no other way to stop the spread of diseases like cholera than to deal with bodies quickly and systematically.
Bollywood is the most prolific film industry in the world, producing almost 800 films in 2010, at the same time India also has one of the lowest screen to population ratios with 13 screens per million people. Amit Madheshiya’s ‘Coming to a Tent Cinema Near You’ captured both this love for and denial of cinema in a series of perfectly constructed hollywood-esque moments as people in rural towns experienced their annual nomadic cinema fix. Cinema has long told us that it is in the business of selling us our dreams and this ability to engross and move is most delicately expressed on the faces of those largely denied it. The travelling cinema becomes the sight for enchanting spectacle which western audiences have long since become desensitised to.
On a somewhat lighter note German photographer Michael Wolf’s project titled, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, opens up the world of Google Street View and uncovers people at their most candid. Most of us are probably unaware of the extent to which we are subject to surveillance, much like the children caught beating one of their peers in a playground, or the woman urinating ‘out of sight’ behind a car and a whole host of other people caught in compromising and embarrassing positions. It’s not exactly news but the nature of privacy and surveillance is a serious issue in the west, so much so that Germany became the first country to negotiate an opt-out before the service went live, with almost 250,000 Germans requesting their properties be pixelated.
The World Press Photo runs until 29th November at the Royal Festival Hall at the South Bank Centre, London.