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world press photo 07/08

i cannot say that i am familiar with the processes found in the traditional darkroom, since i am a son of the digital age. inspite of that, i have heard the oft repeated fascination with watching prints, submerged in chemicals, take their shape and form in a ghostly manner – apparitions from a past not too distant. sometimes they are simply records. in rarer occasions, they become revelations – testaments to the bravery and the audacity of the men and women who dared to make them. for these, the price of being an eyewitness may amount to the loss of limb or life. even so, the prize of recognition of their service to the world makes it all worthwhile.

even before the prints are ‘hung up and dried’, so to speak, some of the world’s most talented and deserving photojournalists from the past year would have been honoured at the world press photo 2007/2008. since its inception in 1955, this contest has been graced by the most striking and telling images from the world of press photography. other than being the world’s most prestigious platform for photojournalists to showcase their work, world press photo also seeks to ‘stimulate developments in photojournalism’ as well as facilitate the ‘transfer of knowledge’ through seminars as well as exhibitions. i believe that above that, this awards serve the purpose of providing the stark reminder that while joy, harmony and goodwill can be found on earth, there also exists the the darker side – one rife with the ravages of poverty, diseases, conflicts and injustice.

it is said that in order to win this competition, simply document events of great social and political impact. One could be forgiven for assuming the above. The winning photograph this time round depicts an american soldier resting in a bunker in korengal, afghanistan, with his hand clutched at his forehead in a display of sheer exhaustion. Jury chairman Gary Knight stated that the picture also shows the ‘exhaustion of a nation’, in reference to the drawn out american efforts in afghanistan.

in another picture, one that won the first prize for spot news, viewers are exposed to a blur rendition of a scene – the same one in which an explosion took the life of benazir bhutto, at that time pakistan’s prime minister. the photographer, john moore, probably had his camera to his eye tracking the convoy, his finger triggering the shutter in bursts when the blast shook the area. call it pure luck if you want, but what will no doubt go into history as an iconic image was created – orange flames frozen in the background, an almost silhouetted crowd at the fore, with just enough light to see the face of a retreating man, visibly frightened and stunned.

it is unsettling to see pictures of athletes in the peak of their grace and abilities alongside those of society’s downtrodden in the various categories. yet, this only goes to prove the scope of the photojournalist’s mission – to record both the highs and the lows of human existence. in this, people might be united, be it in ecstasy or in sorrow – a ‘symmetry’ that holds an enchantment which will continue to be the source of many more pictures, waiting to be taken.

to find out more about world press photo and to view the winners’ gallery, click here.

to read more posts on photography, click here.

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