World Press Photo excludes the photo of the year award from the cover of its catalog for its “explicit” content | Culture


The cover of Book of the year 2023, published by the World Press Photo contest, does not show the one that was awarded as Photograph of the year, as usually happens. The winning image, taken by the Ukrainian Evgeniy Maloletka for the Associated Press agency, shows the transfer on a stretcher of Irina Kalinina, a 32-year-old pregnant woman, who was injured in the Russian bombing of the hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the March 9, 2022. Irina’s baby was stillborn and she lost her life half an hour later. However, those responsible for the contest that recognizes the best photojournalism worldwide each year decided that “it was more appropriate to offer another photo for the cover because it is a book that will be displayed in museum gift shops and bookstores.” World Press Photo executive director Joumana El Zein Khoury responds by email.

That other image, by the Iranian Ahmad Halabisaz, recognized with an honorable mention, portrays a young woman sitting in a square in Tehran who defies the law of Iran, since she is dressed in Western clothing. At that moment, a group of women in black chadors pass behind the girl. The shot was taken by Halabisaz on December 27, 2022.

The Zein Khoury says that both photos “document the injustice” and “the risks faced by the authors and their subjects.” “Maloletka’s work is absolutely important and that is why he was awarded and figures prominently in the 2023 exhibition that tours the world,” across 70 cities in 30 countries. However, the executive director repeats in her message the words that are on the contest’s own website to justify the resolution: “It was a decision to show our respect for the victims and our anger against the inhuman loss of life.” The only criterion, she assures, is “to make the images known in an accessible way to a broad and international public.” World Press Photo is a foundation created in 1955 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

This is not the first time that the contest has decided to include on the cover of its book an image different from the one that, according to its own jury, represents “the most notable moment of current affairs captured by press photographers.” Marika Cukrowski, WPP international exhibition organizer and curator of the Madrid event, told this media on the opening day, December 1: “The decision made is part of a broader change that is being made in the last five years, which is not to use explicit images for commercial purposes or in promotion. Others that have less explicit violent content are also chosen for the posters that announce the exhibition in the cities.”

“For us it is a broader debate about the role of journalism to not show people as victims, but to have a more constructive approach,” Cukrowski continues, adding: “The decision, made jointly by the jury and the organization, is “decided very early, almost immediately after the winner was chosen.” Furthermore, he states that both photographers “understood and agreed” to this ruling. The Madrid exhibition, with 160 images by thirty photographers, can be seen until December 21 in the Larra-Laboratorio de journalism space.

World Press Photo 2023
Cover of the World Press Photo 2023 catalogue.

The main person affected by this measure, to say the least surprising, Maloletka, said by email: “I saw the cover of the book with the other image when I received the award. Ahmad’s photo does not have sensitive information [en el sentido de que pueda herir sensibilidades], unlike mine. “That’s probably why this decision was made.” For him, his image of Irina sparked a debate and explained “what Russia was doing, destroying Ukrainian cities without taking into account the casualties, even if they were children.” The photo also illustrates “a fact that Russia tried to hide and could not, and that Russian propaganda tried to discredit journalists with false accusations.”

While Ahmad Halabisaz, also by email, explains that today’s photojournalism “is not just about war, blood and natural disasters.” He points out that his photo “sheds light on the tireless efforts of Iranian women fighting for their rights in the 21st century.” He took the shot “in one minute, at risk and without permission.” Halabisaz says that he spent “27 days in prison [por cubrir las protestas en Teherán]”.

The Spanish photojournalist Santi Palacios, who won second prize at the 2017 World Press Photo, expresses his disagreement with what happened. “It is one more sign of what is happening. That there is so much concern about not showing explicit images ends up disguising the world seen from photojournalism. Furthermore, the winning image was already seen everywhere.” Palacios points out the paradox that “more and more harsh images are seen on the networks, while limitations are placed on professionals. When what you have to do is protect it.”

Palacios has also been a member of the jury for the European region in this last edition. WPP calls for four categories for its awards: Individual Images, Graphic Reports, Long-Term Projects and Open Format. Then, six regional juries (Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, South America and Southeast Asia and Oceania) choose those they consider the best. The final jury, which selects the winners, is made up of one member from each of the regional committees and a global president. However, Palacios considers that it is “a complex issue.” “Behind the decisions there is good intention and a lot of work to find balances between the different aspects.” How would he have reacted if what happened to Maloletka had happened to him? “It would make me angry, even though the jury’s decision may be justified.”

Sandra Balsells, a photojournalist who photographed the wars that disintegrated the extinct Yugoslavia in the nineties, warned of this change on the cover of the catalog during the conference she gave at the Gijón Photographic Meetings, on November 25, where she opened a debate between the public about whether the award organization had self-censored. Balsells, winner of the Ortega y Gasset journalism prize in 2006, told EL PAÍS that the winning photo “shows the carnage of that war against civilians, but it is respectful.” And she wonders “if the same decision would have been made if Irina had survived.” In any case, she considers that “there are some explanations of WPP” that she does not understand. “It is strange that if you have been brave to bet on a photo, then it becomes invisible by not giving it the cover of the catalogue.”

World Press Photo 2023
Presentation of the World Press Photo exhibition in Madrid, on November 30, with the image chosen for the catalog, in a photo provided by the organization.

Other years that the winning photo was not on the cover

The book that World Press Photo publishes each year with the best images did not put the photo of the year on its cover in 1974. The winner captured the departure of Chilean president Salvador Allende from the La Moneda palace — with a gun and helmet — during the coup military of September 11, 1973. It was by his compatriot Orlando Lagos and he published it The New York Times. In 1983 the same thing happened with an image of the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Chatila camps (Beirut), during the 1982 Lebanon war. It was captured by the American Robin Moyer for the Black Star agency. It also did not end up in the covered the winner of 1993, which showed a Somali woman carrying her starving son in her arms to bury him in a common grave. She was taken by the American James Nachtwey, for the Magnum agency. They are three of the several cases that have occurred, to which is added the one in 2023.

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