I found out about this from a friend and went to see it, spread out on opposite sides of the Royal Festival Hall’s enormous ground floor.
The contest, I learnt, is in it’s 55th year. 101,254 images were submitted by 5,247 photographers from 124 different countries and 169 of the photographs are on display.
What a year they covered, the Arab Spring sweeping through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and beyond, the devastation of nature in the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami to the more human devastation of the Utoya Island massacre in Norway. The winning photograph was by Samuel Aranda of Spain, showing a Yemeni woman cradling her son who was suffering from the effects of teargas.
There were warnings that images may not be suitable for minors, indeed for all the images of the volatile Arab Spring there were some gruesome scenes from elsewhere, dismembered bodies in Mexico, hanging criminals in Iran and a bloodied Rhino whose horn had been removed by a vet before poachers shot it four times and ripped out the stump (Brent Stirton), were just a few that captivated me in horrific incomprehension.
However, perhaps worse were those that weren’t physically jarring, but whose subject matter told a much darker story. The brightly dressed Child Brides of Stephanie Sinclair cast a distubring scene, and Afrikaner Blood by Ilvy Njiokiktjien, in which a scene from a bootcamp run by ‘Colonel’ Franz Jooste for young white teenagers is depicted. Jooste teaches them how to deal with a perceived black enemy for a civil war he believes is approaching. Shark fin by Paul Hilton and evicted by John Moore drive you deeper into despair, the constant background hub-bub of the hall seemingly fades to a low murmur as you move round wondering how on earth we believe we are civilised when we are capable of such barbarianism.
The most powerful images for me came from different photographers. One from the Battle of Libya series, by the late Remi Ochlik, shows rebels who have captured an alleged mercenary. One soldier has a hand on his shorts/jeans while another, who you has a large almost jolly looking face, has a fistful of his t-shirt in one hand, and a pistol pointed at his temple with the other, as they march him off. The alleged mercenary looks down, contemplating the paths that have led him to the wrong side, almost accepting the inevitable.
Denis Rouvre‘s photograph of Toku Konno, a tsunami survivor from Sendai in Japan is a beautiful portrait that seems to encapsulate both tragic loss and a quiet determination at the same time.
But Never Let You Go by Alejandro Kirchuk engaged me more than any of the others. A set depicting Marcos and Monica, who were married for 65 years, spending much of their life in the same apartment in Buenos Aires. When Monica was diagnosed with Alzhiemers in 2007, Marcos looked after her himself, and the photos show Monica and Marcos during this time and after, including a poignant shot of Marcos leading Monica out of a room, their hands held almost seemingly for support, comfort and appreciation. Even during the last year of her life, when she barely recognised him he continued to care for her.
“Tell me where she is going to be better than here” he said “I treat her like a princess, here she has everything”
I finished the exhibition with a lump in my throat, but Marcos’s love and devotion gave me some hope that as a species we still posses compassion amongst the barbarity.
I did wonder whether to put the photographer links in or not, but in the end wanted to put them in so people could easily find out about who is in the exhibition. I have obtained them from the world press photo 2012 official site, here