The last time I went to the World Press Photo Exhibition was in Sydney a couple of years back. I was so moved by some of the photos that I cried in the middle of the gallery. That’s what I love about good photography; it affects you. Happiness, sadness, anger; whatever your response, if a picture is compelling enough to elicit a reaction, or better yet change your emotional state, then that’s a powerful thing. That’s the power of an image.
On Sunday I went to the 2014 exhibition currently being held on level 6 at Smith & Caughey’s in Auckland City. I didn’t cry this time but there were a few photos that stood out to me, and a couple in particular I found very moving. For me, pictures are about emotions. I know the saying goes ‘a picture says a thousand words’, but words mean nothing without feelings and sometimes there are no words to describe how you feel.
My favourite image was this one by Jana Ašenbrennerová which was awarded an honorable mention in the ‘Daily Life’ category. The series entitled ‘Living Unnoticed’ was taken in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a place where homosexuality is condemned by society, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals are subject to discrimination, violence and stigmatisation. Homosexuality is not illegal in DRC, but without social acceptance, equality is but an imagined reality. To put it in context, last December a draft bill was proposed to the DRC government which would criminalise gay sex, a move only aggravating an already bigoted public tenor.
The story is about Rainbow Sunrise, a non-profit group for GLBT people in Bukavu which provides support, sexual education and, most importantly, a safe-haven for members of the gay community. I love this photo. To me it’s reminiscent of that whole peace and love 70s vibe; the colours, the slight flares, the patterns, the tie-dye; except instead of fighting against war, fast forward 40 years and it’s a fight for identity and sexual equality. Social change through self-expression, and freedom through honesty with oneself and others. Stepping out in public together in itself an act of peaceful protest.
The other image that I found particularly captivating was shot by Tyler Hicks, a photographer for the New York Times, as part of a series taken during the terrorist attack in Nairobi ‘s Westgate Mall in Kenya, which he witnessed. It was awarded 2nd prize in the ‘Spot Stories’ category. This photo shows a woman and two children hiding while masked gunmen stormed the mall. The siege began on September 21st, 2013, and lasted four days. The group al-Shabaab initiated the attack as a warning to the Kenyan government to withdraw their troops from Somalia. They were there as part of a peacekeeping act. The Somalian militants retaliated with this massacre.
On looking at the image, it’s the bird’s eye view angle which creates the drama; the sense of entrapment only amplified by the lines and composition. It’s disturbing to say the least. In fact, it’s hard to even fathom what these victims were subjected to; going shopping at an upmarket mall only to end up lying on the ground fearing for their lives, the Somali Jihadist gunmen punishing them for something over which they had no control. Why? To send a message. It’s sickening. Fortunately, the victims pictured managed to escape unscathed – they were some of the lucky ones. Over 60 people were killed during the attack, and close to 200 injured.
These are some of the other images I loved:
This is an image of the ruins in the coastal town of Tacloban in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. A graphic depiction of the destruction of beauty, or perhaps the beauty of destruction.
Victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Savar, Bangladesh. The plaza housed five garment factories which made clothes for popular Western brands. Of many, only four brands made contributions to a fund for victims and their families.
Dasan Cavanaugh (pictured) is a 10-year-old Sioux American Indian. This photo was taken at his home on the Spirit Lake reservation in North Dakota, United States. He’s never had a haircut.
On April 7th, 2007, whilst on his fourth tour of Iraq, the Humvee Bobby Hemline was travelling in was blown up. He was the only survivor. He is pictured here swimming in a motel pool after visiting the father of one of his deceased comrades.
This is a cougar in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, pictured just after crossing two busy highways. The image is part of a series for National Geographic about the cougar comeback. Oh how I miss those L.A. lights. They get me every time.
Shot from a drone, young men are photographed playing basketball in Zhuhai, Guandong, China.
Novak Djokovic (Serbia) in action during his men’s singles match against Marcel Granollers (Spain) during the fourth round of the 2013 US Open.
Blind albino students at the Vivekananda Mission School, a boarding school for the blind in West Bengal, India.
The winner of the World Press Photo of the Year for 2014 depicts African migrants on the shore of Djibouti City at night. They are raising their phones in the air to try and pick up a signal from Somalia so they can speak with their relatives back home.
The carnage in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15th, 2013, which killed three people and injured over 260.
A 5-year-old bonobo in Kokolopori, Democratic Republic of Congo. Along with chimpanzees, they are the closest living relative to human beings. I recently watched a TED Talk about how bonobos function in their ape society through play so I found this photo story particularly interesting. Both the talk and the series examine how bonobos use sex as a means of communication with each other. You can watch the TED talk here.
The exhibition is only being held until this Sunday, the 27th of July. Tickets are $10 for adults, or $5 for students with a valid ID, and can be purchased at the door. If you haven’t been already been I suggest you pop in. It will only take an hour out of your day and for less than the price of a movie ticket you’re guaranteed an enlightening experience. At the very least you’ll see some incredible photos, learn something new, and open your mind to what’s been going on in the world, and if you really take the time to examine and think about what you’re seeing, then maybe some of the images will stimulate a response on a more meaningful level. Either way, when you walk away, it’s a nice reminder to be grateful for everything we have; our health, a roof over our heads, a stable and (fairly) liberal government, and a life in clean, safe, war-free country. Not everyone is so lucky.
© Samantha Shorter and Bright Eyes, 2014.