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The world's best photographers show us ourselves

Saturday March 5 2016

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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My last article made a rousing argument on the benefits of viewing a museum exhibition.

Now, it turns out that one does not even have to go to a gallery or museum to do so, because technology enables you to view exhibitions online.

I would highly recommend the World Press Photo (WPP) exhibition as a place to start enjoying the benefits of an exhibition. WPP is a sixty-year-old non-governmental organisation based in the Netherlands that provides a platform for international press photography.

Every year, a jury judges photos which are then compiled into an exhibition and a yearbook. The exhibition travels around the world to as many countries as possible. The work presented by photographers is amazing and exhilarating, yet many times heartbreaking and soul wrenching, even bizarre.

The 2016 contest received 82,952 images from 5775 representing 128 countries.  Forty-one photographers chosen from 21 countries took home a prize in each of the eight categories. The 2016 categories are contemporary issues, daily life, general news, long-term projects, nature, people, sports and sport news.

Further the categories are subdivided into Stories or single photos. The awards hope to encourage and inspire photojournalism and multimedia story telling worldwide.

HOSTILE OCEAN

Kenya had the privilege of hosting the 1998 WPP exhibition at the National Museums of Kenya. A walk through the exhibition was haunting, inspiring and aweing, a mix of very intense feelings.  

Looking at the exhibition online is just as gripping. In the 2016 competition, the Spot News single photo award winner is Warren Richardson an Australian. His photograph shows a father putting his young child through barbed wire in the dead of the night in an effort to cross over from Serbia into Hungary, portraying the European refugee crisis.

The fear and tension in the photograph is palpable and the first thought that crosses any mother’s mind is for the safety of their child. The photo is aptly named “Hope for a New Life”. The mix of hope, an infant and barbed wire present an ironic contradiction that the photographer manages to capture adroitly.

The first prize in General News Stories, which goes to Sergey Ponomarev, is collection of pictures of refugees arriving near the village of Skala, in Greece. In the first photo, the little boat and the number of humans just sighing with relief that they got to Greece in the first place, never mind what fate awaits them, is stirring.

The boat looks precariously overloaded at best, the ocean waters look very hostile and refugees look only too happy to have completed that part of a long, no doubt arduous, journey in search for a new life.

One is left wondering just how bad the life they were living had to be to make them cross an ocean in such circumstances.

The Single Photo prize in the General News category was awarded to Mauricio Lima from Brazil. In the photo he shows a sixteen-year-old boy being treated at a Syrian hospital on the outskirts of Hasaka for burns on all visible parts of his body, including his face. The picture is haunting and almost causes one pain to look at it.

TSUMANI APPROACHING

The Nature category is endearing, with the winner in the Singles category awarded to Rohan Kelly of Australia. The photo shows a person sunbathing and reading a book at a beach in Bondi, completely unaware of an approaching ‘cloud tsunami’.

The second prize in the same category goes to a Mexican, Anuar Patjane Floriuk. He has captured a fascinating scene underwater in a piece entitled the ‘Whale Whisperers’ in which divers observe a humpback whale and her calf around the Revillagigedo Islands in Mexico. The knowledge that the whale may not take very kindly to this ‘invasion of privacy’ makes the photo that much more appalling, yet appealing.

The winner in the Story category of Nature was Tim Laman from the US who highlights the plight of endangered Orangutans in Indonesia. These primates are suffering loss of habitat due to deforestation and forest fires.

The second prize goes to a subject that is dear to Kenyan conservationists, and is aptly titled ‘Ivory Wars’. The aerial photograph by Brent Stirton of South Africa shows elephants at the Zakuoma National Park, and highlights the challenges presented by poaching.   

Many other pictures depicting world events in 2015 are shown. They include the terrorist attacks in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the public unrest over police killings in the United States and gang-related violence, with a sample picture from Honduras. If this exhibition comes to Kenya, make sure you go.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa