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Interviews

Jury chairman
Santiago Lyon on
2013 World Press Photo Contest

© Michael Kooren

April 2013

It’s been another hotly contested and debated World Press Photo Contest this year, and as we approach its culmination at the Awards Days – beginning in Amsterdam on 25 April 2013 – the chairman of the jury, Santiago Lyon (Vice President and Director of Photography at The Associated Press), reflects with writer David Corfield on judging the 2013 Contest…

David Corfield (DC): As you look back on the judging this year, what things do you remember?

Santiago Lyon (SL): ”Two weeks of looking at so many pictures! We started with 103,000 images – of which some 70,000 were in the news and documentary categories – and we managed to whittle them down to about 10,000. So in the first round about ten per cent made it through and then in the second week, round two, it got intense.”

DC: Rather like distilling...

SL: ”It completely is a process of distillation, yes. You are taking something and then distilling it down into a more manageable quantity of images. As chair of the jury my job was to guide the jurors and to make sure that everybody’s voice was heard. I was very determined to make that happen by making sure that everybody was allowed to express an opinion about every image that we looked at.

It made for a very methodical and rigorous process which, when combined with the safeguards of World Press Photo meant that this was an incredibly thorough and meticulous jury process – as it always is. It’s clear that this is a well-oiled machine and they’ve been at this now for 56 years, so they know what they’re doing. What the jury brought to it was our perspective as industry leaders and people of accomplishment within the photographic community.”

DC: So how did you go about judging? What criteria did you apply and how do you remain objective when assessing images?

SL: ”I based my criteria, quite simply, on the three words that make up the name of this contest: World, Press and Photo. The World part of it is pretty straightforward – we have entries from scores of countries, the jury was composed of people from all different nationalities; the Press part of it, for me, is all about journalism and storytelling, relevant and effective storytelling at that, so that’s an important component for me. And then there’s the Photo part of it; the medium that we’re using to tell the story.

Using those criteria, and using the methodology I described, to ensure that everyone’s voice was heard, we ploughed into the task at hand. And so we finally were able to say that we had judged and decided on the winners in all of the categories and we had selected the World Press Photo of the Year.

There are accepted codes and conventions for looking at pictures. If it works, if it’s an efficient transmitter of information, then it comes down to the subjective nature of it: does it work for a particular group of people? In the same way that every photograph is unique, every jury is unique. If you took that same bunch of over 100,000 different pictures to a different group of jurors, you may well have a different result.”

DC: Do you think that by choosing another picture of death and disaster you are falling into a cliché situation?

SL: ”I think in this instance the power of the image overrode any concerns of cliché. The emotions that are visible in the faces of the relatives and members of their community were powerful in a way that just reached us.”

DC: This year more than others we’ve seen more pictures relating to issues involving women. Is this because there are more women in the jury?

SL: ”I think the jury as a whole was sensitive to the role of women in society and certainly the presence of female jurors helped that. But I don’t think that it was exclusively because of their presence. I think what we saw were stories that reflected the reality of women in today’s world that were shot in a compelling and powerful way, and we felt they were worthy of recognition.”

DC: The sports photo categories only had one winner from the Olympics. As one of the major sporting events of last year, why weren’t there more?

SL: ”The series from the Olympics were a series of overhead pictures taking a look at a variety of sports from an unusual angle and as I understand it the specialised sports jury felt that there was a certain amount of sameness from a lot of the Olympic coverage, in part because you have a lot of photographers standing shoulder to shoulder - often with the same equipment. We felt, as the second round jury, that there were other sports stories that were compelling and interesting and deserved some recognition.”

DC: Was there any discussion about digital manipulation in any of the images?

SL: ”There was a discussion, yes, from multiple different angles, and we wanted to be sure that the images conformed to acceptable industry standards and every image was looked at very carefully and closely. We were ultimately satisfied that everything was done correctly. There were some serious questions raised about some images and it’s fair to say that in some cases enough questions were raised to preclude them from advancing further.”

DC: When do jury members get to read the captions for the pictures?

SL: ”Typically in the latter stages of the judging we were able to get the full context and ask any additional questions.”

DC: Again another picture of conflict has won the World Press Photo of the Year. Does this mean that nothing else can win?

SL: ”No, I don’t think so. When you look at previous winners over the years there are images that don’t come from conflict. We felt that there were two major stories last year – Syria and Gaza – and lots of others clearly. But when we saw this image, and given its relevance and given its power, we felt it was worthy of its prize of World Press Photo of the Year.”

DC: What do you think of the standard of photojournalism, having seen thousands of pictures during the two weeks of judging?

SL: ”We are seeing a lot of shifts in photojournalism; a lot of consolidation of bigger players and disappearance of smaller players. As always the role of technology in photojournalism is changing too – not just in the way pictures are captured, but also the way it is disseminated too. A new generation of news consumers have different habits, and as more people migrate to tablets, Smartphones and laptops there is more space than ever for powerful visual journalism. On that aspect, I think it’s quite an optimistic picture.

In this day and age when we are totally saturated with images, photographers need to remind themselves of the question: what penetrates? What resonates? Winning awards reinforces the photographers’ belief in themselves and World Press Photo is a very energising experience. Awards and contests are part of the fabric of photojournalism.”


Santiago Lyon’s favourite images from the 2013 World Press Photo Contest:


WORLD PRESS PHOTO OF THE YEAR, SPOT NEWS, 1ST PRIZE SINGLES: Paul Hansen

© Paul Hansen/Dagens Nyheter

“I have always maintained that a successful photograph engages with the viewer on at least one of three levels. Those would be: the head, the heart or the stomach. Different pictures engage differently on those levels and occasionally you bump into a picture that engages you on all three. When I looked at the picture we chose as the winner, it certainly engages on those levels for me, and for the fellow members of the jury. Collectively we decided that this photograph was worthy of the award of World Press Photo of the Year.

This photograph was shot in Gaza, late last year during the conflict there between Palestinian militants and the Israeli military. It shows two men, the uncles of the two children we see, whose bodies they are carrying. The children, aged two and four, were killed in a military attack and this picture for me and the jury reached us on those three levels I mentioned: head, heart and stomach. Intellectually we could see the effect of the conflict on the civilian population, we picked up on a tremendous sense of loss and anger expressed in the faces of these men. And it also reached our stomachs because there is sort of a visceral reaction in seeing pictures of dead people anywhere, but dead children particularly.

This surge of people coming towards the camera, framed as they are by the narrow alley and the light, just leapt off the screen for us repeatedly. It was one of those pictures that early on, as you’re making your way through the judging process, you see and privately think ‘well that’s a contender for the World Press Photo of the Year’ but you generally keep it to yourself until the later round. I think what happened here was that a lot of us saw this picture early on and remembered it. When the time came to start the final deliberations it just popped out and joined that last little select group of pictures from which the World Press Photo of the Year was chosen. So this is a culmination of our two weeks’ work.”

2ND PRIZE STORIES, SPOT NEWS: Fabio Bucciarelli

© Fabio Bucciarelli/Agence France-Presse

“This was from a series on the fighting in Syria, in Aleppo. It struck us as showing one side of that story – the military side of it and the closeness of the photographer as he follows this gunman going into combat.”

1ST PRIZE SINGLES, GENERAL NEWS STORIES: Rodrigo Abd

© Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press

“This photograph is illustrative of the civilian toll in that story, in that where the warring parties are fighting it out, the effect of the war on civilians is remarkable. It struck us as a powerful image, and one that lets you focus directly in on the pain in this lady’s eyes as she had lost her husband and sons, I believe, while she herself was recovering from her wounds in a hospital. It was taken fairly early on in the spring of last year but it struck us as certainly being powerful and worthy of an award.”

1ST PRIZE SINGLES, SPORTS ACTION: Wei Seng Chen

© Wei Seng Chen

“Not your traditional sports action sport; well, traditional in that part of the world. It’s certainly a powerful image that we felt stood out above the other sports images, and one that jumps off the screen at you. A very well executed sports image.”

2ND PRIZE STORIES, SPORTS ACTION: Sergei Ilnitsky

© Sergei Ilnitsky/European Pressphoto Agency

“This is one image from a story on fencing at the Olympics. When you see the rest of the photographs it’s a remarkable collection of pictures from a sport that dates back many decades, if not centuries. Swordsmanship has been a long tradition in warfare, certainly, but now it’s evolved into a sport at the Olympics and it’s one that’s very spectacular, with these fellas in their strange costumes leaping around. This story was particularly good.”

1ST PRIZE STORIES, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES: Maika Elan

© Maika Elan/Most

“This was part of a series that struck us as being very interesting. It was a series on gay and lesbian couples in relationships in Vietnam, where the government is considering legislation that would improve the recognition of gay and lesbian couples. Which struck us as being remarkable, especially in a country like Vietnam where you wouldn’t necessarily expect that. This was shot very sensitively and intimately and we felt that it worked really well. A remarkable and unusual story; an unexpected story and one that was very well executed.”

  • This article was originally sourced and commissioned by World Press Photo.

Biography: Santiago Lyon

Santiago Lyon, USA, is Vice President and Director of Photography of The Associated Press, responsible for the AP’s global photo report and the hundreds of photographers and photo editors worldwide who produce it. He has 26 years of experience in news-service photography and has won multiple photojournalism awards for his coverage of conflicts around the globe. In 2013, under Lyon’s direction, AP won its 31st Pulitzer Prize for photography in the Breaking News category for its coverage of the Syrian civil war. Lyon also serves as a nominator for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. In 2009 he sat on the Masterclass selection jury and participated as a Master in 2010.