Many of the world’s best photojournalists gathered in Amsterdam from 25 to 27 April 2008 for the annual World Press Photo Awards Days.
The cornerstone of the weekend was two days of presentations by 45 out of the total of 59 prize-winning photographers chosen by the World Press Photo Contest Jury 2008. They were the majority of the winners selected from a total entry of 5,019 photographers from 125 different countries who collectively submitted 80,536 images to the contest.
The three day event began with the launch of the book ‘World Press Photo: New Stories’ and culminated with a gala awards ceremony that ended with the presentation of the World Press Photo of the Year 2007 accolade to UK photographer Tim Hetherington.
CPN caught up with World Press Photo of the Year 2007 winner Tim Hetherington to find out the story behind his picture, which was shot using a Canon EOS 5D. The image of a US soldier from the 2nd Battle Platoon of the 503rd Infantry Airborne Brigade at the end of a day’s fighting was taken in the ‘Restrepo’ bunker (named after a soldier from the same platoon who had been recently killed by insurgents) in the Korengal Valley of Eastern Afghanistan. Hetherington was on assignment for Vanity Fair magazine and had actually returned from his third, and most recent, trip to Korengal Valley only three days prior to the start of the World Press Photo Awards Days.
Hetherington told CPN: “I’m intrigued by the level by which you can get under the skin in the process of shooting, and I’m intrigued by working so closely with them (US soldiers). The valley has the most active fighting – what’s called TICs (Troops in Combat) – of any American unit in the world.” He is currently working on the story with journalist Sebastian Junger producing the photographic narrative, a TV documentary and possibly a book at a later stage.
He explained: “The story is essentially about these soldiers and about men in war and all the problems that that presents – narrative, ethical and emotional problems.”
He added: “The image was taken in mid-September - I’ve recently learnt that in September there were 111 separate incidents of fire fights in the Korengal Valley - but to be honest I can’t remember the exact day. There is a certain ‘fog of war’ that means you’re working and exhausted, so you don’t remember exact dates. We’d heard on the radio that insurgents had brought in hand grenades and suicide vests and people were very concerned that the insurgents might be ready to overrun the bunker.”
When quizzed about the exact subject of the image Hetherington revealed: “It’s the end of the day and the fighting dies down as it’s not often that they will attack at night as the Americans have night scope vision, heat seeking, infrared vision stuff so they are able to counter attacks very easily. This guy is sitting down as people are breaking open their rations to eat before they go to bed.”
“We found that in the compound – an open air bunker – that you’d go to sleep as the sun went down at 8 o’clock, so that you’d be ready for the fighting during the next day. So, that’s just the case – he’s sitting down at the end of the day. I don’t want to fix on the image. I don’t know exactly what he was doing. Did he have a headache? Was he wiping sweat off his brow?”
But Hetherington did know he had something: “I kind of knew when I took the picture it was a nice, good picture. I did look at some of the stuff on the back of the camera’s screen later. I showed it to Sebastien Junger and thought ‘Oh, this is a nice picture’, and he liked it.” As, obviously, did the World Press Photo Jury of 2008!
Tim Hetherington was presented with his award – he also won €10,000 and a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III - by the new World Press Photo patron HRH Prince Contantijn of the Netherlands. Prince Constanijn told the large audience: “I think the jury has captured the essence of this photo, by stating that it represents much more than a tired soldier in a bunker. It is the dilemma between the means and the end of armed intervention.”
World Press Photo Award Jury 2008 chairman Gary Knight, the co-founder of VII Photo Agency, explained the judging process: “We wanted to look for work that really challenged the visual status quo and where you could see the photographer had really visually demonstrated an effort; a really smart attempt to look at something with slightly different eyes to re-engage audiences bombarded with similar pictures over the decades.”
Audiences packed the Felix Meritis cultural centre in central Amsterdam to see the winners’ presentations. Boldwill Hungwe (2nd prize, Spot News Singles), a news photographer from Zimbabwe, revealed that his image of an opposition rally in the beleaguered country (above, top) was taken on a digital compact camera, because neither he nor the paper he works for could afford a digital SLR camera.
“I knew that the camera couldn’t shoot a sequence so I had to wait for the right moment,” he told CPN. “Luckily I got the one that told the story the best.” He added that working as a local newspaper photographer in Zimbabwe is difficult due to the restrictions and threat of torture. He also has to compete with big agencies that have better equipment. Following his presentation, Hungwe was given an EOS 30D camera, two lenses and other accessories by Canon. “Having this camera will totally change my life. Now I can compete with the agencies,” he said.
Among the other standout presentations delivered on 26 and 27 April 2008 was Mike Kamber’s (3rd prize, Spot News Stories) impassioned speech about the shooting restrictions being imposed on photojournalists in Iraq by the US government. He received a standing ovation.
Getty Images photographer John Moore’s (1st prize, Spot News Singles and Spot News Stories) astonishing account of his brush with death, when standing just yards from where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, reaffirmed the risks and challenges faced by photojournalists around the world, whilst Cedric Gerbehaye (3rd prize, General News Stories) presented a stunning black and white slideshow of his images covering the unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Other notable contributors showcasing the stories behind their images were the UK’s Platon (1st prize, Portraits Singles) whose descriptions of photographing President Putin for Time magazine, and shooting other celebrity portraits were both amusing and informative. Lana Slezic (3rd prize, Portraits Stories) from Canada used the unusual technique of focusing a modern digital camera onto the glass plate inside an old-fashioned Afghan box camera to shoot portraits of Afghan women, and David Liittschwager (1st prize, Nature Stories) presented some wondrous macro images of miniscule marine creatures vital to the wellbeing of the world’s oceans and atmosphere.
The World Press Photo exhibition is on at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam until 22 June 2008 but is also already on tour in 16 other cities during May 2008. To find out exact dates and locations of where and when you can see the exhibition click here