The cover of the Book of the Year 2023, published by the World Press Photo competition, does not show the one that awarded Photograph of the Year, as is usually the case. The winning image, taken by Ukrainian Evgeniy Maloletka for the Associated Press, shows the stretcher-carrying of Irina Kalinina, a 32-year-old pregnant woman who was injured in the Russian shelling of the hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on March 9, 2022. Irina's baby was stillborn and she lost her life half an hour later. However, those responsible for the contest that recognizes the best photojournalism worldwide each year decided that "it was more appropriate to offer another photo for the cover because it is a book that will be exhibited in museum gift shops and bookstores," the executive director of World Press Photo responds by email. Joumana El Zein Khoury.
That other image, by Iran's Ahmad Halabisaz, recognized with an honorable mention, portrays a young woman sitting in a square in Tehran who defies Iran's law as she is dressed in Western clothing. Behind the girl a group of women in black chadors passed from top to bottom. The shot was taken by Halabisaz on December 27, 2022.
El Zein Khoury says that both photos "document the injustice" and "the risks faced by the authors and their subjects." "Maloletka's work is absolutely important and that's why he was awarded and featured prominently in the 2023 exhibition touring the world," across 70 cities in 30 countries. However, the executive director repeats in her message the words that are on the contest's own website to justify the resolution: "It was a decision to show our respect to the victims and our anger against the inhumane loss of life." The only criterion, he says, is "to make the images known in an accessible way to a wide and international audience." World Press Photo is a foundation created in 1955 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
An image of the suffering from the war in Ukraine wins the 2023 World Press Photo Award
This is not the first time that the competition has decided to wear a different image on the cover of its book to the one that, according to its own jury, represents "the most important moment in the news captured by press photographers". Marika Cukrowski, WPP's international exhibition organiser and curator of the Madrid event, told this newspaper on the opening day, 1 December: "The decision taken is part of a wider change that has been made over the last five years, which is not to use explicit images for commercial purposes or in promotion. Others that have less explicit violent content are also chosen for the posters that advertise the exhibition in the cities."
"For us it's a broader debate about the role of journalism in not showing people as victims, but having a more constructive approach," Cukrowski continues, adding: "The decision, made jointly by the jury and the organization, was decided very early, almost immediately after the winner was chosen." In addition, it states that both photographers "understood and agreed" in this opinion. The Madrid exhibition, with 160 images by some thirty photographers, can be seen until December 21 at the Larra-Laboratorio de periodismo space.
Cover of the World Press Photo 2023 catalogue.
The main victim of this measure, Maloletka, said in an email: "I saw the cover of the book with the other image when I received the award. Ahmad's photo doesn't have sensitive information [in the sense that it might hurt sensitivities], unlike mine. That's probably why this decision was made." For him, her image of Irina sparked a debate and explained "what Russia was doing, destroying Ukrainian cities without regard for casualties, even if they were children." The photo also illustrates "a fact that Russia tried to hide and could not, and that Russian propaganda tried to discredit with false accusations against journalists."
While Ahmad Halabisaz, also via email, explains that photojournalism today "is not just about war, blood and natural disasters." Of her photo, she notes that it "sheds light on the tireless efforts of Iranian women in fighting for their rights in the 27st century." He made the shot "in a minute, at risk and without permission." Halabisaz says he spent "<> days in prison [for covering the protests in Tehran]."
Spanish photojournalist Santi Palacios, who won a second prize at the 2017 World Press Photo, disagrees with what happened. "It's one more sign of what's going on. The fact that there is so much concern about not showing explicit images ends up making up the world seen from the perspective of photojournalism. In addition, the winning image has already been seen everywhere." Palacios points out the paradox that "more and more harsh images are seen on the networks, while the professional is being put on limitations. When what needs to be done is to protect it."
Palacios has also been a member of the jury for the European region in this last edition. WPP has four categories for its awards: Individual Images, Graphic Reportage, Long-Term Projects and Open Format. Then, six regional juries (Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, South America and Southeast Asia and Oceania) choose the ones they consider best. The final jury, which awards the winners, is made up of one member from each of the regional and a global president. However, Palacios considers that it is "a complex issue". "Behind the decisions there is good intention and a lot of work to find balances between the different edges." How would he have reacted if what happened to Malolenka had happened to him? "It would make me angry, even though the jury's decision may be justified."
Sandra Balsells, a photojournalist who photographed the wars that disintegrated the extinct Yugoslavia in the 25s, warned of this change in the cover of the catalogue during the lecture she gave at the Photographic Meetings of Gijón, on November 2006, where she opened a debate among the public about whether the organization of the award had censored itself. Balsells, winner of the Ortega y Gasset Prize for Journalism in <>, told EL PAÍS that the winning photo "shows the carnage of this war against civilians, but it is respectful." And he wonders "if the same decision would have been made if Irina had survived." In any case, he believes that "there are some explanations from WPP" that he does not understand. "It's strange that if you've been brave enough to bet on a photo, then it becomes invisible by not giving it the cover of the catalog."
Presentation of the World Press Photo exhibition in Madrid, on November 30, with the image chosen for the catalogue, in a photo provided by the organization.
Other years when the winning photo was not on the cover
The book that World Press Photo publishes every year with the best images did not put the photo of the year on its cover as early as 1974. The winner depicted Chilean President Salvador Allende's departure from La Moneda palace — with a pistol and helmet — during the military coup of September 11, 1973. It belonged to his compatriot Orlando Lagos and was published by The New York Times. In 1983 the same thing happened with an image of the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon war. It was captured by American Robin Moyer for the Black Star agency. Nor did the 1993 winner, which showed a Somali woman carrying her starving son in her arms to bury him in a mass grave. It was taken by the American James Nachtwey, for the Magnum agency. These are three of the several cases that have occurred, in addition to the one in 2023.
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