“Infinity in the palm of your hand,” that beautiful line from William Blake, is an apt description of the way a photojournalist must feel when holding his or her favourite instrument. While the lens of the camera captures but a moment in time, the stories surrounding it have no precise beginning, nor do they ever really end.
“These images represent the world’s stories and our collection is decided upon by an independent jury,” said Samira Damato, exhibition manager and curator of World Press Photo Amsterdam, at the opening of the World Press Photo Exhibition, now on until September 29 at Marché Bonsecours.
The 150 photographs on display cast a light on last year’s most important issues, exploring themes such as the plight of refugees, the ongoing violence in different parts of the world, the rape of men in the military, transgender women and the opioid crisis. The award-winning images were selected from among more than 78,000 photos submitted last year by more than 4,700 photojournalists from 129 countries. All are beautiful, while many at the same time, can be jarring.
“The photos represent the work of the world’s most impressive photojournalists,” Damato said. “If they are hard to look at, it is because the world is hard.”
Not all the images are tragic, but all are powerful because the visual experience is so immediate it elicits emotion even before the context is fully perceived. Damato says the importance of visual storytelling is rising. “I believe that we are all moving into a direction where visual information is evermore present. The strength and importance of visual journalism lies in the responsibility of portraying a complex story. With its image platform, World Press Photo ultimately curates our shared history. With such a large array of stories we are able to understand the causes [of events], not only the consequences.”
Pictures live on in people’s minds long after the television or computer is turned off and the newspaper recycled.
“I feel that images are a way that we hold on to an idea. An image can last longer than the story,” Damato said. “Some of the most iconic photos, such as the one of Tiananmen Square or children fleeing napalm in Viet Nam, continue for decades, becoming enduring symbols of certain events.”
John Moore’s Crying Girl at the Border is such an image, portraying tiny Yanela Sanchez howling as she and her mother Sandra are taken into custody at the U.S. border in Texas. The Honduran mother and child had been traveling for a month through Central America and Mexico. Donald Trump had ordered that immigrants entering the U.S. could be criminally prosecuted and many families were separated and sent to different holding facilities. This child and her mother were not among the families that had been separated, but the public outrage after this image was published caused the policy to be reversed. Still, anyone following this story in the news can see it is not over.
Other photos keep emergency situations such as the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria in the public eye, even as some of the enthusiasm for welcoming refugees has somewhat cooled worldwide. Mohammad Badra’s images of a small field hospital in Syria are part of a series of 10 photos, not all of which are displayed, portraying adults and very young children in the aftermath of a suspected poison gas attack last February. The photo of three children in the village of al-Shifunieh receiving treatment is devastating, not only because of the incongruity of an oxygen mask on a little round head slumped forward under its weight, but because of the strikingly adult-like sorrow and shock in the eyes of these babies who couldn’t be more than two years old. It turns out that these kids did survive.
Each photo is a testament to human courage, such as the photos in Forough Alaei’s Crying for Freedom series that tells the story of football fans in Tehran, Iran, where female fans are not allowed to enter stadiums. In one image a young fan who looks like a boy is actually a woman, disguised as a man, risking arrest. The story behind the story is that the photographer, a woman, was also in disguise risking arrest, and this picture is the only one in the exhibit taken on an iPhone.
In the Nature category there are stunning shots of wild mountain lions in Chile, the resurgence of falconry in Saudi Arabia, and of a creature almost impossible to study and photograph — the Glass Butterfly ,Leucothea multicornis.
The 14th edition of the World Press Photo Exhibition 2019 is on until September 29 at De la Commune Hall, Bonsecours Market, 325 De la Commune East. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday to Saturday. For more information visit www.expo-wppmtl.ca