Light enters through a hole in the roof of a house hit by a tank shell in Tuffah, northern Gaza. The family that lived in the house had fled during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli attack on Gaza that began at the end of December 2008. Mohammed Shuhada Ali Ahmed, 39, had gone back to fetch clothes for his children and was killed when the shell struck. (General News: 1st Prize Singles, Kent Klich, Sweden)
In this digital era it could be argued that the power of the photograph has been degraded. Are photographs still special at a time of infinite cameras? Cameras attached to cell phones, linked to computer screens, screwed to light-posts for state surveillance, the visual documentation of our world is overwhelming, so why the sustaining power of photography?
Many open questions remain on the power of photography in an era of social media, questions that are addressed by the global striking images the World Press Photo exhibition currently touring cities internationally. As an exhibition World Press Photo aims to select the best of current affairs photography from around the globe, based in Amsterdam the photography award is selected by an international jury and ends in a traveling exhibition visited by millions people around the world each year, it is widely viewed as one of the most coveted international photography awards.
It is the retaining power of the images presented in the World Press Photo exhibition that speaks to sustaining role of photography in an era of camera proliferation.
Beyond social shots or instant uploads, the exhibition features images that meditate in profound ways on the issues of our time. 2010’s exhibition touches on key global events from the past year, from the Israeli bombardment of Gaza that killed over 1400 Palestinians in winter 2009, to the major street protests in Iran sparked by popular contestations of the most recent elections, to more obscure stories beyond the headlines, reflective photography like that of German photographer Peter Bialobrzeski who presents images of urban jungle in Jakarta present serious visual reflections on the urban environment of humanity contrasted by the natural world.
2010’s winning image (below) was by Italian photographer Pietro Masturzo captures an Iran woman yelling on a rooftop in Tehran admits the street protests that swept Iran after the contested re-election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During the state crackdown on street protests that contested the election many people took to the roofs chanting and yelling slogans from hundreds of rooftops in downtown Tehran above the street eye view of military and police.
Women shout their dissent from a Tehran rooftop on 24 June, following Iran’s disputed presidential election. The result had been a victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, but there were allegations of vote-rigging. In the ensuing weeks, violent demonstrations took place in the streets. At night, people shouted from the roofs, an echo of protests that took place during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. (World Press Photo of the Year, Pietro Masturzo, Italy)
“It’s interesting — a similar type of protest on roofs happened 30 years ago during the Iranian revolution in 1979, in fear of arrest or jail people went onto the roofs,” reflects Femke van der Valk, project manager for the World Press Photo award traveling exhibition, “so the photograph is striking because it tells a story within the story on the Iran protests in 2010 that points to both history and the contemporary.”
As an exhibition the World Press Photo traveling show is striking, the extensive reach of the international project around the globe immediately apparent, over the two-week judging for the 2010 award, the jury viewed “a record number of photographs with 101,960 images submitted by 5,847 photographers … [from] 128 different nationalities,” according the organization.
On a more quirky side the exhibition features the work of Ou Zhihang from China who appears in unique self-portraits doing naked push-ups in front of places of topical significance in China. Photographs also question tradition notions of gender at a time of global gender questioning; images by Annie van Gemert present a striking series of photographs of youth who appear androgynous, images confronting the hard gender lines of many societies globally.
Globally the 2010 World Press Photo exhibition strikes a balance between highlighting striking images of moments in the past year that captivated the world to offering more subtle photography that explores popular unknowns in societies globally. Importantly the exhibition reaffirms the role of carefully crafted photography at a time of social media, photography that points to the sustaining importance of the craft of photography to tell the stories of our world.
Stefan Christoff is a Montreal based artist, community activist & journalist who regularly contributes to Art Threat. Stefan can be found at twitter.com/spirodon.