National Geographic today released the results of their 2013 World Photo Press Contest, which awards news photographers for astounding work completed in the previous year. It’s well worth a gander.
I was so struck by some of the photographs that I knew instantly I had to write something about it. If you’re a writer — and by “writer,” I don’t mean that you have something published, or that you’re recognized for your writing, but simply that, when you are moved by something, you know that you will be restless until you can write about it — you will know that sometimes there is an irrepressible imperative to share your thoughts with the world by writing them. My first thought looking at the photographs was that they made me feel grateful for many things. My second thought was that I’ve written about all of those things in other posts, so it would be cheating to say I’m thankful for them again (even though I am continually grateful for them).
Some of the feelings of gratitude the photographs elicited?
Let’s start with the first photograph in the series, taken by Paul Hansen, and which won First Prize. Moving in a most breathtakingly devastating way, it depicts family members carrying two Palestinian children to their funeral after they were killed when an Israeli missile struck their home.
Nothing but nothing makes me feel more helpless than when children die. Nothing but nothing makes me more furious than when children are the victims of violence. But I also feel gratitude. I am chilled at the thought of losing my child to something so senseless, and I am so profoundly thankful that I live somewhere that is not war-ravaged. This isn’t to delude myself into a false sense of security. Who knows what the future holds? The parents of the children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut thought their kids were safe too. But, still: it stands to reason that, when missiles are flying around your ears, people are going to get hurt, and eventually those people are going to be children.
Let’s look next at Second Prize winner in the News Single category. This photograph, snapped by a very brave Emin Özmen, depicts a man being tortured by Syrian Opposition Fighters by, I gather, having his feet whipped, for being a suspected government informant. I can’t fathom the searing pain he must have experienced. I am so grateful that I live in a country where torture is illegal, and where it is not so commonplace that torturers seem to have no problem with being photographed doing it.
I’m moved too by the First Prize winner in the Contemporary Issues Single category. Photographed by Micah Albert, the picture shows a Kenyan woman taking a break from her labour picking through trash at a dump near the slums where she lives. She’s sitting, reading through a book she found at the dump. I live in such a wasteful culture, and we dissociate ourselves from the waste so easily because we’ve worked out this great system where we ship it off and hide it in giant landfills. The concept of someone making a living from picking through garbage is a pure testament to so much of what is wrong with the world.
I think the most astounding of all of the photographs in the series is one by Fausto Podavini which claimed First Prize in the Daily Life Stories category. It shows Mirella, a 71-year-old Italian woman, assisting her husband Luigi — who has dementia — drying off after a shower. I am so thankful that I have the full capacity of my mind, and thankful too for the ones who love us and take care of us even when we have lost so much of who we are.
I find the photographic talent represented by this series of award winners to be mesmerizing. They haven’t just snapped a picture: they’ve captured a moment. It is their work that has helped me revisit and remember so many of the things that make me a lucky person each day.
And so, although it seems inadequate or trivial given the content of the photographs I’ve shared, today I am thankful for photography and photographers. I would have such little insight into what goes on in the world — both the heinous and the beautiful — if it weren’t for the fact that those things have been brought to my doorstep through the efforts of others in capturing those realities and bringing them to my doorstep.