The headlines for 2014 were: ebola, a bloody summer in Gaza, Kobala/Syria, Boko Haram/Nigeria, refugees from Africa crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and a major crisis in Ukraine – including a dramatic plane crash. Besides that, there have been ongoing issues concerning climate change, gender, health, conflict, and also cultural interests related to folklore, identity, (family) relations, drugs, and some things you never knew existed until photographers with an antenna for obscurity went to document them.
Not every news photographer is fit to win a prize at the annual World Press Photo (WPP) competition. There are thousands of professionals entering with work completed over the previous year and all their names will end up in the back of the catalogue. Eventually, however, there's only a small pool of potential candidates fit to be represented in the WPP traveling exhibition, and even among that fine selection of photojournalists from all over the world, only a handful will actually arrive at such a nomination.
An expert jury comprised of mixed professional heritage – photo-editors and photographers mainly – and of various nationalities decide who to reward. "To be a winner it had to be unique. […] At some of these events, there's hundreds of photographers, but one gets an image because he's seen something that no one else has," says Mark Baker in a short video interview with World Press Photo. He was among the WPP final jurists this year, initially representing the sports category. But could he not have said the exact same thing about 'spot news'? How many photographers were on that hill, at the Turkish-Syrian border, overlooking Kobani under siege?
Of course, many events are not staged and even if they are (which means you can more or less anticipate on what's coming) you still need to have the incredible talent, guts, and control to capture whatever occurs before your eyes in the best possible manner. Plus you need to know some things about the place and its people or else you will miss the 'angle' on the 'story' that you wish to 'frame'.
This year, a new category has been introduced, Long-Term Projects, to accolade photographers working for years on one particular subject. These projects extend over at least 3 years, and that is an indication that 'slow journalism' has found firm ground within the profession. Indeed, as jury member Donald Weber also points out in an interview with British Journal of Photography: It's about storytelling and finding the right voice for the subject.
There are different types of characters among these visual storytellers. Some are 'sociologists', having a focus on who 'we' are, and there are others with an 'anthropological' interest, mainly investigating on who 'they' are. Altogether, it's probably a good thing to have the human species reminded of its behavioural tendencies, from all possible perspectives, even though it won't help to overcome our downfalls. Next year, different events will result in comparable pictures by various talented photographers creating single images or short stories, to be judged by another appointed set of people equipped to keep the quality of selected tragedy and social mores wrapped in visual aesthetics exposed to a world audience at a steady level.
To view all the winners, see the World Press Photo 2015 Contest Gallery.