Don’t Blink World Press Photo exhibition 2018

Text: Tanya Lake

In 2004, I won a place in the World Press Photo exhibition for underwater images of Sydney that a judge in Amsterdam told me she had fought for, against another judge who despised them. I was touched. Back then, all the photographers had agency representation. Now, only a handful do. It’s a sad indictment of the current state of photojournalism. Despite this strange new world of fake news, curated feeds and social media algorithms, what remains is a dogged, if not niche, passion for photojournalism.

This year’s exhibition reveals some dark truths of the human condition; a woman lying in her own blood amongst fallen postcards on London Bridge, a naked child being carried from the bombed wasteland of Mosul, bodies of drowned Rohingya refugees.

A passerby comforts an injured woman after Khalid Masood drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, UK, killing five and injuring multiple others.

‘Witnessing the Immediate Aftermath of an Attack in the Heart of London’ © Toby Melville, Reuters

You don’t have to be a photographer to appreciate the World Press Photo exhibition, free at the State Library of NSW. The images are more than technically decent snaps; they’re visual poetry, revealing the current state of our world.

Sports images fill the first room. An aerial of the Marathon de Saab, depicting ultra-marathoners running through desert sands. Kid jockeys ride horses bareback in Sumbawa, ex-guerilla fighters in Columbia play football.

The next room contains nature and environmental images; global warming in Antarctica, mass production of vegetables in Holland, recycling of waste, deforestation in the Amazon.

Plant scientist Henk Kalkman checks tomatoes at a facility that tests combinations of light intensity, spectrum and exposures at the Delphy Improvement Centre in Bleiswijk, the Netherlands.

‘Hunger Solutions’ © Luca Locatelli, for National Geographic

Next are contemporary stories, long term projects and portraits; of Boko Haram teenage suicide bomb survivors, young girls in Cameroon having their breasts bound, a woman inspecting her vagina after gender reassignment surgery.

Dr Suporn Watanyusakul shows patient Olivia Thomas her new vagina after gender reassignment surgery at a hospital in Chonburi, near Bangkok, Thailand.

‘More Than a Woman’ © Giulio Di Sturco

The last room contains the news images. It’s bleak. Here we see the winning image; a young Venezuelan protester on fire.

José Víctor Salazar Balza (28) catches fire amid violent clashes with riot police during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela.

‘Venezuela Crisis’ by © Ronaldo Schemidt, Agence France-Presse

Refugees in Bangladesh watch their village burn across the river in Myanmar. In freezing Belgrade, Afghan refugees try to survive. A naked child is carried from the rubble in Mosul. I’m unable to rearrange my expression to that of a nonchalant viewer as I leave this room.

An unidentified young boy, who was carried out of the last ISIS-controlled area of the Old City by a man suspected of being a militant, is washed and cared for by Iraqi Special Forces soldiers. The soldiers suspected that the man had used the boy as a human shield in order to try to escape, as he did not know the child’s name.

‘The Battle for Mosul – Young Boy Is Cared for by Iraqi Special Forces Soldiers’
© Ivor Prickett, for The New York Times (the child in this image was later adopted by the soldier carrying him.)

When I fall asleep that night the images return. Strangely enough, I think of the face of a Japanese garbage man, in the environmental series “Wasteland”, documenting rubbish disposal across nations. The man’s face seems the very picture of sadness.

Waste is unloaded at Shizai paper recycling plant, Tokyo, Japan, which has been processing waste since 1969.

‘Wasteland’ © Kadir van Lohuizen, NOOR Images

This is the stuff of nightmares; the desperate exodus of peoples, burning homelands, massacres, a planet drowning in waste, heads that turn the other way. But it’s our world; sometimes terrifying, sometimes beautiful, oftentimes heartbreakingly sad. We must not look away.

The World Press Photo exhibition is at the State Library on Macquarie Street until Sunday 24 June. Weekend opening hours are 10am to 5pm both days. Entry is free.


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