Thursday, October 01, 2009

A journey into visual history

The World Press Photo competition is arguably the world's biggest news photography contest receiving over 95,000 images each year, and some of the world's leading photojournalists come together to judge that one image which gets honoured with the World Press Photo of the Year prize.

That the competition is based in The Netherlands is not a surprise. The Dutch have a great tradition of supporting culturally valuable things, going by the way the Vincent Van Gogh and Rijks Museums (which houses the Dutch school of painting led by Rembrandt among others) have been built and managed in Amsterdam.

Indian photjournalists participate each year in large numbers, but India has won the coveted World Press Photo of the Year only twice in the 54 year-old history of the competition. Both for iconic images of tragedy. Delhi-based photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew won it the first time for his picture of a half-buried face of a Bhopal Gas Tragedy child victim in 1984. India won it again in 2005, which was the 50th year of WPP incidentially, for Arko Datta's picture of a woman mourning the loss of her kin in the Tsunami that hit South India.

Today onwards, WPP Foundation has kicked off a new initiative -- an online archive of some 10,000 contest winning pictures that provide a visual record of more than 50 year of human history. The archive will provide each year's prize winners in chronological order since 1955!

The first winner of the competition, started nationally by Dutch union of photjournalists before it went international, was a picture of motor-cross rider tumbling down his motorbike at a competition in 1955.

You can see this one ofcourse, and scores of other iconic images that have won the prizes. For instance, that unforgettable image of a naked girl running away from a napalm attack in Vietnam which arguably changed American public's perspective of the Vietnam war, and forced the government to stop the war. Others including the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk, a defiant Chinese protestor braving the tanks at Tiananmen Square, and James Nachetwey's scar-faced face of the Rwanda ethnic violence.

You could go on this visual history journey
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