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World Press Photo: the Shocking Images of 2020

World Press Photo: the Shocking Images of 2020

The results of the 64th edition of World Press Photo were announced on April 15. Six nominees were in the running for the prestigious and coveted world photo of the year. The World Press Photo of the Year was awarded to Mads Nissen for his photograph of a hug between a nurse and an old lady during the covid pandemic, in São Paulo, Brazil. Blind looks back at the year 2020 marked by Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, among others.

The global pandemic left an imprint on everyone’s mind, the Black Lives Matter movement pushed boundaries. The explosion in Beirut, the tragedy of Nagorno-Karabakh, the locust plague in East Africa… As every year, the year’s pivotal events were captured by photographers around the world. Six of the images were selected by the prestigious World Press Photo competition to illustrate the particularly trying year of 2020. For the 64th edition, in addition to the World Press Photo of the Year, the World Press Photo Interactive of the Year, the World Press Photo Online Video of the Year, and the World Press Photo Story of the Year have been added. A total of 45 photographers from 28 different countries were selected. Blind Magazine brings you the stories behind the six shots selected for the Photo of the Year award.

The First Hug — Mads Nissen, Denmark, Politiken / Panos Pictures — World Press Photo of the Year 2021 Award

Rosa Luzia Lunardi (85) is embraced by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza
at Viva Bem care home, São Paulo, Brazil, on 5 August.​ © Mads Nissen

To hug someone. Kiss someone. Touch someone. Simple, daily gestures that are testaments to our humanity. Yet they have been forbidden for over a year. This is the first hug Rosa Luzia Lunardi (85) has received in five months. A plastic hug, but a hug all the same. Wearing a mask decorated with gold crowns, nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza from the Viva Bem nursing home in São Paulo, Brazil, tenderly wraps her arms around this small elderly woman. With this shot, Danish photographer Mads Nissen illustrates the most tragic consequence of this global Covid-19 pandemic in addition to its millions of victims: the loneliness of our seniors, the social distress of the most disadvantaged. 

Emancipation Memorial Debate — Evelyn Hockstein, USA, for The Washington Post — Finalist

A man and woman disagree on the removal of the Emancipation Memorial, in Lincoln Park, Washington DC, USA, on 25 June. © Evelyn Hockstein

Unbolting statues to reclaim history. The battle over memory eats away at America. It has spread to the entire world. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement raised its fist. After the death of George Floyd, Black Americans took to the streets to made their voices heard. To seek justice. And erase the symbols of history? Some want this history to be more representative. Others see the movement as a suppression of a shared narrative. The battle over memory represented in a photo. A white man, wearing a mask that’s too small for him, his left hand in his pocket, the other pointed at a statue, looks like he’s trying to convince a young Black woman, who stands with her hands behind her back and her rolled up at the sky. The words of the middle-aged man don’t seem to be reaching her. In the center background is the statue that crystallizes their conflict: the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington DC. Lincoln holds the Emancipation Proclamation in his hand, gazing down at the Black man kneeling at his feet. To the Black community, the statue is paternalistic and degrading. One side is asking for the statue to be removed from public space. The other side sees that as an attempt to erase a chapter of history. Two worlds at odds with each other that no longer listen to one other. With a single shot, Evelyn Hockstein perfectly encapsulates these tensions around the history of the United States and racism. 

Man Wounded After the Explosion in the Port of Beirut — Lorenzo Tugnoli, Italy, Contrasto for The Washington Post — Finalist

An injured man stands near the site of a massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, while firefighters work to put out the fires that engulfed the warehouses after the explosion, on 4 August © Lorenzo Tugnoli

A scene from a war. Dark chaos, a city ripped to shreds. The light falls on the face of a man in pain. Shirtless. His back is lacerated, bloody. On his left arm, he has a tattoo of the Passion of the Christ. On August 4, 2020, at 6 p.m., Beirut was disfigured by the explosion of more than 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a building in the port of the Lebanese capital. The images of the blast are striking. The image of the bride endures, with her beautiful white dress, filmed while posing for ceremonial photos in the old part of the city before being brutally shaken by the shock wave. The explosion damaged or destroyed around 6,000 buildings, killed at least 190 people, injured 6,000 more and displaced up to 300,000 residents. With this martyred face, Lorenzo Tugnoli captures the Stations of the Passion experienced by a city and a country already brought to its knees by a corrupt government and a deep social crisis.  

The Fight Against the Locust Invasion in East Africa — Luis Tato, Spain, for The Washington Post — Finalist

Henry Lenayasa, chief of the settlement of Archers Post, in Samburu County, Kenya, tries to scare away a massive swarm of locusts ravaging grazing area, on 24 April. Locust swarms devastated large areas of land, just as the coronavirus outbreak had begun to disrupt livelihoods. © Luis Tato

Like a plague straight out of the Book of Revelations, East Africa has been battling a locust invasion of biblical scale for years. Henry Lenayasa is the head of the Archers Post settlement in Samburu County, Kenya. Luis Tato took a picture of him trying to save his crops. A cap on his head, a Covid mask under his nose, the man struggles against a swarm of locusts. With his legs stretched out and his arms raised, he prepares for battle. But what can he do? It’s not a fair fight. He is surrounded by thousands of insects. A cloud of desolation that stretches as far as the eye can see. In early 2020, Kenya experienced its worst invasion of desert locusts in 70 years. A single swarm can contain between 40 and 80 million locusts per square kilometer. Scary. The utter helplessness of a continent whose livelihoods were already threatened by the global pandemic. 

The Transition: Ignat — Oleg Ponomarev, Russia — Finalist

Ignat, a transgender man, sits with his girlfriend Maria in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 23 April 2020. © Oleg Ponomarev

Ignat is a transgender man. He is sitting on a bed, serious and preoccupied, his face lit by a ray of sunlight. His girlfriend Maria has her arms around him. They live in St. Petersburg. With this photo, Oleg Ponomarev reveals what the daily life of transgender people looks like in a traditionalist Russia where there is no place for them. Stigmatized at school, Ignat has been insulted and humiliated. While transgender people are allowed to get married, the road is difficult, especially when it comes to accessing their economic, social and cultural rights, because their gender is not legally recognized. 

Leaving the house in Highland Karabakh — Valery Melnikov, Russia, Sputnik — Finalist

Azat Gevorkyan and his wife Anaik are pictured before leaving their home in Lachin, on 28 November. Many Armenians left areas that were to return to Azerbaijani control following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. The Lachin district was the final district (out of three) given up by Armenia on 29 November. © Valery Melnikov

There are faces that stay with you. That grab you. Those of the din of war. Like Anaik’s face. She stands, her expression grave, her eyes clouded with exhaustion and tears. She holds her child in her arms. Her husband, Azat Gevorkyan, sits on the bed. His face in his hands. They have to leave their home in Lachin, in Nagorno-Karabakh. The tears and distress of a people. Armenia has been plunged back into war. In the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the conflict with Azerbaijan has resumed after a 30-year lull. Reviving the ghost of the past. After months of fighting, the worst in decades, Azerbaijan regained possession of the territory it lost in the 1990s, but the regional capital, Stepanakert, was left under Armenian control. While the fighting has stopped for the moment, reconciliation and lasting peace in this region remain but a mirage for the moment.

By Michaël Naulin

Michaël Naulin is a journalist. Having worked for regional and national press, he is above all passionate about photography and, more specifically, about photo reporting.

The complete list of winners, for all categories, of the 64th edition of World Press Photo can be found here.

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