The past year has been rife with tragedies, both natural and man-made. The fallout from the Arab Spring is still very much a part of daily news. Japan’s people continue to be haunted by the devastating impacts of the tsunami.The massacre on the island of Utøya in Norway stands out as one of the most shocking acts of violence carried out by a single person. Violations against humanity in Ukraine, drug cartels in Mexico and child brides in Yemen add to an already important list of contemporary issues shown in this year’s World Press Photo exhibit.
Now on display at the Marché Bonsecours in old Montreal, award-winning photographs taken by journalists from around the world represent a variety of categories including Nature, Contemporary Issues, General News and Sports.
As visitors stream through the gallery’s doors, conversations are muted as people absorb the energy within the space.
Geneviève Bégin is a photographer who attended the exhibit for the first time. “There were some pictures that were nearly unbearable, but at the same time there were hints of humor in other photos,” she said. “There was really a little bit of everything.”
The image that struck her the most was taken by first prize winner Samuel Aranda. It depicts a veiled woman holding her injured son after a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen. Bégin’s eyes were immediately drawn to the contrasts in the image.
“There was on one hand the role of women within these conflicts, and on the other hand, the love that exists regardless of war,” she said.
Among the sometimes horrific images displayed throughout the exhibit, there are other categories that uplifted people, sometimes making them smile or laugh.
Ray McManus, second prize winner in the sports category, submitted an image called Scrum Half, depicting a group of rugby players battle it out on a muddy field. The passion and intensity felt by the players come through in this image, the raindrops hovering like glittering stars. The player in the upper left-hand corner of the shot looks off into the distance, a stoic, almost superhero-like attitude to his stance.
The nature section is yet another category that has garnered a lot of attention. Though several of the images show the fragility of some of the most endangered animals on the planet, others help to center the viewers.
“There are a lot of catastrophic photos that were represented (this year),” said publicist Melanie as she was leaving the exhibit. But Infinite Cave, photographed in Vietnam by Carsten Peter, touched her the most.
“The caves were really impressive,” she said. “It was like a breath of fresh air; something a little more Zen among the other photos.”
A little perspective
Productions Foton is a non-profit organization that has been hosting the World Press Photo exhibit for the last two years. Director Philippe Marchand admits the exhibit has had mixed reactions.
“A lot of people are saying it’s harder this year because the pictures are more about war and human conflict,” said Marchand. “The pictures are more difficult, sadder.”
Regardless, the exhibit pushes people to do some research on these difficult topics after they leave the space, and that is part of the process.
AnthropoGraphia: Human Rights through Visual Storytelling
In addition to the World Press Photo exhibit, another exhibit takes a “steely-eyed” look at human rights issues. AnthropoGraphia’s photo reporting competition celebrates this year’s winners.
“It’s a really good complement to the World Press Photo,” said Marchand, “because it has a lot of similarities. But AnthropoGraphia is more dedicated to denouncing human rights abuse. I think it’s a more in-depth view of certain issues, while the World Press Photo covers more news events. That’s why we chose AnthropoGraphia again this year.”
This exhibit affected 23-year old Danica Stamenic the most. One of the stories looks at violence against women in Norway.
“It’s amazing to see the extreme highs and lows in our world and to see so much hope along so much despair and I feel a lot of both of those emotions when I look at the photographs,” she said. “There was the image of the woman without an arm… just imagining what she went through…”
Despite the sadness Stamenic felt, she took away more than just that emotion.
“It’s really cathartic to see an exhibit like this because so much of this… you know what’s going on and it’s in the back of your mind all the time… and when you actually see all these images laid out in front of you, it makes you confront maybe your own fears in a way that’s kind of positive, I think.”
A surprise addition to the gallery this year is Red². Productions Foton felt it was important to highlight the Quebec student strike that made waves not only within Canada, but also throughout the world.
“We decided to do this exhibit because there was so much coverage all around the world,” said Marchand. “We wanted to give them (local photographers) the opportunity for their work to be exposed here. There were a lot of citizen pictures and we also wanted to give them the opportunity to be seen by the public at large.”
The exhibit has been well received. Teacher Yan Beauregard thought it interesting and fitting that the impact of the Red Square is represented in the exhibit. And though he appreciated that addition to the space, he was even more impacted by the World Press Photo exhibit.
Evicted, by John Moore, is a series of photos on people who have been forced out of their homes, due to financial strife.
“It wasn’t something dealing with life or death,” said Beauregard, “but I got the sense that I was witnessing extreme distress, looking at these people who were watching others take their things. It touched me more than any of the other pictures.”
The World Press Photo, AnthropoGraphia and Red² exhibits are at Marché Bonsecours until September 30th, 2012. Doors are open from 10am to 10pm and tickets costs $12. For a sneak peek of some of the winning images, go to www.worldpressphotomontreal.ca.