The announcement of the World Press Photo of the Year 2012 winner is now less than 24 hours away. Speculation is ripe: Which international news story will be depicted in the photo that wins the top prize? The conflict in Mali, or Syria? Protests against austerity measures in Greece? Political unrest in Egypt? Hurricane Sandy?
The other question is: How will the news story be depicted? Since 1955, most of the World Press Photo winners have shown lone individuals who symbolize a larger story: a single grieving or injured or dead individual standing in for many who were left grieving, injured or dead by a conflict or natural disaster. Only twice have the winning images shown groups of people in danger. The number of winning images that depict women in moments of grave danger, distress or overwhelming grief have far outnumbered the number of photos that show men in similar situations. Women, alone or in groups, are usually shown as the passive bystanders to conflict or disaster.
That trend shifted in the past three years. The women subjects of the last three World Press Photo winners are depicted not as victims but as survivors. Take for example, photographer Jodi Bieber’s 2010 World Press Photo of the Year, the portrait of Bibi Aisha, the Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off as retribution for fleeing her husband’s home. Aisha looks calmly into the camera lens. In the 2009 World Press Photo of the Year, taken by Pietro Masturzo of AP, a woman shouts from a rooftop in Tehran, Iran, after the results of her country’s disputed election results were announced. This defiant woman is a stand-in for the many citizens from all walks of life who took to the streets to protest the election. Last year’s winning image, by Samuel Aranda, shows a woman in a hospital – not an uncommon motif among World Press Photo winners – but the Pieta-like composition shows a woman, her face covered by a veil, giving comfort to a family member injured in the violence in Yemen.
So will the winner announced tomorrow depict conflict, disaster or triumph, through a single person – maybe a man? –or a group? What’s your guess for what story – and what kind of symbol – will win?
Samuel Aranda Wins 2011 World Press Photo of the Year