By Graeme Murdoch
“To collect photographs is to collect the world. Movies and television programs light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, lightweight, cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store.”
Wise words from Susan Sontag. And so to Kazan, New York, Osaka, Ottawa, Seoul, Wellington … and Edinburgh? The photographic image travels well thanks to digital technology, and the world’s most impressive photo show is currently in each of these cities this month, (and travels to over 40 others during 2011).
The World Press Photo exhibition once more resides, for the sixth year, in the Scottish parliament building until 27 August. As our national icon Sir Sean might have said: it will stir and shake you. 5,691 photographers from 125 countries have submitted 108,059 photographs for judgement by 21 jury members to win the ultimate of 54 prizes from 2010: World Press Photo of the Year.
Some of the images in the Holyrood show will disturb, and hopefully prompt and cajole you into seeing the world as seen by storytellers with cameras. Many are important moments in history taken by photojournalists who, ceaselessly, put themselves in danger in some of the most hazardous places on earth. They add to our greater understanding and illuminate the unfolding events of our sometimes troubled world.
The Scottish parliament is to be commended for keeping faith with the World Press competition, as it is displayed in the public foyer at Holyrood, now surely one of the best event venues in the city.
“The exhibition is always extraordinary and we are honoured to be hosting this collection once again,” said presiding officer Tricia Marwick MSP. “It is estimated over 160,000 visitors have visited this captivating exhibition since it first opened at Holyrood.
“We hold the World Press Photo exhibition in conjunction with our Festival of Politics programme each year. This is a great opportunity for visitors to the parliament to view the exhibition as well as take part in topical debates and political discussions.”
As someone who has spent a career in news print media and been privileged to work with some of the world’s finest photographers, I predict every year that there will be a surge of interest in photography. Yes, there will be, again, at a space near you.Winner – Kabul, Afghanistan
Photographer: Jodi Bieber, World Press photographer of the year, South Africa
Jodi Bieber is a South African who was given her father’s old camera which she used as a diary of “very bad photographs.”
Bibi Aisha, 18, was disfigured as retribution for fleeing her husband’s house in Oruzgan province, in the center of Afghanistan. At the age of 12, Aisha and her younger sister had been given to the family of a Taliban fighter under a Pashtun tribal custom for settling disputes.
When she reached puberty she was married to him, but she later returned to her parents’ home, complaining of violent treatment by her in-laws. Men arrived there one night demanding that she be handed over to be punished for running away. Aisha was taken to a mountain clearing, where, at the orders of a Taliban commander, she was held down and had first her ears sliced off, then her nose. In local culture, a man who has been shamed by his wife is said to have lost his nose, and this is seen as punishment in return.
Aisha was abandoned, but later rescued and taken to a shelter in Kabul run by the aid organisation Women for Afghan Women, where she was given treatment and psychological help. After time in the refuge, she was taken to America to receive further counseling and reconstructive surgery.2 – Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
Photographer: Andrew McConnell, Ireland
Joséphine Nsimba Mpongo, 37, practices the cello in the Kimbanguiste neighborhood of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. She is a member of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste (OSK), Central Africa’s only symphony orchestra. During the day, Joséphine sells eggs in Kinshasa’s main market, and rehearses with the orchestra most evenings during the week.
The OSK was founded by its current conductor Armand Diangienda in 1994. Initially, just a few dozen musicians shared the small number of instruments they had at their disposal. Today, the OSK can muster 200 players for a concert. Most are self-taught amateurs who hold down day jobs all over the city.3 – South Sudan
Photographer: Guillem Valle, Spain
A Dinka man stands in front of his house in Akkach, South Sudan. The Dinka, the largest ethnic group in region, are an agro-pastoral people who migrate according to season. At the onset of the rainy season in May or June, they move to settlements of huts built from mud and thatch above the flood level, where they plant crops. During the dry months, beginning around December, they leave for better grazing grounds in the lowlands, living in semi-permanent shelters.
Between 1983 and 2005, the people of South Sudan were embroiled in a bitter civil war with the largely Muslim government in the north, which cost some 1.5 million lives. In January 2011, a referendum among southerners, promised as part of a peace deal, resulted in a near-unanimous vote for independence.4 – Kashmir intifada
Photographer: Altaf Qadri, Associated Press, India
The sister of Feroz Ahmad Malik wails as she clings to the bed carrying his body, at his funeral in Palhalan, near the city of Srinagar, in Indian-administered Kashmir. Feroz was one of two people killed when Indian police and paramilitary fired at random in the town marketplace on 6 September. The incident led to massive protests in the town, during which a further two people were killed.
Separatist unrest across the region had lasted since July, resulting in more than 60 deaths. Kashmir, which is over 60 percent Muslim, has been disputed by India and Pakistan since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. From 1989 onwards, a growing Muslim separatist movement against Indian control has led to frequent clashes with government forces.5 – Srebrenica massacre – 15th anniversary
Photographer: Ivo Saglietti, Italy
Relatives of victims mourn at the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery on the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. During the 1992–95 Bosnian War, the town of Srebrenica was declared a UN safe zone, to which thousands of Bosnian Muslims fled. The advancing Bosnian Serb Army overran the Dutch peacekeepers there in July 1995, killing more than 8,000 men and boys from in and around the town.
The massacre is considered the worst atrocity in Europe since the second world war and is the only episode from the Bosnian war to be declared an act of genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal. During the anniversary ceremony, 775 bodies newly identified from mass graves using DNA testing were buried at the cemetery, joining the 3,749 already interred there.6 – Gannet landing, Malgas Island, South Africa
Photographer: Thomas P Peschak, Germany/South Africa
A Cape gannet comes in to land during the summer nesting season. Malgas Island, off the west coast of South Africa, is an important seabird breeding ground.
– Graeme Murdoch is a photographic consultant and exhibition designer.