The 2012 World Press Photo of the Year is a photo most people hadn’t seen before today, or didn’t remember. But it’s an extraordinarily powerful image, showing a woman holding a wounded relative in her arms. The photo was taken inside a mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, that was being used as a field hospital by demonstrators against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The photo, taken by Samuel Aranda from Spain, appeared in the New York Times, though Aranda is represented by Cobus Images. While many of the other winning photos depicted 2011’s major news events (the Japan earthquake and tsunami, more Arab Spring protests), some focused on compelling characters, unrelated to the year’s big news (a Senegalese model, a naked Ukrainian activist, an Afghan policeman.)
To get more insight into the photo choices, we spoke to Post Director of Photography Michel du Cille, who talked about the workings of the prestigious World Press Photo competition, why he thinks they chose this photo, and what the winning images tell us about the year 2011.
Q. Does it matter that the photo from Yemen was not widely known?
A. No, it does not. There have been many photos awarded the grand prize from World Press in the past that were not widely known. The judges are instructed to be impartial and objective. But World Press, from past awards, does like to lean heavily on some big global issues or massive event.
Q. Do you think it was chosen in part because it depicted the Arab Spring?
It could easily have been something from the bad situation in the global economy or the Japan earthquake and subsequent nuclear plant disaster. I think they leaned on the Arab Spring because it probably offered stronger visual opportunities.
Q. What do you think the photos and events they chose tell us about the year 2011?
A. It seems that the judges stayed very much on the theme news of the year. (Arab Spring — including Libya, Yemen, Egypt; Japan earthquake, etc.). Categories such as Spot News, General News, Contemporary Issues, Nature ... will inevitably offer conflict, chaos, and the intense issues facing the planet.
[But there were also] surprise stories that revealed some unique subjects such as the first prize in the Daily Life category:
Marcos, 89, and Monica, 87, have been married and living in their apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for 65 years. In 2007, Monica was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Since that moment, her husband devoted all his time to take care of her.
Or the third prize in Arts and Entertainment:
A ritual performed by Apashka, or Apa, the local Shaman in Ungurtas, Kazakhstan.
[In this photo,] villagers hold a just-slaughtered sheep with the blood dripping over a huddle of half-naked people. This is perhaps a never-seen-before ritual. The photo is no great shakes as a photograph, but the event takes it higher.
Q. Which photo would you have chosen as photo of the year?
A. Oh, I can't say. Choosing is like making a bet on which Republican candidate will be the nominee.
(Du Cille is also off tomorrow to judge another international contest called Pictures of the Year International, where many of the same images will be judged.)