World Press Photo Exhibition Brings Attention to International Issues

The first image someone sees as they walk down the steps into Dupont Underground is a photograph that was widely published across the news and social media last year, in which Mevlüt Mert Altintaş, an off-duty Turkish police officer, is seen holding a gun after assassinating Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov at an art gallery in Turkey.

This is the 2017 World Press Photo Exhibition in D.C. The photo of the Russian ambassador’s assassination is the 2017 World Press Photo of the Year and is just one of the exhibition’s many images that have sparked discussion among visitors.

The exhibition is an annual global event that seeks to promote press freedom and “to develop and promote quality visual journalism and visual storytelling,” according to the exhibition’s website. A panel of 17 judges review thousands of submissions from photographers around the world and select photos largely based on newsworthiness, Robert Meins, head organizer of the D.C. exhibition, said in an interview with MediaFile.

The exhibition is being held in 45 cities around the world, with D.C. being its only location in the U.S. this year. The exhibition in D.C. was held until Nov. 26 at Dupont Underground, an abandoned streetcar station converted into an art exhibit space.

The 2017 photo of the year sparked controversy after Stuart Franklin, chair of the 2017 exhibition, said he voted against the image of the Russian ambassador’s assassination winning the prize. In an article he wrote for The Guardian, Franklin said that the winning image is a “photograph of murder” and that it is “morally as problematic to publish as a terrorist beheading.”

2017 World Press Photo of the Year, Photo by Burhan Ozbilici

While the  selection of the photograph has led to disagreement among jurors and visitors of the exhibition, Meins believes this dispute is an essential component of the exhibition.

“It brings up a contentious debate, which the World Press Exhibition usually does, and it is an important debate to have,” Meins said.

Other award-winning images in the exhibition also offered a chance for dialogue, touching on issues affecting various communities around the world.

Some of the featured photographs address the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), often capturing its effect on the citizens of those countries. The second prize single photo winner in the Spot News category is entitled “Medics Assist a Wounded Girl,” and shows two wounded children being treated in a makeshift hospital following airstrikes in Syria.

Spot news, second prize singles winner, photo by Abd Doumany

According to data released by UNICEF in 2015, an estimated 14 million children were impacted by conflict in Syria and Iraq. Many children were forced to become refugees, while others remained trapped in areas controlled by armed groups.

The exhibition also featured photographs that have won awards in other photojournalism competitions that touch on issues considered newsworthy by the organizers of the exhibition. A photo series by photographer Stephanie Sinclair won the International Women’s Media Foundation’s 2017 Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. Her photos feature stories of child marriage and graphic depictions of female genital mutilation in countries around the world.

Two young girls in Yemen pose with their husbands. Photo by Stephanie Sinclair, International Women’s Media Foundation’s 2017 Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award Winner

This photo series helps to bring attention to the prevalence of child marriage around the world. According to UNICEF, around one in seven adolescent girls (ages 15 to 19) are currently married or in a union. Rates of child marriage are the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, where about four in ten girls are married before they are 18.

An estimated 200 million girls and women around the world have undergone genital mutilation, with 3 million girls at risk of being cut each year, according to the World Health Organization. The majority of girls undergo genital mutilation before they turn 15 years old.

While some of the photographs display graphic content or have led to controversy, D.C. exhibition organizer Lisa Yarmoshuk told MediaFile that it is important to display images that may be considered contentious to the public.

“The whole purpose of showing the photographs is, on one level it’s an appreciation of the art form and the storytelling form,” Yarmoshuk said. “But from another perspective, it’s focused on the issues behind the stories and to raise awareness and to create a dialogue.”

See more from the 2017 World Press Photo Contest here.

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