World Press Photo: Micah Albert on hope and human dignity

“We need more images of hope,” says Micah Albert, winner of the Contemporary Issues Singles category who talks to BJP about his winning image

Gemma Padley — 18 February 2013

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Micah Albert, USA, Redux Images, 1st Prize Contemporary Issues Single. Taken on 03 April 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya. Pausing in the rain, a woman working as a trash picker at the 30-acre dump, which literally spills into households of one million people living in nearby slums, wishes she had more time to look at the books she comes across. She even likes the industrial parts catalogs. “It gives me something else to do in the day besides picking [trash],” she said

American freelance documentary photographer Micah Albert has been entering the World Press Photo contest since 2007. This year he won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category for his image At The Dandora Dump that shows a woman trash picker in Kenya pausing to read a book she has found amongst the rubbish.

“I’m shocked to have won,” Albert told BJP in a Skype interview at the weekend. “The World Press Photo is the creme de la creme [of photography awards.] Winning this award is recognition you’re on the right path.”

Albert, who is based in northern California and represented by Redux Pictures photo agency, took the image as part of a larger project about the Dandora Dumpsite in Nairobi, Kenya, the only location for dumping waste in Nairobi, East Africa’s most populous city. He worked on the project with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, an award-winning non-profit journalism organisation that supports independent journalism.

Gaining access to the dump site was one of the most difficult and dangerous aspects of the project requiring that Albert and the writer working with him negotiate access with the cartel who run the site. “It was dangerous to even get into the slum. Slums are often dangerous places but this was a different level of danger. We usually had to be at the site before the sun came up. I spent a lot of time in this 30-acre location and became comfortable with the people there, who also became comfortable with me. I was trying to juxtapose the people with their environment but in a way that shows them the utmost dignity possible.”

Several of the judges in this year’s World Press Photo contest commented that Albert’s image stood out for its positive, hopeful feel. “I try to show the more positive, hopeful side [of life]; to show human dignity,” said Albert. “I tend to be more of an optimistic person and want there to be good outcomes in life so I look for this rather than the worst that humanity has to offer. Life isn’t all bombs, warfare and conflict. We need more positive images.”