Youth uprisings, arctic exploration, and a record-breaking NBA buzzer-beater are among the subjects of this year’s winning photographs and stories
The winners of the 63rd annual World Press Photo Contest have been announced, highlighting some of the most important stories from 2019. The coveted Photo of the Year award goes to Yasuyoshi Chiba, for his inspiring image of a young protester in Sudan, while Story of the Year goes to Romain Laurendeau, who captured the relentless spirit of youth uprisings in Algeria.
Here, we introduce the winning photographs for each category, and the stories behind them, which include explorations into uncharted arctic regions, the continued risk to already critically-endangered orangutans, and a record-breaking NBA buzzer-beater.
Photo of the Year: Yasuyoshi Chiba
Illuminated by the torches of mobile phones during a blackout in Khartoum, Sudan, a young man recites protest poetry while demonstrators chant slogans calling for civilian rule. After they began in December 2018, protests for president Omar al-Bashir and his government to stand down spread rapidly across Sudan. By April 2019, protesters were staging a sit-in at army headquarters in the capital Khartoum, demanding an end to the corrupt president’s 30-year rule.
On 11 April, al-Bashir was removed from office in a military coup, and a transitional military government was established. But the protests continued, calling for power to be handed to civilian groups. On 03 June, government forces opened fire on unarmed protesters. Scores of people were killed and many more subjected to violence. Three days later, Sudan was suspended from the African Union, amid growing fears that splits among the ruling military regime could lead to civil war and anarchy.
The authorities sought to defuse protests by imposing blackouts, and shutting down the internet. Protesters communicated by text message and word of mouth, and resistance to military rule continued. On 17 August, the pro-democracy movement was eventually successful in signing a power-sharing agreement with the military.
Taken on 19 June 2019, Chiba’s photograph, which wins World Press Photo of the Year as well as first prize in the General News category, is an important document of the resilience of Sudanese protesters and their fight for freedom. “This moment was the only peaceful group protest I encountered during my stay. I felt their undefeated solidarity like burning embers that remain to flare up again,” said the photographer.
Story of the Year: Romain Laurendeau
People under the age of 30 make up more than half of Algeria’s population, and according to recent studies, they also make up 72 per cent of the unemployed population. High unemployment has led many young people to feel neglected by the state and its institutions. In February 2019, thousands of young people from working-class neighbourhoods took to the streets to rally against president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Following weeks of protests, Bouteflika, Algeria’s longest-serving leader, resigned after 20 years in power.
Kho (which means ‘brother’ in colloquial North-African Arabic) by Romain Laurendeau explores the “genesis of a revolt”. Winner of this year’s World Press Story of the Year, as well as first prize in the Long-term Projects category, it is a story about the deep unease of youth, who, by daring to challenge authority, inspired the rest of the population to join in their action, giving birth to the largest protest movement in Algeria since the 1988 Black October Riots.
Contemporary Issues: Nikita Teryoshin
The International Defence Exhibition & Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), is the biggest defence exhibition and conference in the Middle East, and one of the biggest arms trade-fairs in the world. Attendees include defence ministers, military chiefs of staff, and key government decision-makers, who interact in conference halls, social events and back-office meetings.
Nikita Teryoshin’s winning image in the contemporary issues category shows a businessman locking away a pair of grenade launchers at the end of an exhibition day at IDEX. Here, war is staged in artificial environments, where mannequins and virtual displays take the place of real people and battlegrounds in daily choreographed battle displays.
Environment: Esther Horvath
The Arctic Circle is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for the past five years Arctic air temperatures have exceeded all records since 1900. This will dramatically affect the global climate, yet Arctic climate system processes are poorly represented in climate models. This is because, until now, scientific missions have not been able to penetrate the six-month-long Arctic winter that plunges the region into darkness.
The Polarstern is the central ship of an expedition run by the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC), specially designed to withstand extremely low temperatures enabling around 100 researchers and crew to work all year round.
Photographer Esther Horvath travelled on board the Polarstern for two months, and in a rare image, which is awarded first place in the Environment category, she captures a scene that would otherwise be cast in polar darkness — of a bear and her cub as they cautiously approach equipment placed by scientists on board the ice breaker.
Nature: Alain Schroeder
The body of a month-old orangutan lies on a rescue team’s surgical drape, near the town of Subulussalam in Sumatra, Indonesia. She died soon after being discovered with her injured mother on a palm oil plantation on 10 March 2019. The baby orangutan’s mother, named Hope by rescue workers, was found totally blind, with a broken clavicle and 74 air-gun wounds. She had been shot by villagers after eating fruit from their orchards.
Orangutans now exist on just two islands in the world, Sumatra and Borneo, and are being forced out of their natural rainforest habitat by palm oil plantations, logging, and mining. As female orangutans dedicate eight to nine years to raise each child before having another, populations are at risk of decline, and according to the World Wildlife Fund, there are only 14,613 Sumatran orangutans left, making them a critically endangered species.
Portraits: Tomek Kaczor
Ewa is a 15-year-old Armenian girl who, at the time the portrait was taken on 01 June 2019, had recently woken from a catatonic state brought on by Resignation Syndrome (RS). RS, also known as traumatic withdrawal syndrome, was first noted in the late 1990s in Sweden. It renders patients immobile, mute, unable to eat or drink, and unresponsive to physical stimulus, and commonly affects psychologically traumatised children in the midst of lengthy asylum processes.
Ewa developed RS around the time that her family were being threatened with deportation while waiting for asylum in Sweden. They feared being sent back to Armenia, and despite Ewa’s illness, were eventually deported to Poland. Fortunately, Ewa recovered eight months after they arrived.
Spot News: Farouk Batiche
Algeria had been embroiled in protests since February 2019. Initially, the demonstrations were aimed at ousting long-time president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but they continued even after his resignation. Protesters demanded the cancellation of the presidential elections set to take place on 04 July and a return to civilian democracy, but without successful resolution the protests have continued into 2020. For now, they are suspended due to the spread of coronavirus.
Sports: Mark Blinch
Squatting in the center of Mark Blinch’s photograph is Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors, as he watches his “buzzer-beater” shot bounce off the basket’s rim four times before finally swooping into the net, at the semi-finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, in Toronto, Canada, on 12 May 2019. A buzzer-beater is a successful shot made just as the buzzer sounds at the end of a game. This was the first ever game-winning buzzer-beater shot in a Game 7 (the final game of a “best of seven” series) in NBA history. The Toronto Raptors went on to be the first team based outside the US to win the NBA finals.
The full list of winners and nominees can be viewed at worldpressphoto.org.