By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A cold light illuminates the Tehran skyline on the night of June 24, 2009. The tense, shadowy stillness of the rooftops is broken by a woman shouting out. The call is a protest against irregularities in Iran’s disputed presidential election, and the utterly compelling image is the World Press Photo of Year 2009.
The photograph is part of a series by Italian photographer Pietro Masturzo capturing individual rooftop protests following the controversial elections that led to violent demonstrations and political unrest in Iran. Along with other prizewinning photojournalism from around the world, the series is currently showing as part of the World Press Photo exhibition at CAIXA Cultural in Centro.
The annual World Press Photo contest is the world’s largest and most presitigious photojournalism prize and celebrates the power of the image to communicate current global events, issues and life.
The exhibition shows the 2009 winners in categories that include Spot News, Portraits, Sports Action, Contemporary Issues and Daily Life. Shown in a maze of stands in the large first floor reception area of CAIXA Cultural, the photographs are variously shocking, amusing, silencing and heartbreaking. Without exception, they are arresting photographs that demand attention.
Although the focus of the exhibition is the photojournalist’s eye and the communicative strength of the image, as a collection the work is a powerful document of current affairs and contemporary global realities. News stories covered include the bloodbath of violence on the streets of Madagascan capital Antananarivo when opposition supporters marched on government offices in February 2009, Barack Obama’s inauguration and the conflict and aftermath of the Israeli attacks on Palestine.
Much of the exhibition makes for uncomfortable viewing, be it explicit drama in the images themselves, such as the gruesome stoning of a Somalian man found guilty of adultery by the local Islamic court, captured by Farah Abdi Warsameh, or forceful hints at certain social and political contexts, as seen in Rina Castelnuovo’s image of a Jewish man throwing wine at a Palestininian woman in the West Bank.
Elsewhere individual human stories are revealed, with the images presenting a slice of lived realities such as Willeke Duijvekem’s photo story portrait of a Dutch teenager with Gender Identity Disorder.
While World Press Photo confronts us with some grave issues and heart-renching images, there is also the balance of works which celebrate human expression and endeavor. There are various portrayals of sporting activity, including a feature on Lance Armstrong’s 2009 Tour de France journey. In arts, Francesco Guisti’s joyous series of portraits of the outrageously stylish members of the Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society of Entertainers and Elegant People, SAPE), in Congo-Brazzaville is a delightful display of creative fashion in action.
What is so completely engrossing about the World Press Photo exhibition is the searing honesty of the images, many of which are strikingly beautiful. While they are not, as the exhibition text proclaims, an “inventory” of recent world events, they are in fact vital snapshots of the state of our planet. Along with the supporting text (on which many of the images rely for contextual understanding), it is a hugely informative, sometimes disturbing, often moving, but above all essential exhibition.
World Press Photo exhibition
CAIXA Cultural, Avenida Almirante Barroso, 25, Centro.
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays 10AM-10PM, Sundays 10AM-9PM.
Until June 27th.