When the winners of the World Press Photo 2012 competition were announced on February 10th, many expected the kind of fierce debate that the competition has come to produce. But few of those would probably have expected those debates to still be raging nearly 3 weeks later, with bloggers and magazines taking to their keyboards to give their view.
The winning image (above) by Samuel Aranda shows a Yemeni woman holding her son who was injured in the 2011 demonstrations for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave. Although the power of the photo is debated, most agree that the image follows the conventional pattern of what has come to be expected of a World Press Photo winner. Middle Eastern locations where war and turmoil are rife often feature, along with loss or despair as the prevailing emotion of the photograph.
Many are comparing the image to Michaelangelo’s Pieta depicting the body of Jesus lying on the lap of his mother Mary after his crucifixion, while others suggest that the image needs no Christian symbology attaching to it to heighten it’s power. The online blog Conscientous argues this point, maintaining that the image is a prime example of how the competition produces photos of foreign affairs seen through our Western eyes, further stating that the competition would be more aptly named Western Press Photo.
Personally, I find the mother/son relationship in the image both moving and deeply sad. The weak, naked pose of the man is a universally powerful one and the faceless depiction of both people only serves to further its strength. By removing the facial element, the couple are depersonalized and projected as a symbol of the undying strength between a mother and her son that remains unchanged, despite our constant movement into the debatable future of our planet. A man that has fought the system and lost can turn only to his Mother, and this message hits harder than ever in the current political climate, even as we become increasingly desensitized to shocking imagery.
While the entries continue to amount to over 100,000 and the prize money stays fixed at a five-figure sum we can only assume that the winning image will be discussed with as much vigor every year. We’d love to know what you think of the image – did it deserve to win?
Words by Jack Grange