The photo is dark, almost monochrome in its palate of muddy browns and greens. It shows a soldier fallen against an embankment. He is clearly exhausted. The image is slightly blurred, lacking the sharp lines and rich colors camera companies want consumers to think are the hallmarks of a good photo. But this is no castoff. This is the World Press Photo of the Year for 2007, an image chosen from among 80,536 submissions to the World Press Photo Foundation. The foundation's international exhibition, which will visit more than 50 cities this year, opens in Taipei today.
UK photographer Tim Hetherington captured the image as part of a photo series taken in Afghanistan for Vanity Fair magazine. The series won second prize in the General News Stories category.
"The main thing why this photo has become World Press Photo of the Year is that this picture is a metaphor, it's not just of one guy who is tired of a day of fighting, who's signed up to fight in a country he has never been to before, ... the Korengal Valley [in Eastern Afghanistan] has more engagements than anywhere in the world, more than in Iraq, more than in Congo ... over 135 contacts in a month, this guy is tired, but this picture is actually a metaphor for the fact that the world is tired of these kinds of wars. It's not just the man who's exhausted, the world is exhausted, ... this picture tells that story: that's what counts, that's what makes this World Press Photo of the Year," said Sander Goudswaard, curator of the World Press Photo Exhibition in Taipei.
The 2007 World Press Photo Exhibition began at the end of April and now has 15 sets of prints touring internationally. These edits of the winning entries do not include all the photos, as many of the photo essays are massively compressed. "If we didn't do this," Goudswaard said, "the show would simply be too big." All photos in the single photo category are included, but the images in the photo story categories are edited down to a number of representative images. All winning photos can be accessed on the World Press Photo Web site, which also contains extended interviews with some of the winning photographers.
What: World Press Photo Exhibition
When: Until June 8, daily from 11am to 10pm
Where: Eslite Book Store Dunhua South Road Branch, B2 Art Space (台北敦南誠品書店b2藝文空間) located at 245, Dunhua S Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市敦化南路一段245號)
On the Net: www.worldpressphoto.org for a full gallery of the winning entries and extensive interviews and background materials for many of the photos
For Goudswaard, the exhibition is as much about the photographers as about the images themselves.
"World Press Photo is a contest for professional photographers. It's not just a contest of photography. We want to support those people who invest time, invest money and invest a lot of effort in trying to tell and communicate different stories from around the world," he said, speaking about the difference between the photographs in this exhibition and images captured by members of the public by chance on their cell phone or compact camera.
A good example is a photo by South African Brent Stirton that depicts rangers evacuating the bodies of four dead mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, in Democratic Republic of Congo. It won first prize for a single image in the Contemporary Issues category.
"This image has been really appealing to a lot of people. ... You ask why [the gorilla is being carried out of the forest], then you start reading, and then you discover that this picture has so many layers," Goudswaard said.
Choices such as Hetherington and Stirton's photos are typical of the judges' selections for 2007.
"When you see this year's winners they are really challenging. The winners that were chosen are not obvious and easily understandable photography. It is photography that makes you read the caption. It challenges you [to ask] what is it, what is going on here, why is this subject photographed. What does it want to say? It makes you think, it makes you want to read, makes you want to understand. It makes you take an extra step," Goudswaard said, adding that many photographers were very happy with this aspect of this year's event.