From Syria to Iraq to the Ukraine, images of carnage dominate the annual World Press Photo competition currently on display at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. The travelling exhibit, which showcases the best in photojournalism, is proving to be a hit with thousands of visitors pouring into the venue each day.
The theme is unsettling as it is striking—that of human suffering, with photographs capturing heartbreak, victimization and the collapse of entire nations whether from war, terrorism or human rights abuses.
Prominently displayed at the entrance of the exhibit is the photo-of-the-year, taken by Burhan Ozlibici, depicting the December 2016 assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. Andrey Karlov lies motionless on the ground as his killer, off-duty Turkish police officer Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, is seen, gun-in-hand, triumphantly raising his index finger to the sky after shooting dead his mark.
For Norman, a visitor to the exhibit, the image is deserving of the grand prize. “It was so immediate because you can still see the tie up in the air and there is blood around it,” he told to The Media Line. “This actually raises moral and ethical questions: should the photographer just be taking pictures or doing something to change the present?”
Another award-winning snapshot, by Frenchman Laurent Van Der Stockt, shows a terrified Iraqi girl standing helplessly against a wall as soldiers search her house during an offensive to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State. Not to be outdone is a still by Abd Doumany of two young Syrian girls lying on a makeshift hospital bed, faces covered in blood, amid ongoing airstrikes and shelling.
Prof. Raya Morag, an expert on Visual Communications who teaches at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, highlighted the impact photography can have in shaping a person’s view of a given event. “If there was only print journalism people would be less caring, especially in the non-western world,” she stressed to The Media Line. “For instance, would we have been able to adequately react to Hurricane Katrina had we not immediately been able to see photos from the catastrophe?”
Moreover, according Prof. Morag, photojournalism can often be used as a tool to raise awareness. “There is an element of activism as well, in terms of calling attention to issues. Doctors Without Borders, for example, and other non-profit organizations would not have been so successful in spreading their messages without [the associated pictures].”
Miri Tzdaka, a staff member at the museum, told The Media Line that such imagery is, in fact, the main attraction, as “the reason people come to the exhibit is to relive the often harsh events that have occurred.” For her part, Lilian, a museum visitor, postulated that “people are drawn to these photos because they are perhaps looking for some sort of explanation for the horrors.”
But not all is violent and gory, with other categories ranging from contemporary issues to society and culture. The selections on nature, in particular, feature the beautiful innocence of Mother Earth, including butterflies buried in the snow and wild pandas. The power of sport is likewise evidenced with a picture of multi-Olympic-gold-medal-winner Usain Bolt leaving his competition in the dust, and a series of images of a gay-friendly Canadian rugby team.
Adjacent to the main feature is a display about the year that was in Israel. The exhibit features pivotal political and religious issues such as the summer’s crisis over Temple Mount; ultra-Orthodox demonstrations against army enlistment; and the legal problems of “King Bibi,” otherwise known as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Israel’s multiculturalism is further explored through photographs of different religious figures including Christian nuns, Muslim sheikhs and Jewish rabbis. Social justice issues such as protests over disability payments and drug rehabilitation are also highlighted.
It was another year of extraordinary events, recapped in a photo exhibit focusing not only on the individuals that made them happen but, perhaps more importantly, on those who were most affected. It is a stark reminder of the imperfect world we live in, which, despite all the ugly, also contains enough elements of beauty to get us through another year.
(Daniella P. Cohen is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.)