Getting you even in the gut. World press photography in Riga

Getting you even in the gut. World press photography in Riga
Paul Hansen
14-05-2013 A+ A-
‘It gets you in the head, heart and gut – all the key points for effective photojournalism,’ said the chairman of the jury of World Press Photo contest 2013 Santiago Lyon about the winner – photographer of Swedish newspaper ‘Dagens Nyheter’ Paul Hansen’s somber image from Gaza. This and other most excellent works are now on display in World Press Photo exhibition, opened in St. Peter’s church in Riga.

The image awarded as World Press Photo of the Year (titular picture of article – ed.) captures the anger, empathy and misery of male funeral procession last November in Gaza, when more than 150 – predominantly – civilians, including at least 30 children, lost their lives in a blast. Remains of Mohammad and Suhaiba – four and two year old boys, carried by their uncles – are seen in this photography on their way to the ceremony of last rites in the mosque. They have also lost their father, but mother and four brothers of the family have been injured.

‘It is a strong, direct image, which gets you on several levels,’ was how this image was characterized by Santiago Lyon as he corroborated the selection made by the jury among the entries of this year’s World Press Photo contest.

Most of the finalists’ work could be described in this vein. They are best of the best works picked by the jury from more than 100 000 photographs entered for the contest. This year, Riga has been the next destination of this travelling exhibition after its ‘premiere’ in Amsterdam where, in St. Peter’s church, it will be seen till June 2.


Troubled scenes from Syria, everyday favela-life in Brazil, loving, acid scorched face of a mother from Near East, homosexual couples from Vietnam, Nigerian prostitutes on road-sides in Italy, inimitable passions of sports and titanic patience of photographer playing hide-and-seek with forces of nature, animals and wild elements.

Every one of more than 150 photographs presented in the exhibition is accompanied by its own story speaking of personal as well as globally pressing questions and world highlights of last year. 

Press photography contest is held since 1956 and takes the view of planet’s exemplary and foremost photojournalism. The contest entries fell into nine categories this year. The last year to see the best press photography in Riga was 1991, and three photographers from Latvia – Valdis Brauns in 1977, Vilhelms Mihailovskis in 1987, and Alexander Gronskis in 2012 – have been prize winning authors in this competition.

Still representing the USSR at the time, Vilhelms Mihailovskis was awarded as third best in the category ‘News – stories’ presenting the everyday of the inmates of Riga Central prison’s death row cells.  He has just written and published a book about the history of photography in Latvia and was present in the World Press Photo exhibition as guest of honor. He underlines, in conversation with portal 'Riga 2014,' that ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ are not valid references in perception of this exhibition. In his view, these works represent a unique, invaluable testimony of historic era revealing the world events in all their ruthless diversity.

How to find balance between the personal challenge for the photographer and humanism, photographing violence, war, cruelty and ills? Vilhelms Mihailovskis admits to it not being easy:

‘As a human, you want to cover your eyes, but we bear in mind the mission of the photographer. We cannot pretend that violence, misery and poverty do not exist.’


St.Peter’s church was chosen as the venue of exhibition. As one of its organizers, chair of the association ‘Ascendum’ Zaiga Pūce reveals, the place of worship was preferred because of its placement in the very heart of the Old Town and as being found to be best in the search for harmony between hushed atmosphere of the church and emotionally charged stories of photo images. 

Foundation 'Riga 2014' was among the supporters of this exposition. ‘Exhibition of world press photography is a major event in the cultural life of the capital,’ chair of the foundation Diāna Čivle emphasized in her opening address. ‘I hope that these works will serve not only to professionals, but even more - to amateurs as inspiration for Riga Photo month to be held in May 2014 .

For information, 5666 photographers representing 124 nationalities had entered their work for this contest. Its jury assessed, altogether, 103 481 images.

We remind that as part of art program of Boris and Ināra Teterevi ‘Tête-à-Tête in 20 episodes,’ parallel to the exhibition, a major educational program in photojournalism will be carried out. On May 23, the winner of World Press Photo of the Year award Paul Hansen and photographers awarded in Sports and Portrait categories Jan Grarup and Stephan Vanfleteren will give public lectures in cinema ‘Splendid Palace.’

A master class and the review of portfolios of local photojournalists will take place in Riga along with educational program on media and photojournalism for high-school students. More information on this program is found on:


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