Seeing the world through one's lens
196 pictures from 27 countries captivate, provoke, disturb, and inspire

AT THE far end of the cold concrete huddles a man wrapped in white linen, a faceless, shapeless form entombed in a tiny space of a thin cloth, his only protection from the harsh Brazilian wind.

It is a common sight in the streets of Sao Paolo, where over 10,000 people are homeless. Along dark alleys, under bridges, in corners, blankets -- bearing the barest outline of a human being -- are strewn about, like disposed of handkerchiefs of some rich man who happened to pass by.

The strength of the images lies in the contrast: the dispossessed seeking refuge under the roof of an elite Jockey Club, along the wall of a church in a posh neighborhood, beneath the glitter of skyscrapers. In this Brazilian metropolis, societal inequalities remain high. And though the government offers shelters for the poor, many prefer to sleep on the streets; the people, the caption reads, resist the rules and social conventions imposed upon them in the hostels.

Such is the story told in the photographs of Mexican photographer Carlos Cazalis, one of the winners of the 2008 World Press Photo contest. Cazalis, whose photos have been exhibited across South and Central America, bagged the first prize in the Contemporary Issues category. His works are among the 196 award-winning photos in the annual World Press Photo Exhibition, the traveling show now in Manila from August 1 to 23.

The World Press Photo, a platform for international photojournalists that started in 1955, profiles the world’s top press photographers through an annual competition, the most prestigious photojournalism contest in the world. (View the Winners Gallery here.)

“Photojournalism is about finding stories and telling them,” said Ateneo de Manila University President Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, during the opening of the exhibition at SM The Block last August 10.

The Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University (ACFJ) in partnership with the World Press Photo Foundation, has hosted the yearly exhibition in the Philippines in the last three years. This is in keeping with ACFJ’s commitment to upholding the highest standards of journalism, including photojournalism.

The ACFJ is joined by the Netherlands Embassy, BusinessWorld, Unilever, SM Supermalls, and Shell in bringing the internationally acclaimed exhibit to local audiences. The exhibit of 196 photos will travel to 62 countries until 2010.

“In a world that has become highly visual…photography has acquired even greater significance in the reporting of domestic and world affairs,” said ACFJ Executive Director Dr. Violet Valdez.

Topbilling the competition is the photo taken by the American photographer Anthony Suau for Time Magazine. The Photo of the Year, Suau’s black and white photo shows an armed police officer cautiously clearing a foreclosed home in Cleveland, Ohio.

“The image is an ominous one. A new kind of war, a war of economics, has arrived to invade our lives and our homes,” said the lead juror, American photojournalist Mary Ann Golon. “The current world financial crisis is epic in scale, with serious implications for all of us.” (Watch the video here.)

Suau’s and Cazalis’s photos were chosen from among 96,268 entries submitted by 5,508 photographers from 124 countries. The images are from each of the 10 contest categories, namely: spot news, general news, people in the news, nature, contemporary issues, sports actions, sports features, daily life, portraits, and arts and entertainment.

“Each year World Press Photo gives us lasting images of events in the previous 12 months; images providing us with a wealth of information on actual events. They remind us again and again of events that were repeated and that probably should never have been repeated, but also of matters which we want to cherish; of the banality of power and daily life; of the forces of nature and how badly we treat our planet. They are mirrors to our world and to ourselves,” said Netherlands Ambassador Robert Brinks in his speech at The Block.

As Vergel Santos, chair of BusinessWorld’s editorial board, observed, Jerome Bonnet’s portrait of the 72-year-old actor and director Dennis Hoppe is a masterpiece. “It speaks of loneliness. It’s simple, stark, and telling.” The photo won second prize in the Portraits Singles category.

There is also the Callie Shell photo of Michelle Obama taking a nap on her husband's shoulder as they travel across New Hampshire. The Obama series, which won first prize in the People in the News category, was described by the audience as “sweet and endearing”, the light from the window casting a soft, gentle glow to what must have been a very stressful moment for the couple.

Among the top favorites are Sung Nam-Hun’s portrait of a Tibetan novice nun, Pep Bonet’s portrait of the transsexual sex workers in Honduras, and Carlo Gianferro’s portraits of Roma interiors; the nature series of Heidi & Hans-Jürgen Koch, entitled, “Animal Eyes” and the “A tree by the West Lake, Hangzhou” of Fu Yongjun; and the sports action series of Julian Abram Wainwright’s Men’s 10m platform divers during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and Alexander Taran’s Sambo World Championships, St. Petersburg in Russia.

“Photography is not just a craft,” explained Santos. “It is an adventure, a calling. It’s demanding because it requires one to tell a story.”

As the late President Corazon Aquino said in her speech during the ACFJ inauguration in 2000 -- quoted by Fr. Nebres -- “The story is everything; the story of people, of their lives and hopes and dreams – as individuals, as groups, as a nation.”

She added: “I hope that, if the Center succeeds in teaching just one thing, let it be how to find the story, how to verify it, how to complete it, and how to tell it well. For it is through stories that we are able to connect with each other, and achieve the all-embracing community in which we were meant to live, in peace and in harmony.”

The ACFJ awards fellowships and financial assistance to support the studies of outstanding journalists and photojournalists in Asia through the Master of Arts in Journalism program and other diploma courses.

The World Press Photo 2009 Exhibition will be on view at The SM Mall of Asia, August 15 – 23. Admission is free.