Review by Sam Clark

The World Press Photo Exhibition has returned for 2019. It is a selection of the world’s best photojournalism, right at our doorstep.

The Smith and Caughey’s Queen Street department store is one of the few surviving original buildings on the thoroughfare. It’s a piece of history, much like these photos – and a fitting venue for the Auckland stop. The exhibition makes its way across the globe from Amsterdam (where it began in 1955), to Erbil, Iraq – to finally meet us here.

The prestigious exhibition has a rich history – this is its 62nd iteration. Over the decades, it has seen some of the most poignant and powerful moments to be captured on camera. Among them are iconic photos such as: the Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in protest, and the ‘Napalm Girl’. Check out their website for an archive of the exhibition, going back to 1955.

Seeing them all together like this really illustrates the power of the image. My personal favourites from this year are:

Marco Gualazzini’s ‘Almajiri Boy’: ‘An orphaned boy walks past a wall with drawings depicting rocket-propelled grenade launchers, in Bol, Chad.’

Heba Khamis’ ‘Black Birds’: ‘Jochen (71) and Mohamed (21; not their real names) sit in the Tiergarten, Berlin. Jochen fell in love after meeting Mohamed, then a sex worker in the park. They have been dating for 19 months.’

And, Philip Montgomery’s ‘Face of an Epidemic’: ‘A police officer feels for the pulse of a man who has just overdosed, to determine if he is alive, while his daughter stands in the background, in Drexel, Ohio, USA. The man died before paramedics could arrive.’

Miamisburg, Ohio – A family mourns the loss of their son, Brian Malmsbury, who died from a heroin overdose in the basement of his families home in Miamisburg, OH (a city in Montgomery County). (From left to right: BrianÕs half-sister, Brittany Neff [Brittany’s boyfriend died of a heroin overdose last year], his step-dad, Damian Neff, and his mother, Patty Neff. Behind the family are police officers and officials from the Montgomery County coronerÕs office. Monday, September 18, 2017.

Curator Yi Wen Hsia says that by going to the exhibition “You’re taking a step outside of your daily life and taking the time to really look at each photo”. She’s right. It’s a different experience from seeing them on a screen. They’re confronting – many of the photos depict events that tend to escape mainstream media. This is a chance to experience stories from the front lines and the back alleys.

Yi explains how a picture tells a story. “Photography is quite unusual because it captures a moment, and that moment lasts forever. We don’t see what happens before, and we don’t see what happens after.” That’s the essence of this exhibition. It contains some of the most compelling moments from the past year, and addresses some sensitive topics – including war, sex workers, and the opioid crisis. These images reach audiences around the world. It is on display at over 100 locations each year.

Digital cameras and smart phones have made photography much more accessible, but in our image-saturated world, these photographs definitely stand out. Yi emphasises that this exhibition is “Something that digital technology won’t be able to replace.”

Truth is inherent to all the photos in the exhibition. Yi tells me how the photographers are “Very transparent about what happened. They’re truthful, and that’s something our organisation really stands for.” These photographers are sometimes putting themselves in danger, to seek truth and capture these compelling images. It’s easy to distance ourselves from things we see in the news, but these images evoke a deep sense of humanity. These photographers are involved in the process, rather than aloof.

Yi explains to me what a picture can reveal – “I feel photos are really able to give you an understanding of the situation, that you may otherwise miss. When you come to the exhibition, it’s the details that probably speak to you the most – things you would probably miss in a video, or as a passer-by. They are recorded moments of history in a single frame. To me that’s the strongest aspect.”

So, expect them to be bold, confronting and profound. Come see it for yourself and revel in the best of this year’s photojournalism – a celebration of beauty found in reality.


What: The World Press Photo Exhibition

When: 29th June – 28th July 2019

Where: Smith & Caughey’s 253-261 Queens Street, Auckland

Price: $20 Weekends, $15 Weekdays, $12 Students.

Tickets are available at the venue.

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The Speakeasy

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