Danish photographer Mads Nissen won the best photo of the year 2014 at the “58th World Press Photo Contest” for his depiction of a gay couple named Jon and Alex that was captured in St. Petersburg, Russia. A total of 97,912 images were submitted by 5,692 press photographers, photo-journalists and documentary photographers in 131 countries. The selected choice of best photo was surprising to many especially when the year 2014 was considered a tumultuous year full of violence and death including ISIS videos showing various traumatic executions, the downing of the Malaysia Airlines over Ukraine, the war in Ukraine itself, the wars in Syria that displaced millions and other fear-inducing photographs that would have piqued the interest of many and yet terrify some that abhor such gory images.
According to Pamela Chen, one of the jurist involved in the selection process and also editorial director of Instagram, the choice for a gay couple in Russia represented a symbolic message to the Moscow regime that repressed other minorities such as the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people. Russia is one of the few countries in the world that has criminalized LGBT people in a law passed more than a year ago under President Vladimir Putin.
“We were looking for an image that would matter tomorrow, not just today. The winning image demonstrates what a professional photographer can do in a daily life situation, setting a professional standard for story-telling in life. This is a contemporary issue, it is daily life, it is news, it has spot news resonance, it has general news resonance, but it also brings up the issue in a very deep and challenging way. It is quite universal.” said the Instagram editorial director.
The choice is also a reminder of the difficult life that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people have to endure in Russia. In 2013, the Russian government passed a law criminalizing the dissemination of, what it called, “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. And in January, another law, supposedly aimed at curbing the country’s high rates of traffic accidents, bans transgender people from obtaining driver’s licenses.
The judges therefore came to the conclusion the selected photo is a statement against violation of human rights and the marginalization of minorities where sexual minority is one.
Photo Credit: Mads Nissen-Scanpix/Panos