Images in a pandemic: World Press Photo 2021 exhibition shows the power of an image to affect our emotions


The Canadian War Museum is once again hosting the World Press Photo 2021 exhibition, which features 159 award-winning images from the World Press Photo 2020 competition.

The international World Press Photo Competition is the pinnacle for professional press photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers.

Caroline Dromaguet, director general of the museum, said in a statement that it was the 13e moment when the museum will host the exhibition, highlighting “a creative and high-quality photojournalism that sums up the year 2020”.

The competition attracted 74,470 entries from 4,315 photographers from 130 countries. An independent jury reduced this total to 159 images from 45 photographers representing 28 countries.

“I think it certainly shows us what has happened in the past – these are big events, big problems,” said Stacey Barker, museum historian of arts and military history. “There are a lot of pictures that show what’s going on in the world, so we think it helps to better understand international events because it puts us in perspective.”

Image of The first embrace by Danish photographer Mads Nissen. [Photo © Jenna Adlam]

Eight categories of photos are displayed: Contemporary issues, Environment, General news, Long-term projects, Nature, Portraits, Sports and Spot News.

“As in previous years, the winning photographs reflect multiple perspectives and interpretations of headlines from around the world, including glimpses into contemporary conflicts,” said Dromaguet.

One of this year’s recipients is Canadian documentary photographer Chris Donovan. He won first prize in the Sports category for a project titled Those who remain will be champions, who follows a high school basketball team in Flint, Michigan.

There is a content warning at the entrance so that visitors are aware of some of the graphic images that the exhibit contains.

Breathtaking view of the world

Barker said photographs can evoke powerful emotions.

“It shows us what’s going on in the world without flinching in some cases, so there are all kinds of emotions, very deep, especially with COVID,” he said.

Many photos tell stories about COVID-19, including Global Press Photo of the Year The first embrace. It is taken by Danish photographer Mads Nissen and shows an 85-year-old Brazilian woman in long-term care receiving her first hug from a nurse through a “curtain of hugs” after five months of limited physical contact.

“There are a lot of pictures that deal with COVID and a lot of them affect me personally because we’ve all been affected by it and it’s a universal thing… it’s a global phenomenon, really,” said Barker.

The photographs will be on display at the Canadian War Museum from July 23 to August 15. Access to the exhibition is included in general admission. All visitors must book a timed ticket in advance, as restrictions limit capacity to 75 people at a time.

Following the Canadian premiere in Ottawa, the exhibit will travel to Chicoutimi, Quebec.


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