A strong year for portraiture at World Press Photo

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Outside of Mads Nissen’s moving image of a gay couple in Russia, which took the overall prize at World Press Photo this year, were several others that sensitively place a person or people centre frame.

Acknowledged across the two awards in the Portraits category (singles and stories) were powerful images of Russian women depicted in domestic settings by the late Andy Rocchelli; military academy cadets in Europe by Paolo Verzone; a woman in China – her feet locked to the chair she is sitting on – who has been accused by authorities of working in the illegal sex trade, by Liu Song; and an eight-year-old girl, decadently dressed to go to a Halloween party, in Texas by Lisa Krantz.

But it was an image of a little girl in Australia, dressed all in purple, and a project about a community of sex offenders in southern Florida that took the top awards in this category.


Australian photographer Raphaela Rosella, who featured in BJP‘s June 2014 issue, won first prize in the Portraits, Singles category. In the image, we see a young veiled Aboriginal girl (Laurindastanding at a bus stop waiting for a bus that will take her to Sunday School. She is among the many socially isolated young women in disadvantaged communities in Australia who face entrenched poverty, racism, violence and trauma, the accompanying caption tells us.

Rosella took the image in Moree, New South Wales, as part of a project she worked on for the 2014 Joop Swart Masterclass.

The project explores the tensions between love, longing and belonging for young women and their families who experience social disadvantage in Australia, Rosella tells BJP.

“My world Press win has been an absolute shock,” she says. “It still feels surreal and I’m finding it hard to comprehend. But it’s an amazing feeling to know Laurinda’s story and the prominent issues within my work have been acknowledged and will now travel the world.”

Of Rosella’s winning image, World Press Photo judge and photographer Laura Pannack commented: “There’s an element of mystery and the unknown, as well as beauty.”

Pannack was one of three judges tasked with overseeing the Portraits category this year. She was joined by Alessia Glaviano, senior photo editor at Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue, and Azubuike Nwagbogu, director of the African Artists’ Foundation.

“An image has to provoke an emotion and make me think, which these images did,” Pannack told BJP in an interview today [12 February]. “There is a subtlety about them… whatever category you go for, quality will always stand out.”

Sofia Valiente was awarded first prize in the portraits stories for Miracle Village, a project supported, produced, edited and realised by Fabrica, Benetton’s communication research centre. The series, which has been made into a book, focuses on a community of 100 sex offenders located on the corner of Lake Okeechobee in the small town of Pahokee in southern Florida. Valiente heard about Miracle Village through a friend, the editor of the local newspaper. She made several trips to the community, which was set up by a Christian ministry to help sex offenders reintegrate into society, and spent time living with and getting to know the men, and one woman, who live there.

This is her first photography project, says the 24-year-old, and the first time she has won an award for her work. “I realised that there wasn’t much people knew about sex offenders. As a society, we ostracise them because of their label. Hearing their stories made me realise that they are human – full of fears, desires, hopes, regrets, and all the other complexities we all share,” she says. “No one had ever taken the time to listen to them, to hear what they have to say.

“My intention was to provide a glimpse into these people’s lives, to bring new light on this issue,” she adds. “There’s this notion that men with the title of ‘sex offender’ are mentally ill and go around lurking, looking for opportunities. But in 99 percent of the cases, for instance, the crime was committed inside the home – and that essentially brings questions back to the family [and their place within society, as opposed to deranged monsters who lie outside it]. So I was compelled to tell the story from their perspective in order to understand all the roles that were played,” she explains. “And while I needed to always be aware of what my subjects wanted to say, I also needed to be conscious of what society thinks of them and, in the case where there was a victim, how they would feel about it. Lastly came my voice. It was about finding a balance between all these things.”

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