Giving a human face to 'the other side' at this year's WPP

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“Mauricio Lima’s image of the young Islamic State fighter is fascinating,” says Vaughn Wallace, who was on the Documentary jury of the World Press Photo competition this year. “It’s quite possibly the first time an Islamic State fighter has been portrayed on such an intimate, visual level.”
As Wallace says the image, which shows a 16-year-old fighter named Jacob being treated for severe burns, puts a very different face on a figure usually vilified in the Western media – but for Wallace, this is one of the things that helped win it first prize in the General News Singles category. “Mauricio’s image really stands out in contrast to the ways we typically engage with the IS visually, often through propaganda sourced from social media,” he explains. “Mauricio’s image tells a story and gives a human face to ‘the other side’, sitting in the same tradition as Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s work embedded with Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Kate Brooks’ photographs of government forces during the early years of the Syrian Civil War. Images like Mauricio’s provide context and perspective to multi-dimensional, highly-political conflicts.”
Wallace is the deputy photo editor at Al Jazeera America, the international news broadcaster part-funded by the Qatari ruling family, and says his organisation has “a quite different perspective on news than much of the Western mainstream”. He praises the World Press Photo organisers for bringing together such diverse juries this year, adding that this diversity helped ensure that a variety of views could be taken on board during the judging. “We had a really interesting mix of jurors from different demographics and outlets,” he says.
“It was obvious that the organisation wanted as many different voices in the jury room as possible; editors from print and web publications, wire services, photographers, agency chiefs and curators. There were incredible discussions in the final rounds because of this mix. I found I couldn’t take any one approach to an image for granted. As jurors made cases for individual photographs, I was impressed by the different perspectives being presented. The latitude of ways certain photographs were considered and discussed was eye-opening.”
Even so, he knocks back any suggestion that this year’s WPP is somehow more political, or more engaged, than in recent years. “WPP is a contest for visual journalism, reflecting the major stories and themes seen throughout the world in 2015,” he says. “The selection may feel news-oriented because of the types of stories being told — large-scale migration, the refugee crisis, natural disasters, conflict and so on.”

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy