The protestor clashes with policemen. One sprays tear gas not 5 centimetres from his ear, while the other holds him in a tight grip. You have barely begun to acclimatize to the mood of the room — the undercurrent of rage and fear — when suddenly, you are confronted by bodies. Dead. Mostly children. On the street; in coffins; in ambulances; in pools of oil; and, in the World Press Photo of the Year by Swedish Paul Hansen, carried through the streets of Gaza in the arms of grieving uncles.
The World Press Photography Awards 2013 exhibition, at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) in Spain, showcases the annual prizewinners of the photojournalism competition. In one of the most surprising pieces, two of the four photos by Danish Jan Grarup reveal a stark contrast between the modest dress of a group of women in Somalia, and the sheer force of the same women dominating the basketball courts. Then later on, Serbian Nemanja Pancic presents a heart-wrenching vision of 4 year old Milan, leaving hospital after his family’s suicide attempt in the midst of financial crisis in Belgrade. With only his eyes visible amongst the blur of trees reflected in the car window, this is pure art at its most powerful. In most of the photos, the journalist’s involvement in the scene is minor or skirted around, but not so in Dutch Ananda van der Luijm’s portraits of her half-brother Martin: she has not seen him for a decade, and these photos are themselves part of the process of re-acquaintance. This makes for one of the most personal works I have seen.
In between the conflicts of Gaza and Syria, acid attacks, violent interrogations and human trafficking, there will be a brief interlude to dwell on the life of sportspeople and the mysterious world of the animal kingdom. But for now, hold back those tears; you’re only five photos in and there is more blood to come.