The World Press Photo exhibition at the Brisbane Powerhouse is a testament to the quality and power of contemporary press photography. This collection of images from the 2015 competition highlights the horrifyingly fragile state of our world – terrorism in Paris, gang violence in Honduras, the perilous journey of refugees in overcrowded wooden boats crossing the Mediterannean, and the sheer volume of refugees arriving in Eurpoe, the aftermath of an avalanche and an eartquake in Nepal, explosions in a chemical storage facility in China, the impact of Chernobyl over the past 30 years, sexual assualt in America’s military, trade in poached ivory now financing rebel armed militia across Africa and, while beautiful, images highlighting that over a third of the world’s chameleon species are now threatened with extinction.
We live in a bleak world. And, this cannot be anymore obvious than in the images showing the devastation of the ongoing conflict in Syria – the repeated air strikes, the deaths, the destruction, the overwhelming flood of refugees into Europe and crossing borders in the middle of the night, children sleeping wherever they can, a family portrait in a refugee camp with a chair representing a missing family member. Mutliple images in this exhibition (including Warren Richardson’s winning Hope for New Life) are concerned with Syria. This simply emphasises the sheer scale of the situation and leaves us with a sense that this is perhaps the bleakest moment of our times.
But, the exhibition also offers reminders of humanity, glimmers of hope and a glimpse of a future that is possible – volunteers assisting refugees arriving on Lesbos after crossing by boat from Turkey under cover of darkness, divers dwarfed by the mass of a humpback whale and her calf in waters that are now protected off Mexico, the care for critically endangered Sumatran Orangutans, the celebration of spring in Las Mayas, the Ebola Survivors’ Football Club which provides a support network for survivors of the disease and helps battle negative stigmas in the community and, the largest public rally in France since WW2 in which Parisians demonstrated their solidarity with victims of terrorist attacks and voiced their support for freedom of speech.
In a society swamped by a myriad of images and plagued by compassion fatigue, the capacity to be affected by quality press photography may just be another casuality in our daily lives. However, an exhibition such as this forces us to look and possibly may even drag us out of our reverie and make us care again.
Photographs taken at World Press Photo exhibition by the author.