Review: World Press Photo Exhibition

What ties the US President Barack Obama, a Hungarian kingfisher and Ceci, a tango dancer from Buenos Aires? Moments of their lives are engraved in photographs that have become part of the 53rd World Press Photo Exhibition.

It brings together more than a 100 striking pictures taken by international photojournalists everywhere in the world from Antarctica to Greenland. All of them won prizes in World Press Photo Contest, the world’s largest and most prestigious annual press photography competition.

Every year following the contest, the winning images go on tour around the globe. Londoners and guests of the city can join the ranks of worldwide audiences of this splendid free collection in the Royal Festival Hall.

This exhibition is not about advanced technologies in modern photography or which picture has the best composition and angle. All of that might be important, but once you see the images all you can think about is their content, world tragedies and little everyday dramas they show.

A picture by Kent Klich from Sweden depicts an empty room with grey walls, two sofas, a cupboard, and a big hole in the roof. It is very simple and looks almost peaceful.

But when you look at it again having read the description, the photograph makes your hair stand on end. The house was hit by a tank shell in northern Gaza. The family that lived in the house had fled during the Israeli attack. But the 39-old father had returned to fetch clothes for his children and was killed when the shell struck.

Tough, but true

Every single photograph tells a story. The daily life of 13-year-old Adrian who has autism and lives in Peru. A family enjoying a picnic on a beach in Mozambique. A giraffe killed by drought in Kenya…

There are pictures that are shocking, revolting, confusing, desperate. There are some you wish you did not see and the ones you would like to see again and again. There are none that leave you indifferent.

In fact, some of the pictures are so powerful that I would not recommend the exhibition to children and sensitive people. The majority of pictures that show horrors of war are extremely distressing. Some of them are very detailed as well.

I have seen teenagers, businessmen and old ladies looking at them with the same tension and anguish in their eyes. It is the pain of discovery, the pain of empathy.

This exhibition is a magnifying glass that focuses on burning issues and unreported problems of the world. You will leave it with a heavy heart, but enlightened.

When and where

The exhibition is open daily, Friday 12 Nov – Sunday 5 Dec, 10am – 11pm.

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Waterloo tube station.

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