World Press Photo awards stir controversy

16:27, May 08, 2011      

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South African photographer Jodi Bieber, winner of the "Photo of the Year" speaks at the award ceremony of "World Press Photo 2011" in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands on May 7, 2011. (Xinhua/Wang Lili)

The portrait of a disfigured Afghan girl, which won the World Press Photo award earlier this year, is at the center of the controversy and arguments surrounding the winning photos of the year.

The 18-year-old Afghan girl, Bibi Aisha, whose nose and ears were cut off by her husband, a Taliban fighter, posed for South African photographer Jodi Bieber, and became the protagonist of the "Photo of the Year" at the award ceremony of "World Press Photo 2011" on Saturday.

Aisha's tender face, curly hair, shimmering shawl and gentle pose all fit into the classical way of portrait photography. However, her nose makes this picture shocking, or even terrifying.

"In previous years, pain and horror were mainly part of the World Press Photo category general news. But this year, these two elements were also part in other categories such as portrait scenes and sports, and arts and entertainment," Professor Helen Westgeest from Leiden University told Xinhua.

"I think that in itself it is interesting that they have chosen a portrait that is about pain," the photo theorist said.

David Bernett, chair of this year's jury, said: "I don't know if I would say that it's a trend. I can think back to the years when pictures were really shocking in a way. I don't think that the level of acceptance of these works is any greater now than it ever was. Perhaps this year we have more stories that fit a few more with those pictures."

The awards day of World Press Photo also marks the beginning of a world exhibition tour. Many admiring visitors came to the Old Church in Amsterdam, the first stop of the exhibition.

Bibi Aisha's portrait is the cover photo of the exhibition. And top awards winning photos in other categories include those of a man falling to his death from a turret, a sister wailing at her brother's funeral in the Indian-administered Kashmir, the horn of a bull pierced into the bullfighter's chin, and a football player got kicked in his face.

Many pictures at the exhibition are also shocking. However, some visitors took a more tolerant approach, believing it was important to let people know not everything in the world is rosy and that they should see the dark side of everyday life.

"I don't like the exhibitions, because it's all about horror and pain. Why do you want to enlarge those photographs (sufferings), about dead bodies, injured persons, and it's like a disaster tourism," said Professor Westgeest.

The aim of World Press Photo is "to stimulate developments in photojournalism and to encourage the transfer of knowledge" as stated on its website. However, Westgeest believed that politics played an important role in the competition.

"I think on the other hand, you can also see that press photography is politics, because it is about a topical subject, about Afghanistan," Westgeest said.

"I think the political part of the choice is also related to the good guys versus the bad guys. Because Aisha was disfigured and tortured by a Taliban fighter, her husband, after she left him. And now she went to a hospital, to an American hospital, and there she has surgery of her nose, " said Westgeest.

Van Keupen, a visitor at the exhibition, said: "Politically I think it's very important that people see these images, so people know what happens in those cultures or communities."

"We did not set up to do any kind of political statement. The most important thing for the jury was to find the best pictures, the strongest pictures that told the interesting stories in the best way," he said.

Facing all these discussions and controversies, Jodi Bieber herself looks calm and composed. To her, discussions were unavoidable as soon as the picture was published.

"I wanted discussions to be. Because the longer Aisha is out there, the longer the sufferings of women are recognized. So I actually don't mind controversy, I don't mind a discussion or a debate in whichever form it takes, because I think it's very important," Bieber said.Source:Xinhua
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