On Sunday I attended the World Press Photo 2011 exhibition at the Academy Galleries on Queen's Wharf. For a $5 entry fee happy photography devotees were able to sample some of the best photo reportage from around the world in the past year.
The winning entry was South African photographer Jodie Bieber's portrait of Afghan teenager Bibi Aisha, who was cruelly disfigured when she fled an abusive husband in an arranged marriage - her nose and ears were sliced off. Despite this, she seems confident having her picture taken. The exhibition notes that Bibi later went to the US for free reconstructive surgery, which is a relief, but it makes you wonder how many other women suffer such cruelty and don't receive the same aid. (She also appeared on the cover of Time magazine).
The subject matter of World Press Photo exhibitions is typically broad but often bleak in outlook - ours is, after all, a world of great riches juxtaposed with great suffering and inequality. There are often images that shock and challenge exhibition audiences, like the famous pictures of the unfortunate victims of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York falling to their deaths from the World Trade Center. Death always features in some form, and viewing it can often be difficult. But that's a small price to pay for those of us who live sheltered, relatively privileged existences, to remind us that most of the world has it much tougher than we do.
My top five images from the exhibition avoid the jarring shocks in favour of gentler fare. Well, mostly. I'll err on the side of caution and not include the images themselves, for copyright reasons.
5. Gustavo Cuevas - Matador Gored
And I probably would've excluded this action shot from the traditional Spanish 'sport' of bullfighting anyway, in which the bull's horn pierces matador Julio Aparicio's chin and emerges from his mouth! Grisly, certainly, but the man made a full recovery. The same probably can't be said for the bull.
4. Joost van den Broek - Sailors
My friends and I saw a gang of Russian naval cadets swarming over the steps of a cathedral in Helsinki a couple of years ago, and while they were dressed identically to this fellow, they lacked the pale, translucent symmetry of this clear-eyed youth.
3. Vincent Yu - Kim & Kim
From a North Korean official event, this shot of the decrepit dictator Kim Jong-il staring mournfully at his portly son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, is a great mini-drama.
2. Corentin Fohlen - The Red Shirts' Last Stand
Bearing the hallmarks of a classic revolutionary Soviet poster, this striking image of a Thai anti-government protester drawing his slingshot back to fire benefits from strong diagonals in the sling and the roof line of the building behind. Classic reportage photography.
1. Thomas Peschak - Cape Gannet
Plainly an arresting image, Peschak's picture of a determined Cape Gannet looming to fill the entire frame succeeds because the viewer is instantly transported to the scene (and feels like cowering from the impending photographer / avian collision) but also ponders just how Peschak managed to secure such a clear, focused image of a bird flying at speed directly towards the camera lens.
The World Press Photo 2011 exhibition runs at the Academy Galleries until Tuesday 6 September.