World Press Photo Exhibition 2019

2019’s World Press Photo Exhibition has made its way to Montreal’s Marché Bonsecours. This 62nd iteration of the photojournalism event offers a space in which photographers share stories of diverse peoples, movements and wildlife. Truly global in scale, 150 contest-winning photos were selected from over 78,000 photographs entered by over 4,738 photographers from 129 countries.

This year, the photographers present a contemporary, colourful world that spans the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Asia; it is a world under siege, both politically and environmentally.

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Brent Stirton’s “Akashinga-the Brave Ones”

Immediately upon entering, one is confronted with the image of a father atop a barbed border wall on the Mexican-United States border, handing a toddler to a woman on the other side. The row is dedicated to documenting the movement of Honduran migrants traveling to the American border where debates on immigration policy are currently raging.

In Catalina Martin-Chico’s, “Being Pregnant After FARC Child-Bearing Ban,” a pregnant woman with an inflated belly sits comfortably on a chair in a child’s room. The woman captured by the photographer is a former guerilla. With the signing of the recent peace agreement between the Colombian state and the FARC rebels, there has been a surge in births by former female guerilla fighters. In a time of relative peace, these women are now shifting from militancy to motherhood.

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Catalina Martin-Chico’s “Being Pregnant After FARC Child-Bearing Ban”

Moving along, one gets a glimpse of militant Russian and American youths in their respective uniforms, saluting the flag, wearing gas masks, and crawling through the grass while aiming pistols. Placed side by side, one imagines a dystopian near future in which the children of both nations, already at odds, grow old enough to aim their service rifles at each other in a true military conflict.

Horrifying scenes of war are displayed on a wall in one of the gallery’s corners, revealing the wounds of Syria and Yemen. Bloodied Yemeni children weep after the latest bombing campaign.With shortages of food and medicine, the frail children cling to respirators. Today, in Yemen, 8.4 million people are at risk of starvation and 22 million people need aid.

From civil and state-based warfare, the audience moves onto the tragedies of Mexico’s drug war. Since former Mexican President, Feliple Calderón, declared war on the cartels in 2006, more than 37,400 people have been reported “missing,” separate from the grotesque public executions conducted in plain sight. Farther along in the exhibit, a different frontier in the drug war is on display, one closer to home. Images of Dayton, Ohio, show contorted bodies stretchered off after an overdose. A fugitive covered in blades of grass is handcuffed. Currently, in the United States, more than 130 people die from overdosing on opioids every day.

From one side of the room to the other, the observer is transported to ecosystems and their wildlife in peril. In Brent Stirton’s “Akashinga-the Brave Ones,” we see the striking pose of Petronella Chigumbura, a member of an all-female anti-poaching unit called Akashinga, participating in stealth training in Zimbabwe. The women come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are empowered to protect the environment as well as gain employment for the protection of wildlife.

In Mário Cruz’s aptly titled, “Living Among What’s Left Behind,” we witness the fate of the Pasig River, which was declared biologically dead in 1990 after years of industrial pollution, dumping of plastics, and the discarding of waste of the underprivileged for lack of access to sanitation infrastructure. In the image, a Philippine child rests face down on a mattress floating on river of garbage. Despite rehabilitation efforts, the river is so dense with trash that it can be walked on.

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Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde’s “Land of Ibeji.”

It’s not all grim. Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde’s “Land of Ibeji,” offers a rare glimpse of the Yoruba people of Southwestern Nigeria, known as “The Nation’s Home of Twins.” The Yoruba have one of the highest occurrences of twins in the world. In fact, it is reported that almost every family has a set of twins. In certain communities, twins were perceived as demonic and vilified, sometimes killed at birth while in the modern day, they are thought to bring good fortune and material wealth.

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“Meet Bob” by Jasper Doest

On a light-hearted note, Jasper Doest introduces the viewer to Bob, a flamingo that was rescued and now lives amongst the people of Curaçao. Injured after flying into a hotel window, Bob was rehabilitated at a wildlife centre. Unable to survive in the wild and comfortable around humans, he has become a beloved member of the community.

The exhibit, perhaps not for the faint of heart, is open to the public from August 28 to September 29. Through the digital storytelling of the photographers, the audience is not lectured, but shown the contemporary issues threatening the world’s peoples, its wildlife, as well as the planet on which we all inhabit.

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