World Press Photo Awards Highlight Indigenous Communities and Climate Disaster

The winners of the 2022 World Press Photo Award were announced last week. Started in 1955, the contest recognizes the work of professional photographers for publications. The four global winners were selected from a group of 24 regional awardees announced in March, narrowed down from a pool of 64,823 photographs submitted by 4,066 photographers across 130 countries.

The prizes will be awarded in De Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church in Amsterdam, on April 15, and an exhibition of the works will open there before beginning an international tour.

The four global awards — for a single photo, a photo story, a long-term project, and an open format project — each carry a prize of $5,000. Five regional winners for each region (Africa, Europe, North and Central America, South America, Asia, and Southeast Asia and Oceania) receive $1,000.

The Photo of the Year Award went to Amber Bracken, a Canadian photographer for the New York Times. In “Kamloops Residential School” (2021), children’s clothing hangs along a path, commemorating the 215 children buried there in 2021. Throughout the 20th century, 150,000 Indigenous students were required to attend residential schools across Canada in a government attempt to force assimilation . The children suffered abuse and neglect, and 4,100 died in the schools, the last of which closed in 1998.

Photo of the Year Award: Amber Bracken, “Kamloops Residential School” (2021) for the New York Times. Bracken shows a memorial to the 251 graves found near a residential school in British Columbia.
A photo from Matthew Abbott’s Saving Forests With Fire (2021)
Matthew Abbott captured low temperature fire burns in Mamadawerre, Arnhem Land, Australia. It was lit by hunters earlier in the day.

Matthew Abbott’s Saving Forests With Fire (2021) for National Geographic won the Photo Story of the Year Award. Abbott followed the Nawarddeken people of Northern Australia, capturing how rangers use controlled burning to prevent more destructive blazes. The fires burn cooler, only scorching the underbrush of the 3.4 million acre area and removing fuel build-up.

“It was so well put together that you cannot even think of the images in disparate ways,” said Global Jury Chair Rena Effendi of Abbott’s photo story. “You look at it as a whole, and it was a seamless narrative.”

Long-Term Project Award: Lalo de Almeida, Amazonian Dystopia (2009-2021) for Folha de Sao Paulo. This 2013 photograph shows the construction of a power plant on the Xingu River in Brazil. More than 80% of the river’s water has been diverted from its natural course, creating severe consequences for the people that live on its shores.
A photograph by Lalo de Almeida from Amazonian Dystopia (2013). People of the Mundurucus Indigenous group board a plane after protesting the construction of a hydroelectric dam.

Lalo de Almeida spent eight years creating Amazonian Dystopia (2013-2021)a series of photographs for the Brazilian publication Folha de Sao Paulo that won the new Long-term Project Award. The work documents the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which has rapidly accelerated since Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019. De Almeida’s series shows mining, logging, and damming operations that have caused deforestation and changed the course of rivers, forcing the migration of Indigenous communities.

Photo Open Format Award: Isadora Romero, Blood is a Seed (2021). Romero explores themes of cultural memory and colonization through the lens of decreasing diversity in seed variation in Ume, Columbia.

Another new prize — the new Photo Open Format Award — was awarded to Isadora Romero. Her video Blood is a Seed (La Sangre Es Una Semilla) (2021) is made up of film stills that she gave to her father to draw over. The work focuses on the increasing monoculture of seeds, showing how the loss of biodiversity reflects a loss of cultural memory. Romero traveled to her father’s hometown of Une in Cundinamarca, Colombia to complete the project.

“Losing diversity and seed varieties is not only affecting us as a community because we are losing nutrients and probably some special species will disappear completely. Cultural memory is getting lost as well,” Romero said of the project. “This knowledge has been passed from generation to generation, and this knowledge is not usually validated by the Western scientific community. I think it’s very important to understand how we are losing this memory.” Blood is a Seed Focuses on themes of colonization, racism, and forced migration.

The World Press Photo Award’s regional winners also explored themes of environmental crisis and displacement, while addressing civil rights and political protest, race and community, and border conflicts. The regional and global juries are comprised of photographers, photojournalists, and curators.

The 2022 World Press Photo Exhibition will travel across Europe, to Indonesia and Australia, and open in North America in Montreal, Canada on August 31.

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