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Wars, refugees and inner turmoil: The defining images from this year’s World Press Photo contest

The annual contest showcases the best work of photojournalists around the world.

“Right now I see the world marching towards the edge of an abyss,” said João Silva, a jury member for the World Press Photo Contest. “This is a man who has clearly reached a breaking point and his statement is to assassinate someone who he really blames, a country that he blames, for what is going on elsewhere in the region. I feel that what is happening in Europe, what is happening in America, what is happening in the Far East, Middle East, Syria, and this image to me talks of it.”

Silva was referring to the winning image taken by photographer Burhan Ozbilici in December, a chilling portrait clicked seconds after the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov. The image shows the gunman, later identified as an off-duty Turkish policeman named Mevlut Mert Altintas, shouting with one arm raised above his head and a gun in the other. “It is the face of hatred,” Silva added.

World Press Photo of the Year | An Assassination in Turkey: Mevlut Mert Altintas shouts after shooting Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey, in December 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici).
World Press Photo of the Year | An Assassination in Turkey: Mevlut Mert Altintas shouts after shooting Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey, in December 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici).

The assassination took place after several days of protests in Turkey, over the Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war and the battle over Aleppo. “Every time it came on the screen you almost had to move back, because it’s such an explosive image and we really felt that it epitomises the definition of what the World Press Photo of the Year is, and what it means,” said Mary F Calvert, another member of the jury.

The World Press Photo Contest rewards photographers for their work in the field of visual journalism. Contestants submit their work as a standalone picture, or in the form of stories and are judged in terms of their accurate and visually compelling insights about the world.

Daily Life, second prize (singles) | Sweat Makes Champions: Four students of a gymnastics school in Xuzhou, China, do toe-pressure training for 30 minutes in the afternoon. (Tiejun Wang, China)
Daily Life, second prize (singles) | Sweat Makes Champions: Four students of a gymnastics school in Xuzhou, China, do toe-pressure training for 30 minutes in the afternoon. (Tiejun Wang, China)

Photographers Mathieu Willcocks from UK, and Abd Doumani and Ameer Alhalbi from Syria have captured the many faces of the refugee and migrant crises from around the world. While Willcocks trained his lens on the the central Mediterranean migration route, between the coasts of Libya and Italy, Doumani and Alhalbi shot moving images of the destruction in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Aleppo.

Spot News, third prize (stories) | Mediterranean Migration: Libyan fishermen throw a life jacket at a rubber boat full of migrants, November 2016. (Mathieu Willcocks)
Spot News, third prize (stories) | Mediterranean Migration: Libyan fishermen throw a life jacket at a rubber boat full of migrants, November 2016. (Mathieu Willcocks)

The pictures are compelling because they speak to our most basic need – the struggle for survival. In photograph after photograph, the humans featured as subjects struggle to survive hunger, weakening bodies, drowning or bombs raining from the sky in the place they once called home.

Spot News, second prize (stories) | Rescued from the Rubble: Syrian men carrying babies make their way through the rubble of destroyed buildings following a reported airstrike on the rebel-held Salihin neighborhood of Aleppo. Airstrikes have killed dozens in rebel-held parts of Syria as the opposition considers whether to join a US-Russia truce deal due to take effect on September 12. (Ameer Alhalbi for Agence France-Presse)
Spot News, second prize (stories) | Rescued from the Rubble: Syrian men carrying babies make their way through the rubble of destroyed buildings following a reported airstrike on the rebel-held Salihin neighborhood of Aleppo. Airstrikes have killed dozens in rebel-held parts of Syria as the opposition considers whether to join a US-Russia truce deal due to take effect on September 12. (Ameer Alhalbi for Agence France-Presse)
Spot News, second prize (singles) | Medics Assist a Wounded Girl: A Syrian girl cries out as a wounded child lies next to her at a makeshift hospital. She had been injured in reported government airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Douma, east of Damascus, Syria, September 2016. (Abd Doumani for Agence France-Presse)
Spot News, second prize (singles) | Medics Assist a Wounded Girl: A Syrian girl cries out as a wounded child lies next to her at a makeshift hospital. She had been injured in reported government airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Douma, east of Damascus, Syria, September 2016. (Abd Doumani for Agence France-Presse)

Among the many winners was the photograph of a wild leopard in a human settlement in Mumbai, looking for its next meal. The image was taken by Indian wildlife photographer Nayan Khanolkar. “The leopard is on its nocturnal prowl in the adjacent human settlements in search of food, which in these areas is typically dogs or pigs,” reads the description. The image won the second prize in the “singles” nature category.

Nature, second prize (singles) | Big Cat in My Backyard: A wild leopard strolls through Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a protected area in the northern part of Mumbai, India, September 2016.  (Nayan Khanolkar)
Nature, second prize (singles) | Big Cat in My Backyard: A wild leopard strolls through Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a protected area in the northern part of Mumbai, India, September 2016. (Nayan Khanolkar)

Away from the violence and death, some photographers’ works endeavoured to bring forth a quieter, inner turmoil. Finnish photographer Markus Jokela has been photographing the small rural community of Table Rock in Nebraska, US, since 1992, and describes the town as “a place where nothing really happens and nothing ever changes”. His intimate portraits of the mundane draw viewers into the lives of his subjects – like Peyton Schaardt, a little girl coping with her mother’s death, or Kelly Freeman, whom the photographer follows as she prepares for her wedding.

Long-Term Projects, third prize | Table Rock, Nebraska: Peyton Schaardt, four months after her mother’s death, October 2013. (Markus Jokela for Helsingin Sanomat)
Long-Term Projects, third prize | Table Rock, Nebraska: Peyton Schaardt, four months after her mother’s death, October 2013. (Markus Jokela for Helsingin Sanomat)
Long-Term Projects, third prize | Table Rock, Nebraska: Kelly Freeman arrives at her wedding reception in Dubois, Kansas, October 2013. (Markus Jokela for Helsingin Sanomat)
Long-Term Projects, third prize | Table Rock, Nebraska: Kelly Freeman arrives at her wedding reception in Dubois, Kansas, October 2013. (Markus Jokela for Helsingin Sanomat)

In the ironically named series, Copacabana Palace, German photographer Peter Bauza travelled to Brazil and spent time photographing squatters at a series of condominiums which house more than 300 homeless families. Built more than 30 years ago, the construction on this complex was never finished.

Contemporary Issues, third prize (stories) | Copacabana Palace: A pastor, who also lives in the occupied buildings, explains all the construction problems. A couple of weeks ago, the hall floors from a building crashed down at night. Fortunately everybody was sleeping and nothing serious happened. Most of the buildings are exposed to corrosion, July 2015. (Peter Bauza)
Contemporary Issues, third prize (stories) | Copacabana Palace: A pastor, who also lives in the occupied buildings, explains all the construction problems. A couple of weeks ago, the hall floors from a building crashed down at night. Fortunately everybody was sleeping and nothing serious happened. Most of the buildings are exposed to corrosion, July 2015. (Peter Bauza)
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