African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia by John Stanmeyer. Image courtesy of World Press Photo
AMSTERDAM –When the international jury of the 57th annual World Press Photo Contest selected an image by American photographer John Stanmeyer of the VII Photo Agency as the World Press Photo of the Year 2013, members of the jury were clear about their selection. Susan Linfield, jury member from the USA noted that “What we’re looking for in the winning image is the same quality you would look for in a great film or in literature—the impression that it exists on more than one level, that it makes you think about things you haven’t thought about. You begin to explore the layers not only of what’s there but of what isn’t there. So many pictures of migrants show them as bedraggled and pathetic…but this photo is not so much romantic, as dignified.”
Stanmeyer’s photo transcends more than one level as it combines a filmic quality with the literary aesthetic. It captures “African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia—a tenuous link to relatives abroad.” Against the blue-toned night sky accentuated by the moon, the African migrants’ phone screens glow with an eerie atmosphere. The haunting image reveals the torturous experience of migration and the harrowing pursuit of many Africans as they navigate dangerous terrains in search of better lives in Western nations. Coming from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, Djibouti is a point of convergence for many African migrants seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East, and that is where Stanmeyer took this award winning photo.
Artcentron celebrates John Stanmeyer because his image brings attention to the appalling conditions of African migrant and global inequality. For many people, especially family of migrants, this evocative image has an emotional connection. The effort to keep connected to people left behind in the face of unfathomable challenges can be daunting for many African migrants. Besides the difficult terrain they have to navigate, and the extreme elements they have to tolerate, it does not take long for nostalgia to set in. The emotional mission of moving forward and looking back is what John Stanmeyer brings to bear in this image. Evidently, this is why David Guttenfelder, jury member from the USA noted that “The photo is like a message in a bottle, it is one that will last for all of us. People will bring their own life experiences to it as they stand in front of it.”
In addition to winning the World Press Photo of the Year 2013, the picture also won 1st Prize in the Contemporary Issues category and was shot for National Geographic. Commenting on the image, Jillian Edelstein, jury member from the UK/South Africa said: “It’s a photo that is connected to so many other stories—it opens up discussions about technology, globalization, migration, poverty, desperation, alienation, humanity. It’s a very sophisticated, powerfully nuanced image. It is so subtly done, so poetic, yet instilled with meaning, conveying issues of great gravity and concern in the world today.”
Born in Illinois, John Stanmeyer is a founder member of the VII photo agency. He has worked with National Geographic, Time Magazine, and assignments have taken him to dangerous places, including Afganistan, East Timor, and Indonesia. For his World Press Photo of the Year Award, Stanmeyer will receive a cash prize of 10,000 euros. In addition, he will be given a professional DSLR camera and lens kit donated by Canon.