Gay couple Jon and Alex during an intimate moment in St Petersburg, Russia. Image courtesy of World Press Photo Contest
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS– An intimate image of a gay couple in Russia by Danish photographer Mads Nissen is the World Press Photo of the Year 2014. The image was selected by the jury of the 58th annual World Press Photo Contest from 97,912 images from 5,692 photographers from 131 countries. Nissen is a staff photographer for the Danish daily newspaper Politiken. The award comes with a 10,000-euro ($11,330) cash prize.
Nissen’s photograph captures Jon and Alex, a gay couple, during an intimate moment in St Petersburg, Russia. The image is part of a larger project by Nissen called “Homophobia in Russia.” The photography project focuses on gay life and the challenges of sexual minorities in Russia. Beyond aesthetics, Nissen’s image of the gay couple touches on the challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Russia where gay couples are vehemently castigated for their sexual orientation. During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the world got a glimpse of the turbulent experience of gay life in Russia. Gay bashing was not only common place, people with different sexual orientation were threatened with violence and imprisonment. “Life for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people is becoming increasingly difficult in Russia. Sexual minorities face legal and social discrimination, harassment, and even violent hate-crime attacks from conservative religious and nationalistic groups,” notes the World Press Photo of the Year 2014 committee.
The war against gays in Russia is one of the reasons Nissen’s image of the gay couple in Russia was selected by World Press Photo Contest as winner of the 2014 contest . But more importantly, the image is aesthetically powerful, and highlights gay pride in country like Russia where gay violence is common place . Commenting on the selection Jury chair Michele McNally, director of photography and assistant managing editor of The New York Times, said: “It is an historic time for the image… the winning image needs to be aesthetic, to have impact, and to have the potential to become iconic. This photo is aesthetically powerful, and it has humanity.”
McNally’s sentiment is echoed by Pamela Chen another member of the Jury who viewed the photo from an historical point of view. She commented:
We were looking for an image that would matter tomorrow, not just today. The winning image demonstrates what a professional photographer can do in a daily life situation, setting a professional standard for story-telling in life. This is a contemporary issue, it is daily life, it is news, it has spot news resonance, it has general news resonance, but it also brings up the issue in a very deep and challenging way. It is quite universal.
The currency of the issue raised by Nissen’s photo of Jon and Alex reveals the struggle of many gay people across the globe including the United States. The recent legal issue in Alabama where same sex marriage has become extremely toxic provides a veritable example of the difficulties confronting lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) whose only quest is to love and be loved. Alessia Glaviano, a member of the jury of the 58th annual World Press Photo Contest puts it succinctly:
The photo has a message about love being an answer in the context of all that is going on in the world. It is about love as a global issue, in a way that transcends homosexuality. It sends out a strong message to the world, not just about homosexuality, but about equality, about gender, about being black or white, about all of the issues related to minorities.
Before winning World Press Photo of the Year 2014, Nissen’s image of the gay couple in St Petersburg, Russia had won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category of the World Press Photo Contest . In addition to Nissen, The jury, made up of a group of 17 internationally recognized professionals in the fields of photojournalism and documentary photography, also gave prizes in 8 themed categories to 42 photographers of 17 nationalities including Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Denmark, Eritrea, France, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, UK and USA.