World Press Photo Exhibit opens in Amsterdam

By Alison Netsel

A stalwart of international photojournalism, the World Press Photo exhibition has its roots in the Netherlands. Alison Netsel takes us through its history.

In 1955, the first World Press Photo competition took place. Started by the Dutch Photographers Union, the idea was to gain exposure to the work of photographers from around the world, resulting in greater education and communication. Since then, the photos in the competition have set trends, become iconic images, and shaped the world of press photography.

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The first winning photo in 1955 depicted a motocross competitor tumbling from his motorcycle. Since then, some of the most iconic images of photography – representing horror and moments of resolution and triumph – have been a part of the competition. Among the many stunning, memorable photos are that of a Buddhist monk who has set himself on fire; a naked girl running down the street after a napalm attack in Vietnam; and a man standing alone in determined demonstration against a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. The contest has been held almost every year since 1955. By 1960 the official organization had been founded and from that point on, the competition continued to grow throughout the world. By the 1980s, the accompanying exhibition was travelling further afield, and with the increasing growth and prestige, the organization finally became a professional body with the hiring of staff and the opening of an official office in Amsterdam, as well as the introduction of corporate sponsors.

The corporate sponsors enable the competition to grow and exhibit the photos on a wider scale, with the exhibition now seen by four million people around the world. However, the organization has always placed great importance on its independence. Because of the nature of many of the photos, politics and controversy go hand in hand. Yet throughout the years, every effort has been made to keep judging fair. Even during the Cold War, both Soviets and Americans always sat on the jury, typically balancing each other’s vote.

Accuracy, impartiality, fairness, respect, transparency, and accountability are among the core values of the organization. This is found in the photography, the judging and the overall running of the organization. Equally important is education. As a result, seminars and workshops are held around the world to help photographers young and old to improve their skills, talents, and communication.

The exhibition now travels to 100 cities in 45 countries. It begins in Amsterdam and can currently be seen in De Nieuwe Kerk until the 10th of July. It’s open daily from 10:00-18:00, with tickets priced at €10 per person, € 3.50 with the iAmsterdam City Card, and free with the Museum Card and for children 12 and under.

As well as the regular exhibit, there is a special Streets of the World project also on display this year. Photographer Jeroen Swolfs travelled for the past seven years, visiting nearly every country in an effort to photograph day-to-day life, exploring the many similarities to be found throughout the world.