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Jon and Alex

Winner: This image of a gay couple was the best press photo taken last year

It was taken by a Danish photographer last May in Russia.


JON AND ALEX are a young gay couple living in St Petersburg, Russia.

They were captured in this intimate moment by Danish photographer Mads Nissen on 18 May 2014. The evocative shot was taken in a bare room with just a brown curtain as a backdrop.

Today, the image, has been named the World Press Photo of the Year.

“Life for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people is becoming increasingly difficult in Russia,” the caption for the image reads. “Sexual minorities face legal and social discrimination, harassment, and even violent hate-crime attacks from conservative religious and nationalistic groups.”

In 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the so-called “propaganda” of gay relationships to minors, despite an outcry from rights groups and other governments.

Nissen’s winning shot is part of his larger project called “Homophobia in Russia” and also won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category.

Humanity and power

Speaking about the phot, jury chairwoman Michelle McNally said “it is a historic time for the image… the winning image needs to be aesthetic, to have impact and have the potential to become iconic”.

“This photo is aesthetically powerful, and it has humanity,” said McNally, who is The New York Times’ director of photography and assistant managing editor.

Nissen, a staff photographer at Copenhagen’s daily Politiken newspaper told AFP one of the reasons he thought he had won was that “gay rights have become an indicator” of how human rights are perceived in general.

These two, Jon and Alex, are open and they are activists, and when they allowed me to shoot them they knew what they were doing.

“What they want most of all is for their cause to get acknowledgement and attention. They are willing to fight for it. They also belong to a new generation of activists who won’t bow their heads.”

Kilic told AFP he was “very happy of course, it’s the biggest photography contest of the world. It has been a dream for the last 10 years and it has finally happened.”

Rejected entries

This year’s contest was marred by the rejection of a high number of photographs because they were digitally enhanced, World Press Photo’s managing director Lars Boering said.

“Our rules clearly state that the content of the image should not be altered. This year’s jury was very disappointed to discover how careless some photographers had been in post-processing their files for the contest,” Boering said in a statement.

Photographers digitally “cleaning up” images by removing small details or sometimes excessively toning pictures “compromised the integrity of the image”.

“Consequently, the jury rejected 20% of those entries that reached the penultimate round of the contest and were therefore not considered for prizes,” Boering said.

Controversy erupted over 2012 winner Paul Hansen’s winning photograph from Gaza, where he used a certain post-production technique to edit his photograph.

This year’s World Press Photo competition saw a jury of 17 professionals in the fields of photojournalism and documentary photography sift through 97,912 photographs submitted by 5,692 photographers of 131 nationalities.

The winning photo was taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with shutter speed 1/200, ISO 1600, F-stop 2.2 and focal length of 35mm. 

Reporting with AFP

More: People are loving this photographer’s clever mirror image of Poolbeg towers

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