Frontline of the Culture War: Diving deeper into the World Press Photo Exhibition 2021
The renowned World Press Photo Exhibition 2021 connects the world to the most meaningful stories of the year. Photographers from all over the globe send their best work each year to try and win the World Press Photo of the Year. Together, some 150 images form the World Press Photo Exhibition, retelling and revitalizing some of the most important moments of today’s world .
By Bill Derah
2021 Marks the 64th year of the annual World Press Photo Contest, which saw over 4,000 professional photographers from 130 countries submit almost 75,000 images. From this immense pool the judges have selected 45 lucky nominees from 28 different countries. In this unprecedented year marked by both the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice protests around the globe, the diverse nominees contribute a variety of interpretations and perspectives to these and other urgent issues. Topics such as the climate crisis, transgender people’s rights, territorial conflicts, and cultural conflict are explored.
The above photo was taken in the midst of 2020 Covid restrictions as the United States broke out in protests over racial social inequalities. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement soon moved to Canada, Europe and elsewhere, becoming a global phenomenon. In this photograph a protest for a statue’s removal triggers a counter protest, captured in the interaction between a BLM protestor and a contrarian.
American conservatives have been unhappy with efforts to remove statues and monuments which glorify figures with questionable moral backgrounds. Today this often refers directly to their participation in slavery, their siding with the Confederacy during the American Civill War, or similar racial, economic, or sociopolitical biases which today are considered extremely immoral. BLM and other progressive protesters consider these monuments to be honoring, if not rewarding, evil behaviors. Conservatives have varying oppositions, some considering such monuments as historical markers which are unfairly being judged with modern sensibilities, others offended by the perceived ‘re-writing’ of culture in their removal or replacement.
Even before Donald Trump’s election as president, many Americans felt that the nation was undergoing a culture war between urban young progressives and rural older conservatives. Many progressives point to the rural conservatives’ economic impotence as a reason for Trump’s appeal – such regions have little economic future. In response, conservatives often accuse these progressives of being brainwashed leftists, eager radicals with nothing to lose. The debate over monuments is one of the great pitched battles in that American Culture War, which nevertheless is analogous to many European debates spurred by new Far-Right populism.
But the exhibition is not only about politics. Andrea Hooymans, founder of NonFiction Photo, notes that even across the World Press Photo Exhibition categories, stories stay universal. She hopes audiences will consider the power and strategies used in visual storytelling. “You can never say that these kinds of photographs are objective, because there’s always a storyteller, there’s always a platform, always things that happen in the process. I can’t get enough of telling people [this].”