The picture that won photojournalism’s best-known contest is a portrait of a young Nigerian mother’s face, her mouth covered by the shriveled hand of her starving child.
One of thousands of images photographer Finbarr O’Reilly has captured in his mission to promote Africa, to “keep showing Africa the way I see it,” as O’Reilly said at a presentation of his work last Friday.
He was in Montreal for the opening of the 2006 World Press Photo exhibit, which runs from Sept. 1-24, at the Just for Laughs Museum. Organized by Reporters Communication, a local, non-profit organization that promotes documentary photographs.
Originating in Amsterdam, the contest awarded its first prize in 1955. This year, it gathered over 80,000 images, culled from over 4,000 professional photographers from the 122 countries that entered in the competition.
The first prize, the World Press Photo of the Year, is awarded to the photograph that best marries visual perception and creativity with an event, issue or situation of great journalistic importance. O’Reilly accepted his award in Amsterdam at the end of April this year.
O’Reilly, a Vancouver native now living in Senegal, narrated a slideshow of hundreds of his photographs, taken during his two years in Africa as a Reuters photographer. Starting off as a reporter, he began taking pictures because he couldn’t get a photographer along for a trip. He turned to photography full-time when he realized that more of his photographs than written pieces were being published.
He started his informal presentation with pictures from Congo, where he said, the wealth of minerals has caused centuries of misrule, first by Belgians and then by President Mobutu. When he showed pictures of child-soldiers, he said “They know nothing but war.violence is the way of doing business.”
Last month, Congo had its first free election and O’Reilly was on hand to record the event. He warned his audience that some of the images were graphic before he showed a picture of a burned, mangled body being dragged by the militia through the streets. “The stakes were high because whoever runs the country controls the flow of money,” he said.
Some comic relief followed as his next photos showed citizens at the polls, puzzled as they looked through the lists of candidates for President. According to O’Reilly, there were 146 candidates on each of the seven pages of the ballots.
He then turned to Niger, where his winning photograph was taken. The portrait of the mother and her child was taken year ago at an emergency feeding center run by M