Watching the world change: The images that shaped and reflected our world in 2017.

Each year, the World Press Photo Awards present a unique and unsettling account of the previous year in human history.

There are so many annual photography competitions these days it’s a wonder that anyone with a camera hasn’t won something, somewhere.

There’s something particularly affecting and powerful about photojournalists recognizing their own, however. These are often images from the frontlines of war and human conflict, but there are always one or two that reflect humanity at its most aspirational and forgiving.

The nominated photographers here — I’ve selected 20 choices from the dozens of images that made the shortlist — share one thing in common, apart from a keen eye and an ability to keep their camera in focus under often trying circumstance. They are men and women who, in facing a crisis, captured a photographic record of that crisis. In so doing, they laid bare the emotion of that moment for the world’s eyes.

Many of these images are hard to take in. Some are controversial. Many are profound. They all have something to say. None of them are boring. Advances in digital photography and the Internet ensure they will never be forgotten. We live in a visual age, where exploitation and redemption are often intertwined. 

These images show how photography, in the words of former Life magazine creative director and Vanity Fair editor-of-creative-development David Friend, help us to witness, to grieve, and finally to understand the unimaginable.

The World Press Photo’s prestigious “Photo of the Year” award has been whittled down to six finalists.

I’ve placed those six finalists at the top of the 20 I’ve included below, if only to show that they all share compelling qualities. The top prize traditionally awarded to the photographer whose creative expression captured an issue of journalistic importance in a way that made us think.

As Lars Boering, managing director of the World Press Photo Foundation, said in announcing the six finalists:

“The best visual journalism is not of something; it is about something. It should matter to the people to whom it speaks.”

This year’s jury was chaired by Magdalena Herrera, director-of-photography for Geo magazine.

“We were looking for challenging approaches,” Herrera told the New York Times. “But the respect of the subjects as human beings and how suffering was portrayed was most important.”

Three of the six shortlisted images were taken by freelance photographers on assignment for the Times. The remaining images were taken by photographers working for UNICEF, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Finalists in all categories were chosen from photographers representing 125 countries. Herrera and her fellow jurors whittled the field down to 42 nominees in eight categories, including Photo of the Year.

There has been controversy in the past over photo manipulation, with some entries being disqualified after the fact.

The World Press Photo Foundation now examines the RAW picture files of all images that make it to the final rounds of judging. As many as 20 percent of images reaching the final rounds have been disqualified over the last three years, most often for “excessive post processing” — a polite way of saying too much digital manipulation in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Boering told the New York Times that there were fewer disqualifications this year, but “fewer” was “still too many.”

“Why manipulate?” Herrera added. “If you’re an illustrator, you’re not a photographer. We’re talking about people taking out and moving things, not toning. We are (living) more than ever in a period of fake news, (so) it’s good that World Press applies these rules.”

The winners will be announced on April 12th at the 2018 World Press Photo Awards Show in Amsterdam.

The winning pictures are traditionally assembled into an  exhibition that travels to 45 countries and is seen by an estimated 4 million people each year.

Here, then, are 20 selections from this year’s 40-plus nominees. Captions were collated by The Atlantic from material provided by the World Press Photo Foundation.

The first six have been shortlisted for World Press Photo of the Year. The remaining 14 are my own choices — I curated them, if you will, from the remaining 3—plus finalists, and reflect my own tastes and biases — the environment, species survival, African wildlife, spot news and international reportage. I've saved, well, not the best exactly for last, but I have saved a kick for the end.

As always, the photographer’s name and copyright information is embedded in the photo itself, using Squarespace’s “caption overlay on hover” function.

Please be warned. Many of these images are graphic, and some are disturbing. As they’re meant to be. Others — the elephant, for example — are quite beautiful.

Disturbing and beautiful. Such is the world.


SHORTLISTED FOR PHOTO OF THE YEAR

 


 ©Ivor Prickett/New York Times

©Ivor Prickett/New York Times

 ©Adam Ferguson/New York Times

©Adam Ferguson/New York Times

 ©Patrick Brown/Panos Pictures for UNICEF

©Patrick Brown/Panos Pictures for UNICEF

 ©Toby Melville/Reuters

©Toby Melville/Reuters

 ©Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse

©Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse

 Ivor Prcikett/New York Times

Ivor Prcikett/New York Times


PERSONAL CHOICES FROM REMAINING NOMINEES


 ©Carla Hogelman

©Carla Hogelman

 ©Amy Vitale/National Geographic

©Amy Vitale/National Geographic

 ©Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

©Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

 @Alain Schroeder/Reporters

@Alain Schroeder/Reporters

 ©Anna Boyiazis/Reporters

©Anna Boyiazis/Reporters

 ©Richard Tsong/Taatarii

©Richard Tsong/Taatarii

 ©Fausto Podavini

©Fausto Podavini

 ©George Steinmetz/National Geographic

©George Steinmetz/National Geographic

 ©Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse

©Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse

 ©Neil Aldridge

©Neil Aldridge

 ©Nikolai Linares Larsen

©Nikolai Linares Larsen

 ©Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

©Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

 ©Anna Boyiazis

©Anna Boyiazis

 ©Jasper Doest

©Jasper Doest