Hardly anyone seeing the awarded images in this past weekend’s World Press Photo 2018 Awards could walk away without feeling shaken and, deep down, at least a little stirred.
No written summation of the winning images would be complete without the images themselves. That’s the whole point of photojournalism, in which the image truly is worth a thousand words. Good photography transcends different languages and cultures, which is why Mexico City-based photographer Ronaldo Schemidt’s image of a protestor set ablaze during street demonstrations last May in Caracas, Venezuela is so wrenching. It’s the kind of image no one wants to see, and yet it’s an image that’s impossible to tear one’s eyes away. The World Press Photo association awarded Schemidt the group’s Photo of the Year award for 2018, as well as 1st prize for spot news.
Schemidt’s image, taken for Agence France-Presse (AFP), is undeniably powerful, but it was just one among many.
Charlottesville, Va. local-news photographer Ryan M. Kelly, a staff photographer for The Daily Progress local newspaper — the only daily newspaper in Charlottesville — won 2nd prize for spot news for his harrowing image of a 20-year-oldwhite supremacist and neo-Nazi, now charged with first-degree murder, ramming his car through a crowd of demonstrators at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in the Virginia city last August.
It’s a sign of these troubled times for the planet, though, that the organizers of the 61st World Press Photo Awards saw fit to make room for separate environment and nature categories, where they joined such traditional news categories as contemporary issues, general news, long-term projects, people, sports and spot news.
North Carolina-born, Montana-based Ami Vitale, profiled in this space just a few weeks ago, won 1st prize in the nature/stories category for her photo essay “Warriors Who Once Feared Elephants Now Protect Them,” about the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Samburu, northern Kenya, for National Geographic.
It was a good week — a good year, in fact — for South African-based image-makers.
German-born Thomas P. Peschak, a trained marine biologist who moved to South Africa and switched careers to “document the beauty and fragility of our oceans,” won no fewer than four World Press Photo awards, all of them for National Geographic.
Peschak won both 2nd and 3rd prize in the nature/singles category, for his image of rockhopper penguins doing just that (2nd place), and an image juxtaposing a historic photo of an African penguin colony, taken in the late 1890s, against an image taken in 2017, showing the stark contrast in declining numbers between the two. (“Singles” are standalone images; “stories” are photo essays, in which a series of images tells a single story.)
Peschak won 2nd prize in the environment/singles category for his sobering image of a South African Antarctic Territory juvenile grey-headed albatross recovering from an attack by an invasive mouse species. He won 3rd prize in the nature/stories category — the same category in which his fellow National Geographic photographer Vitale won — for his haunting photo essay of the Galapagos archipelago.
Peschak switched to photojournalism, he says now, when he realized his images could do more for conservation than simply curating scientific statistics for academics (https://www.thomaspeschak.com).
Alaska commercial fisherman and occasional photographer Corey Arnold won 1st prize in the nature/singles category, for his equally sad image of a bald eagle picking over meat scraps in a garbage dumpster in Dutch Harbour, Alaska.
Top prize in the environment/singles category was awarded to South African conservation photographer Neil Aldridge for his unspeakably sad image of a southern white rhino, drugged and blindfolded during relocation to the Okavango Delta, Botswana from its home in South Africa, to protect it from poachers.
Photography is both a calling and a profession for Aldridge; he’s a lecturer in marine and natural history photography at Falmouth University, in Cornwall, in the UK, and runs workshops, expeditions and seminars, and in 2016 established the self-explanatory NGO Rhino Conservation Botswana.
“Photography is more than just a beautiful picture, a moment frozen in time; it has the power to transform our relationship with the world around us for the better,” Aldridge explains on his website at,
A compelling image is about forging an emotional connection with the viewer, he says; the aim is to create stories that inspire positive change through the conservation of nature and the environment.
“I think photojournalism is documentary photography with a purpose,” W. Eugene Smith famously said.
“The ability to keep things in perspective is very important for a journalist. In a tense situation you need the ability to be there, yet somehow step aside; to keep a cool head and keep working without getting frustrated.” — Philip Jones Griffiths.
“It’s a lot more than clicking the shutter. It’s the ideas, it’s the visual voice, it’s the telling the story, it’s kind of going beyond that initial things that just means you happened to be there at the right time.” — Ron Haviv.
“I think of myself as a journalist who chooses the art of photography to bring awareness to the world. Art is a powerful means of expression, but combined with journalism it has the ability to bring awareness to issues that can elevate understanding and compassion. It’s the basic reality of why I do what I do.” — Renée C. Byer.
“As photojournalists, we supply information to a world that is overwhelmed with preoccupations and full of people who need the company of images. We pass judgment on what we see, and this involves an enormous responsibility.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Here, then, without further ado, are the winners I’ve mentioned, with the primary emphasis — given the tone of this site — on matters involving nature and the environment.