A visibly exhausted father is handing over his child through a gap under a barbed wire fence on the Serbia-Hungary border in the hope of a better life across. He was one of the several migrants who sought to cross the border into Hungary before a secure fence was completed.
But now his image has become the face of the crisis. It was shot by Australian photographer Warren Richardson on the night of August 28, 2015, near Horgoš (Serbia) and Röszke (Hungary). The photographer, now based in Budapest, recalls that the image was taken after he camped with the refugees for five days on the border.
“A group of about 200 people arrived, and they moved under the trees along the fence line. They sent women and children, then fathers and elderly men. I must have been with this crew for about five hours and we played cat and mouse with the police the whole night. I was exhausted by the time I took the picture.
It was around three o’clock in the morning and you can’t use a flash while the police are trying to find these people, because I would just give them away. So I had to use the moonlight alone,” said Richardson in a statement given to World Press Photo.
In 2016, this stark black-and-white photograph of his won the World Press Photo of the Year 2015 award. “Early on, we looked at this photo and we knew it was an important one. It had such power because of its simplicity, especially the symbolism of the barbed wire.
We thought it had almost everything in there to give a strong visual of what’s happening with the refugees,” said Francis Kohn, chair of the general jury, and photo director of Agence France-Presse in a press statement.
After travelling across the world, the gripping and moving image is now being exhibited in Delhi along with 155 other photographs that have emerged winners in different categories in the prestigious photo contest. The contest drew 82,951 entries from 5,775 photographers of 128 countries.
On display at the India International Centre in Delhi, most photographs present a dismal picture of the world, from the migration crisis to the environmental hazards, and a present peopled with individuals fighting personal and collective battles.
So, if in the category People, first prize singles, Matic Zorman from Slovenia, won for his photograph of refugee children covered in rain capes waiting in line to be registered, in the General News singles category, Mauricio Lima from Brazil won the first position for his photograph of an Islamic State fighter ironically being treated for burns at a hospital controlled by the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish force opposing IS incursion into a Kurdish region in northeastern Syria.
“The press photographers, especially the ones reporting from the challenging zones are risking their lives to bring important news to us,” said Alphonsus Stoelinga, Ambassador of The Netherlands to India, one of the supporters of the exhibition in India.
The Nature and Contemporary issues categories too present a grim picture. Winner in the Contemporary Issues, first prize singles category, Chinese photographer Zhang Lei’s cloud of smog over the industrial town of Tianjin, in northeastern China, represents the pollution that we breathe, and Mário Cruz won the Contemporary Issues, first prize stories, for capturing the “unregulated” and “poor” conditions in the Koranic boarding schools in Senegal. Rohan Kelly from Australia too has a dark cloud — this one is over the Bondi beach that brought violent thunderstorms.
There are others who record the effects of the past on the present. Kazuma Obara from Japan, winner of People, first prize stories, has photographs that showcase the lifetime of 30 years of Mariya who was born in Kiev, 100 km south of Chernobyl, the site of the 1986, a nuclear disaster.
She still suffers from the negative effects of radiation. New-York based Nancy Borowick’s series is even more personal. She photographs her parents Laurel and Howie Borowick who fought cancer together in the last year of their 34-year-long marriage. The poignant series gives a permanence to their memories — just like all other photographs that have frozen moments from the past.