World’s Best Photo Chosen

Congrats John Stanmeyer! The American photographer who lives in Hong Kong has won the World Press Photo of the Year 2013 award with a moonlit image of African migrants in Djibouti holding their mobile phones to the sky, seeking a better signal. I had the pleasure to work with John back in East Timor’s bloody crisis before the territory won its independence. John was in serious trouble when he photographed the killing of an East Timorese by Indonesian militia men. He made it out safely, never gave up on photography, recently traveled Africa extensively — and here is the well deserved award for a life dedicated to photography.

Nearly 100,000 photographs were submitted. Means something to get this award, in John’s case in the category Contemporary Issues. His chosen photo is poetic, simple yet futuristic, powerful storytelling and great photoghraphy:

John Stanmeyer took this photograph for National Geographic of African migrants near Djibouti city, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia. It won the World Press Photo of the Year award. | John Stanmeyer / VII for National Geographic
John Stanmeyer took this photograph for National Geographic of African migrants near Djibouti city, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring Somalia. It won the World Press Photo of the Year award. | John Stanmeyer / VII for National Geographic

John, of the VII photo agency, captured a photo that has a mysterious, eerie quality as the phones held by the men in the picture glow the same color as the moon. The signal from neighboring Somalia is cheaper, and they are hoping to send and receive messages from relatives abroad.

So I had to drop John a congratulatory note — this is how he describes the winning shot to THEME, taken with a Canon 5D Mark III and 35mm F1.4:

Was walking along the beach in Djibouti city at night along the red sea and came across this group of people with their phones in the air. I asked my friend/translator what they were doing and he said they were Somalis trying to “catch” a signal on their Somali mobile phones to the Somali signal 30 to 50 kilometers away as a means to connect to their loved ones back home. Immediately I felt the weight and measure of what was happening — our present day migration in hopes for a better life and the natural desire in all of us to keep connected to our families.

Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, is a common stopping point for migrants attempting to reach Europe or the Middle East. Jillian Edelstein, member of the 19-person jury, said the photo raised issues of “technology, globalization, migration, poverty, desperation, alienation and humanity”. All in one shot. That’s storytelling.

Another, Susan Linfield, said it stood out for its humantic portrayal of migrants. “So many pictures of migrants show them as bedraggled and pathetic, but this photo is not so much romantic as dignified.”

Stan tops 53 winning photographers in 18 categories. Quite a feat with lots and lots of hard work behind getting the World Press Photo’s top spot. Well deserved, John, you’re the man!

Stroll through the World Press Photo award gallery to enjoy the other winners.

  • Scarlet_Billows

    That’s a cracking shot. Thanks also for a good write-up.