An exhibition of the World Press Photo 2017 winners. Photo: Cherryl Bird

World Press Photo Winner: ‘An Assassination in Turkey’

Some of these images are powerful enough to make you weep.

Without the context of the story to soften their impact, many of the photographs are simply unbearable. People and places being blown to bits, animals injured by human hands. Lifeless or weakened bodies on the ground. Nature as a force to be reckoned with. Humans at their best or sometimes at their worst moments suspended in time.

Stuart Franklin, Chair of the News and Documentary Jury, and Chair of the General Jury, for the 2017 World Press Photo Contest was looking for “pictures that have an explanatory power” for the single image category but sometimes they were just too much.

The warning on the outside of the exhibit area in the corridor of a mall in the business district in downtown Toronto says everything about what was partially hidden from people walking by.

Important advisory:
Certain photos in the enclosed gallery may be disturbing to viewers due to the graphic or violent nature of the subject matter.

Reviewing photos from significant events and issues from 2016, Franklin and the other jurors asked “What does a photo tell us about an event? What is its emotional force? How does it compare to others, in both this and previous contests?” And how well does the photograph represent the event or issue.

Pictures have the power to paint a portrait of life that words cannot. Images can elect politicians, cast out religious leaders, break down walls, or raise the spirits of a nation in a fraction of a second.

The winner of the World Press Photo 2017, for greatest journalistic importance, is Burhan Ozbilici, who also won first place in the Spot News Stories category. Ozbilici is a staff photographer for The Associated Press, based in Istanbul.

'An Assassination in Turkey' by Burhan Ozbilici for The Associated Press
Mevlut Mert Altintas shouts after shooting Andrei Karlov, right, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The winning image, An Assassination in Turkey, is the scene of the assassination of Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, by Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22-year-old off-duty police officer, at an art exhibition in Ankara, Turkey, on December 19, 2016. Altıntaş wounded three other people before being killed by officers in a shootout.

The image is of a man shouting, while standing in a power stance, sending out a warning with the pointer finger of his fisted left hand, outstretched above his head. He is wearing a black suit, a white dress shirt, polished black shoes. His right hand, pointed down to the ground, holds what looks like a gun. The body of a man is outstretched on the ground, hands splayed outward. He seems headless. The body is dressed in a suit and the bottom of the right shoe faces the camera. Someone lost their glasses. It’s on the ground, behind the man holding what seems like a gun, and below three, small, framed, colourful pictures framed in black, hung on a white wall.

Before he was shot by Turkish Special Forces, Altintas is said to have shouted ““Allahu akbar” (God is great) and later said in Turkish: “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria.”” In the picture, his mouth is wide open, showing his teeth and tongue.

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The words that accompany the poster-size images explain that:

“Russia and Turkey supported opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, with Russia backing forces loyal to the Syrian government and Turkey supporting certain rebel groups. In the months prior to the attack, relations between the two countries had developed into a strategic partnership, with each curbing their support in their own strategic interest.”

Members of the jury, spoke about the winning photograph.

Mary F. Calvin:
“It was a very, very difficult decision, but in the end we felt that the picture of the year was an explosive image that really spoke to the hatred of our times. Every time it came on the screen you almost had to move back because it such an explosive image and we really felt that it epitomizes the definition of what the World Press Photo of the Year is and means.”

João Silva:
“Right now I see the world marching towards the edge of an abyss. This is a man who has clearly reached a breaking point and his statement is to assassinate someone who he really blames, a country that he blames, for what is going on elsewhere in the region. I feel that what is happening in Europe, what is happening in America, what is happening in the Far East, Middle East, Syria, and this image to me talks of it. It is the face of hatred.”

The jury gave prizes in eight categories to 45 photographers from 25 countries throughout the world. They received 80,408 pictures from 5,034 photographers in 126 countries.

See An Assassination in Turkey and other winning photographs on the World Press Photo website or on location in any of 45 countries throughout the world. Find an exhibition near you.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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