Thirty photos or series of photos make up as many stories, defining a year with all its calamities, in the exhibition that can be seen at the Fundación Diario Madrid for twenty-one days only

"Siege of Mariupol" wins World Press Photo 2023

The disturbing image of the siege of the hospital and maternity hospital in the Ukrainian town of Mariupol was unanimously chosen World Press Photo of the Year. In the words of the chairman of the jury, Brent Lewis, the American photo editor of the New York Times, "the snapshot exhibits enormous power, as does the story it portrays, a compendium of the atrocities it depicts". The death of the pregnant woman and her child sums up much of the war that is now a few months shy of two years old, as well as Russia's possible intention. "It looks like they are trying to kill the future of Ukraine," stressed one member of the global jury.  

Along with this spectacular photograph published by practically all of the world's major media, the modernised facilities of the Fundaci√≥n del Diario Madrid hosted another 29 winning stories in the 2023 edition of the annual World Press Photo competition, which since 1955 has recognised the best photojournalism and documentary photography of the year, selected by regional and global, specialised and independent juries. On this occasion, 60,448 photographs and open-format projects were submitted. What appears in the exhibition is a compilation of the best photojournalism from around the world, powerful, challenging and courageous photographs.  

In the case of this year's winning photo, the image shows 32-year-old Iryna Kalinina, a wounded pregnant woman, being carried from a maternity hospital, which was severely damaged during one of the many Russian air strikes in Mariupol on 9 March 2022. Her baby, named Miron (meaning Peace) was born lifeless, and half an hour later, Iryna also died. An OSCE report concluded that the hospital was deliberately attacked by Russia, resulting in three dead and seventeen wounded. The author of the snapshot was Evgeniy Maloletka, who took it for the Associated Press.  

Despite the enormous power of this photo, it is the first time in the nearly seventy years of the competition that the winner does not have the honour of illustrating the cover of the catalogue of chosen photos. In its place is a photo that received only an honourable mention, taken by the Iranian Ahmad Halabisaz.  

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Although the work is untitled, its story is well known: it shows a young Iranian woman sitting on a chair in front of a busy square in Tehran, defying the mandatory hijab law. It was 27 December 2022. "A few days after Mahsa's death, while walking along Keshavarzi Boulevard, I saw a large crowd of men and women, young and old," says photographer Halabisaz, "chanting a slogan I had never heard before: 'Woman, Life, Freedom'. It enlightened me, it was moving".  

The huge protests in Iran began after the arrest and death of Mahsa "Jina" Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman taken into custody by the Islamic Republic's Morality Police for allegedly violating the country's mandatory hijab law. Despite the violent attacks on the protesters, the protests quickly spread to other regions of the country, spanning all age groups and social classes. To show their opposition to the ayatollahs' government, Iranian women show themselves in public without the hijab, turning their daily lives into a very risky act of civil disobedience.  

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The seated young woman challenges the viewer to look at a young woman of our time, to become aware of the danger she faces with this photograph, but, above all, to understand that nothing will stop her from trying to achieve the justice she deserves and demands. This photograph is not only a testament to the violence that continues to be directed against women in 2022, but more importantly, to the incredible courage they have shown in Iran and around the world. It is therefore a testament to strength.  

The change is therefore due to the new strategy of the World Press Photo Foundation itself, whose executive director, Joumana El Zein Khoury, has established that from 2023 onwards, in addition to the unquestionable quality of the photos, they must also refer to the most relevant events of the previous year. Thus, in 2022, 59 journalists lost their lives in the exercise of their profession, the highest number since 2018, a record that has unfortunately already been largely surpassed in Gaza due to the war between Israel and Hamas. Zein Khoury notes that "our responsibility is to ensure that the images and graphic reports for which photojournalists died or risked their lives, were shared with the widest possible public."  

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As the exhibition in the iconic building, which once housed newspapers and leading firms, shows, the prizes awarded cover a diverse range of subjects, from football to emigration, war to alpaca breeding. "If I had to sum up the jury's process in 2023 in one word, it would be 'emotional', because such was the wealth of feelings aroused by the debates that analysed and decided on the best graphic testimonies of the many nightmares that plague human beings". 

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