Winner and Nominees of World Press Photo of the Year 2021


Over the years, World Press Photo has played a pivotal role in showcasing significant stories—revolutions against corrupt governments, migrations due to conflicts, the battle of survival of endangered species, and stories of hope and resilience. The contest recognises and awards the best visual storytellers who have gone out of their way to document these moving narratives, with an aim to bring about change. This year’s winning images represent perseverance, as the world grapples with a pandemic amidst ongoing chaos and destruction. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as a few citizens have begun to take charge. Here is a look at the most powerful, awe-inspiring images from the 2021 edition of the contest.

Title Winner: Mads Nissen, Denmark, Politiken/Panos Pictures

Rosa Luzia Lunardi (85) is embraced by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza, at Viva Bem care home, São Paulo, Brazil, on 5 August.

Mads Nissen (1979) is a photographer based in Copenhagen, Denmark. For Nissen photography is all about empathy – creating understanding, a closeness and intimacy. He strives to build that connection while focusing on contemporary social issues such as inequality, human rights violations and our often destructive relationship with nature. Photograph/Morten Rode

The First Embrace: This was the first hug Rosa had received in five months. In March, care homes across the country had closed their doors to all visitors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing millions of Brazilians from visiting their elderly relatives. Carers were ordered to keep physical contact with the vulnerable to an absolute minimum. At Viva Bem, a simple invention called ‘the hug curtain’ allowed people to hug each other once again. The new coronavirus had first appeared in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019, and by January 2020 had begun to spread around the world. On 11 March, the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The disease—transmitted mainly via close contact, respiratory droplets, and aerosols—could be fatal, and people over the age of 70 were one of the groups considered most vulnerable to the disease. Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, dismissed claims about the severity of the pandemic and the danger posed by the virus, undermined quarantine measures adopted at state level, and encouraged Brazilians to continue working to keep the economy afloat. Brazil ended 2020 with one of the worst records globally in dealing with the virus, with some 7.7 million reported cases and 1,95,000 deaths.

This image also won the first prize in the General News-Singles category.

Nominees of the World Press Photo of the Year 2021

A man and woman disagree on the removal of the Emancipation Memorial, in Lincoln Park, Washington DC, USA, on 25 June 2020.

Evelyn Hockstein is a photojournalist based in Washington, DC. She is President of WPOW, the Women Photojournalists of Washington and has worked in more than 70 countries covering civil war, political unrest, humanitarian crises, and natural disasters for The Washington Post, The New York Times, Helsingin Sanomat, and others. Photograph/Astrid Riecken

Evelyn Hockstein, United States, for The Washington Post

Emancipation Memorial Debate: The Emancipation Memorial shows Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation in one hand, with his other hand over the head of a Black man in a loincloth, kneeling at his feet. Critics argue that the statue is paternalistic, demeaning in its depiction of Black Americans, and that it doesn’t do justice to the role that Black people played in their own liberation. Those against removal say it is a positive depiction of people being freed from the shackles of slavery, and that removing such monuments can amount to an erasing of history. The drive to remove the statue came amid a wave of calls to take down monuments of Confederate generals nationwide, a move largely welcomed by activists from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, who see Confederate and other such monuments as reminders of an oppressive history. They call for a more honest accounting of American history. Officials had erected barriers around the Emancipation Memorial in advance of demonstrations. Residents posted notes on the fence expressing their views, and on 25 June around 100 people gathered at the monument arguing about what it meant. In February 2021, congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton reintroduced a bill in the US Congress to have the statue removed and taken to a museum.

An injured man stands near the site of a massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, while firefighters work to put out the fires that engulfed the warehouses after the explosion, on 4 August 2020.

Lorenzo Tugnoli, Italy, Contrasto

Lorenzo Tugnoli (1979) is a self-taught Italian photographer based in Lebanon who covers the Middle East and Central Asia. He worked extensively around the Middle East before moving to Afghanistan in 2010, where he started working with international media and development organizations. Photograph/Omaya Malaeb

Port Explosion in Beirut: At around 6pm on 4 August, a massive explosion, caused by more than 2,750 tons of high-density ammonium nitrate, shook Lebanon’s capital Beirut. The explosive compound was being stored in a warehouse in the port. Some 100,000 people lived within a kilometre of the warehouse. The explosion, which measured 3.3 on the Richter scale, damaged or destroyed around 6,000 buildings, killed at least 190 people, injured a further 6,000, and displaced as many as 300,000. The ammonium nitrate came from a ship that had been impounded in 2012 for failing to pay docking fees and other charges, and apparently abandoned by its owner. Customs officials wrote to the Lebanese courts at least six times between 2014 and 2017, asking how to dispose of the explosive. In the meantime, it was stored in the warehouse in an inappropriate climate. It is not clear what detonated the explosion, but contamination by other substances, either while in transport or in storage, appear the most likely cause. Many citizens saw the incident as symptomatic of the ongoing problems the country is facing, namely governmental failure, mishandling and corruption. In the days after the blast, tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of central Beirut, some clashing with security forces and taking over government buildings, in protest against a political system they saw as unwilling to fix the country’s problems.

Henry Lenayasa, chief of the settlement of Archers Post, in Samburu County, Kenya, tries to scare away a massive swarm of locusts ravaging grazing area, on 24 April 2020. Locust swarms devastated large areas of land, just as the coronavirus outbreak had begun to disrupt livelihoods.

Luis Tato, Spain

Luis Tato is a photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, he combines his work covering mainly East Africa as a stringer for Agence France-Presse and other international publications while developing his own photojournalism projects with a focus on sociology, identity and resilience. Photograph/Will Baxter

Locust Invasion in East Africa: In early 2020, Kenya experienced its worst infestation of desert locusts in 70 years. Swarms of locusts from the Arabian Peninsula had migrated into Ethiopia and Somalia in the summer of 2019. Continued successful breeding, together with heavy autumn rains and a rare late-season cyclone in December 2019, triggered another reproductive surge. The locusts multiplied and invaded new areas in search of food, arriving in Kenya and spreading through other countries in eastern Africa. Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) are potentially the most destructive of the locust pests, as swarms can fly rapidly across great distances, traveling up to 150 kilometres a day. A single swarm can contain between 40 and 80 million locusts per square kilometre. Each locust can eat its weight in plants each day: a swarm the size of Paris could eat the same amount of food in one day as half the population of France. Locusts produce two to five generations a year, depending on environmental conditions. In dry spells, they crowd together on remaining patches of land. Prolonged wet weather—producing moist soil for egg-laying, and abundant food—encourages breeding and producing large swarms that travel in search of food, devastating farmland. Border restriction necessitated by COVID-19 made controlling the locust population harder than usual, since it disrupted pesticide supply and affected multiple neighbouring countries already facing high levels of food insecurity.

Ignat, a transgender man, sits with his girlfriend Maria in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 23 April 2020.

Oleg Ponomarev, Russia

Oleg Ponomarev is a freelance photographer based in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He works on long-term projects focusing on social issues in contemporary Russia, and ethnographic projects on Russia’s minority ethnic groups, particularly those in danger of disappearing.
Ponomarev has won several international photography awards and his work has been published in National Geographic Russia, Russian Reporter, and Novaya gazeta amongst others. Photograph/Tatiana Ostrovskaya

The Transition: Ignat: Ignat was bullied throughout his school years, and confronted by the school psychologist following rumours that he spoke about himself using the masculine gender. Ignat opened up to the psychologist about his gender identity—the first stranger to whom he had told everything—but asked to keep it a secret. The whole school found out, and the insults and humiliations became permanent. Many LGBTQ+ people in Russia keep low profiles because of stigmatisation against nontraditional sexuality. An amendment to the Russian constitution, made in July 2020, stipulates that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, with no other options possible. Although an attempt was made to make a further amendment preventing transgender people from changing their status on legal documents, it was not passed. Transgender people can marry, but the road there is difficult. Transgender people also face very specific challenges when accessing their economic, social, and cultural rights, as their gender is not legally recognised. This results in transgender people having no access to transition-related healthcare services, or official support against discrimination.

Azat Gevorkyan and his wife Anaik are pictured before leaving their home on 28 November 2020 in Lachin, Nagorno-Karabakh, the final district to be returned to Azerbaijani control following the second Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Valery Melnikov, Russia, Sputnik

Valery Melnikov is a documentary photographer based in Moscow. For ten years he was a staff photographer for Kommersant publishing house and since 2009 for international news agency Rossiya Segodnya. Melnikov’s work focuses on documenting the political and social life of societies in conflict and includes coverage of the Chechen war, the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, the 2006 Lebanese war, the uprising of the Mali Republic and the Syrian civil war. Photograph/Alexandra Anikeeva

Paradise Lost: Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh resumed in September, after a lull of 30 years. When the Soviet Union was crumbling at the end of the 1980s, ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, part of Azerbaijan, took advantage of the power vacuum and voted to join Armenia. Fighting intensified after the Soviet Union finally dissolved in 1991, and continued until a ceasefire in 1994. More than 20,000 people died and a million people, both Armenian and Azerbaijani, had to leave their homes. Victorious Armenians declared an independent state. In the intervening 30 years, little has been done to resolve the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and there have been periodic military clashes between the two sides. A July 2020 border clash triggered massive protests in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, with thousands of demonstrators calling for the country to go to war with Armenia. Renewed hostilities, which each side blames the other for starting, began on 27 September in what became known as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Conflict continued until 9 November, the worst fighting the area had seen since the 1990s. In a settlement brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained possession of territory lost in the 1990s, but the regional capital, Stepanakert, was left under Armenian control. Although fighting is over, reconciliation will prove difficult both to Armenians who feel they have lost their homeland and are now displaced and to Azerbaijanis returning to a region ravaged by war.


Here is our complete coverage of the World Press Photo 2021 Awards.


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