IN A competition that attracted more than 100,000 entries from 5,000 photographers in 24 countries the winning image came from the international news event that shaped 2011 – a poignant picture of a veiled woman cradling a wounded male relative in her arms after a demonstration in Yemen.
The judges of the World Press Photo contest said that the image captured by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda encapsulated many facets of the uprisings across the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring. It was taken on 15 October for the New York Times in a mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, which was being used as field hospital after demonstrators protesting the rule of Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh clashed with government forces.
Aidan Sullivan, chairman of the judging panel and vice-president of Getty Images, said: “The winning photo shows a poignant, compassionate moment, the human consequence of an enormous event, an event that is still going on.
“We might never know who this woman is, cradling an injured relative, but together they become a living image of the courage of ordinary people that helped create an important chapter in the history of the Middle East.”
The woman is almost completely concealed under black robes as she clasps her relative, a thin man grimacing in pain.
Mr Sullivan said Aranda thought the man might have been the woman’s husband, but he was not sure. He said the image has religious “almost Biblical” overtones and noted its resemblance in composition to Michelangelo’s Pieta – but in a Muslim setting.
Koyo Kouoh, one of the jurors said: “It stands for all that happened in the Arab Spring.
“But it shows a private, intimate side of what went on, and it shows the role that women played, not only as care givers but as active people in the movement.”
Mr Sullivan added: “2011 was a momentous year. In the end, we tried to distil it down to what was the most important thing – the people. The people who were brave enough, and courageous enough to come out of their homes and businesses, and get on the streets and stand up to dictatorships.
“There was this collective feeling that enough was enough. Brave, ordinary people were taking to the streets to fight these regimes that had been in power for so long. That personal element of the Arab Spring was the main subject of discussion in the last few days of judging.”
The devastating tsunami in Japan was another major theme of the competition.
Japanese photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba won first prize in the People in the News Stories category for Agence France Presse for images including a photo taken on 3 April of a Japanese woman standing alone and holding her daughter’s graduation certificate aloft after she found it amid a swirl of debris in Higashimatsushima.
The Associated Press won three awards, including first place in the Arts and Entertainment Singles category, for David Goldman’s shot of a soldier playing the drums at a Canadian army base in Afghanistan.
The jury also nominated an image by an unidentified amateur for special mention – a still taken from a video of a Libyan National Transition Council fighter pulling Muammar Gaddhafi onto a military vehicle.