Daily Picture Show

Violence In Photo Contests: How Much Is Too Much?

The winners of the World Press Photo contest were announced a few weeks ago and, as always, it has stirred some interesting conversation. On one hand, the winning photograph this year was, in a sense, surprisingly innocuous — at least in light of past winners, which tend to be morbid or grotesque. In this video, jury chair Ayperi Karabuda Ecer explains the decision.

Women shout on a rooftop in protest to the presidential election results,  Tehran, Iran, 24 June (Pi

Women shout on a rooftop in protest to the presidential election results, Tehran, Iran, 24 June (Pietro Masturzo, Italy) hide caption

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The rest of the winners weren't so quiet. Of course it's the photojournalist's job to present challenging scenes, or things we might otherwise never see. But with photo after photo of bloodshed, death, destruction, violence, gore and tears, one can't help but wonder: how much is too much?

A few stories this year were particularly difficult. (Note: these links contain graphic content.) Farah Abdi Warsameh's photos of a man being stoned to death in Somalia won 2nd prize in the general news division, while Walter Astrada's series of a bloodbath in Madagascar was the 1st place winner in the spot news division. The stories are awful — and important to know about — but is that level of graphic content necessary? Perhaps. I don't know.

This is actually why the winning photograph is an interesting one. It's quiet, distant and dark; it shows the origins of a much bigger story, but it doesn't showcase violence or tragedy. The perspective is somewhat removed and detached, and, in order to understand the picture, it's important to know the context. Ecer hints that this was a departure from the contest's past. You can view more photos from this rooftop series on the photographer's Web site. Below are more winners from this year's contest.

  • Spot news singles, 1st prize: Afghan woman rushed from the scene of a suicide bombing, Kabul, Dec. 15, 2009.
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    Spot news singles, 1st prize: Afghan woman rushed from the scene of a suicide bombing, Kabul, Dec. 15, 2009.
    Adam Ferguson, Australia, VII Mentor Program for The New York Times
  • Spot news stories, 1st prize: Bloodbath in Madagascar, Feb.
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    Spot news stories, 1st prize: Bloodbath in Madagascar, Feb.
    Walter Astrada, Argentina, Agence France-Presse
  • General news singles, 1st prize: Tuzzah, Gaza Strip, March
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    General news singles, 1st prize: Tuzzah, Gaza Strip, March
    Kent Klich, Sweden
  • General news stories, 1st prize: Guinea Bissau
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    General news stories, 1st prize: Guinea Bissau
    Marco Vernaschi, Italy, for Pulitzer Center
  • People in the news singles, 2nd prize: U.S. soldiers respond to Taliban fire outside their bunker, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, May 11
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    People in the news singles, 2nd prize: U.S. soldiers respond to Taliban fire outside their bunker, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, May 11
    David Guttenfelder, USA, AP
  • People in the news stories, 1st prize: Inauguration Day, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20.
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    People in the news stories, 1st prize: Inauguration Day, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20.
    Charles Ommanney, United Kingdom, Getty Images for Newsweek
  • Sports action singles, 1st prize: England's Jonathan Trott is run out at the fifth Ashes test match, London, Aug.
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    Sports action singles, 1st prize: England's Jonathan Trott is run out at the fifth Ashes test match, London, Aug.
    Gareth Copley, United Kingdom, Press Association
  • Sports action stories, 1st prize: Ironman World Championships, Hawaii
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    Sports action stories, 1st prize: Ironman World Championships, Hawaii
    Donald Miralle, Jr., U.S.
  • Sports features singles, 1st prize: Yankee fans try to distract Angels left fielder Juan Rivera, Yankee Stadium, 25 Oct.
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    Sports features singles, 1st prize: Yankee fans try to distract Angels left fielder Juan Rivera, Yankee Stadium, 25 Oct.
    Robert Gauthier, USA, Los Angeles Times Magazine
  • Sports features stories, 1st prize: Lance Armstrong's comeback
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    Sports features stories, 1st prize: Lance Armstrong's comeback
    Elizabeth Kreutz, U.S.
  • Contemporary issues singles, 2nd prize: Giraffe killed by drought, northeast Kenya, Sept.
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    Contemporary issues singles, 2nd prize: Giraffe killed by drought, northeast Kenya, Sept.
    Stefano De Luigi, Italy, VII Network for Le Monde Magazine
  • Contemporary issues stories, 1st prize: War Is Personal, U.S.
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    Contemporary issues stories, 1st prize: War Is Personal, U.S.
    Eugene Richards, U.S., Reportage by Getty Images for The Sunday Times Magazine/Paris Match
  • Daily life singles, 2nd prize: Sunday picnic, Mozambique
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    Daily life singles, 2nd prize: Sunday picnic, Mozambique
    Joan Bardeletti, France
  • Daily life stories, 1st prize: Adrian, 13-year-old autist
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    Daily life stories, 1st prize: Adrian, 13-year-old autist
    Gihan Tubbeh, Peru
  • Portraits singles: 1st prize Graham, anorexic teenager
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    Portraits singles: 1st prize Graham, anorexic teenager
    Laura Pannack, United Kingdom Lisa Pritchard Agency for The Guardian Weekend magazine
  • Portraits stories, 2nd prize: Boys and girls
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    Portraits stories, 2nd prize: Boys and girls
    Annie van Gemert, the Netherlands
  • Arts and entertainment stories, 1st prize: Rainbowland, New Mexico
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    Arts and entertainment stories, 1st prize: Rainbowland, New Mexico
    Kitra Cahana, Canada, Fabrica for Colors
  • Nature singles, 1st prize: Hunting kingfisher, Hungary
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    Nature singles, 1st prize: Hunting kingfisher, Hungary
    Joe Petersburger, Hungary, National Geographic
  • Nature stories, 1st prize: South Georgia, Antartica
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    Nature stories, 1st prize: South Georgia, Antartica
    Paul Nicklen, Canada, National Geographic

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Despite the contest's generally dark tone, a few lighter stories stood out:

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