A total of 196 pictures from all over the world were featured. They tackled a variety of topics—politics, disaster, daily life, nature, personalities, sports, arts and entertainment. From more than 96,000 entries, they emerged as the most “moving,” “thought-provoking” and “challenging” photos, preserving in film and digital information images that tried to define humanity at its best and worst.

For photojournalists, the images at the World Press Photo exhibition set the standards of technique, style, vision and journalistic skill for the industry. But what do they mean for the inexperienced eyes?

The child stood with his mother infront of the photo of a decaying body floating in a river in the Irrawaddy Delta. The caption said the person was a victim of massive flooding brought by a cyclone in Burma. To the four-year-old, however, the image said it all. Pulling the edges of his mother’s dress he pointed at the picture and asked, “Mommy, why is that person dead?”

His mother paid no attention. Wrinkles lined her face as she read the captions of the adjacent images of disaster. Horror was visible through her distorted face.

Across the exhibition hall, a middle-aged woman stood scanning the war photos in the breakaway region of South Ossetia in Georgia. Her right hand covered her mouth in what was clearly an attempt to hide shock. She did not bother to read the caption but focused on the images of a man in grief who was closing the eyes of his dead brother. He was killed in the Russian bombardment of the place.

“The events in the pictures are terrifying,” Emmy del Rosario said, moving from the war photos to the images of disaster. She stopped infront of the image of a man on an improvised stretcher. The caption said he was rescued from the rubbles after an earthquake struck parts of China.

“I remember Baguio in the photo. I remember Hyatt hotel. Fear… I feel afraid,” she added.

Emmy was in Baguio when the great 1990 earthquake devastated the Summer Capital. She was not hurt but she witnessed the tragic loss of lives, including a number of her friends.

Behind the images of tragedy and war, an old man quietly scanned the photos in the Portrait category of the exhibition. “I’m 72,” he barked with pride, his nose almost touching the boards in an attempt to read the caption. “I do remember.”

Teddy Gomez was examining the images of doll soldiers in a miniature war field. They caught his attention as they revisited iconic events and personalities like the Spanish Civil War and Mao Tse Tung of China.

“Those look like Japanese soldiers in Hiroshima. It’s like the Second World War…,” the retired accountant added, pausing for a long time before repeating, “I do remember.”

Teddy was only five or six when World War II broke out. At that age, people don’t normally remember much, but for him, living through the war years left strong images he will never forget.

She was fighting back tears while explaining how the idea of daily deaths struck her. From a distance she appeared taken-aback while reading the captions in the General News category. “This one,” Marian Beltran pointed at a war photo in Georgia, “the caption said hundreds are dying everyday. It’s disconcerting.”

Lars Lindqvist captured the images at the height of the Russian intervention against the separatist forces in South Ossetia in Georgia. She caught the fear in the faces of the people in her pictures, as well as the tears and exhaustion.

“The pictures are shocking but it’s the reality. It’s out there… it’s just that they have never been shown this vivid before. I’m hoping we can do something,” Marian added.

There was silence everytime people passed by the images of war, death and tragedy. One can see how faces were transformed from curiosity, awe, dread to sadness as they slowly understood what the photos meant.

One visitor from Isabela captured the general sentiment in a comment she left in the message notebook in the center of the gallery. She wrote, “The images of war…pray that we will not see more of these in the Philippines.”

At around three in the afternoon, people began flooding into the exhibit. There were families, classmates, men and women in relationship, students, businessmen, taxi drivers, tourists—people from all walks of life. Pictures of the American president Barack Obama greeted them as they emerged from the front escalators of The Block.

Those who chose to look at the photos displayed in the left panels generally wore smiles and laughter as they examined the subjects.

“This caught my attention,” Harry Cabe was standing infront of mug shots of six men. They were the before and after shots of boxers in the Beijing Olympics.

“Look at how their faces changed,” he pointed out.

Beside him was a woman laughing at the expressions plastered on the faces of athletes in the 10-meter platform diving competition. She was joined by her friend who, at the sight of the images, could not help but call her companions.

Soon, they were imitating the expressions in the photos. They made funny faces, curled their foreheads, opened their mouths and puffed their cheeks in an attempt to rival the athletes. They ended, however, laughing at one another.

All over the Sports category, visitors were enjoying the action and the telling movement captured by the photographers.

“I like the pictures here. I can’t read English so I don’t know what those pictures meant,” Jimmy Himalogan said, referring to the Current Events photos.

“I don’t need to read here because I understand the pictures,” he added.

Near the corner of the gallery, a man was stooping close examining the drop of blood from a Judo athlete. The photo by Wu Xiaoling won the first prize in the Sports Features category. It preserved a drop of blood as it splattered on the blue mat of the arena. The hand and knees of the athlete were the only other objects visible, helping viewers surmise how the rest of the image looked like—a Judoka on her knees; the portrait of surrender.

“The way it was shot is different. A struck of luck and skill,” Cris Vidal was looking at the blood splatter.

“It makes you think it was edited, but I think the photographer is just lucky,” he added.

These are the best journalistic photos from around the world. But a quick interview of the people in the exhibit revealed several interpretations and opinions.

To photographer and Film graduate Paolo Gonzales this is expected because photo is a medium.

“It’s not true that you mirror reality. You have a choice as a photographer… The fact that you choose to take the picture at that moment and not later shows that you really have a say on the outcome.”

He said photographers usually place their biases through the angling, choice of focus, lighting, contrast and a number of other factors.

As to the interpretation of the viewers, culture and experience play a crucial role. He said the images that attract people are the images they can relate to because of a memory, emotion, familiarity, upbringing and worldview.

For him, a good picture, then, is one that can pierce through these social and cultural screens and put across a clear message.

“Photos have more immediate effects. If you execute it right, it can give the desired results in five seconds. That is the power of the visual medium,” he said.

Indeed, a number of photos achieved this effect and were even immortalized because of their power. There is the photo of an African child with a vulture. Another is that of a naked girl running after a napalm attack in Vietnam. In the Philippine, Albert Garcia struck the world with his photograph of a truck trying to outrun a pyroclastic flow from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

How do photographers achieve these photos?

“We have preparations,” Paolo said. “But on the field, you have to be quick. Move fast, take shots and pray that you get a good one.”

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