A blindfolded rhino, a dumpster-diving eagle and an albatross that has been attacked by mice. The World Press Photo Contest Environment categories are new for 2018 – with both Singles and Stories being rewarded. They celebrate the work of photographers documenting human impact, positive and negative, on the environment.
The new categories for the 2018 World Press Photo Contest have caused debate, and reflection. "Human impact on the environment is one of the most important issues of our time,” comments Micha Bruinvels, Director of Contests at the World Press Photo Foundation, on the addition of the categories. "These allow us to reward and support imagery reporting on this topic, including stories that cover solutions. We believe these changes create a more comprehensive visual perception of today’s society."
Here, we explore the photographers’ views on the new Environment categories, their importance, timeliness and place within photojournalism.
"I think it’s a great development that World Press Photo has included the Environment categories. We know about global warming and about trees being cut in the Amazon, but there are a lot of background stories that are coming to light as a consequence of our changing environment – these deserve a voice.
"We live in a time where environmental changes are having more and more impact, and if we don’t react now by talking about climate change, for instance, there will be no way back. The time is now – we still have a chance to change things.
"The project that I entered into the World Press Photo Contest focuses on the relationship between humans and Japanese macaques. Japanese macaques were seen as a sacred mediator between man and the gods, but nowadays they’re considered a pest at agricultural sites, and ridiculed in the entertainment industry. But for me, this is about much more. I hope it will be perceived as a story about the relationship between us human beings and all the other animals we share the planet with.
"I see myself as a wildlife photojournalist or a wildlife documentary photographer, telling stories about the relationship between wild animals and people. I started this story 11 years ago, when I was just focusing on pretty images of Japanese macaques. My editor at National Geographic magazine would ask, 'What’s the story?' I couldn’t really answer that question, so I started thinking of the bigger picture. These are the stories that need to be told, rather than focusing on the beauty of nature. Beauty is also important, but I think we need both sides to make people pay attention and understand what’s going on."
“I think it’s important for World Press Photo to have introduced the Environment categories because there are a lot of important causes, and some great projects and research happening, and all that needs to be shared. For photographers like myself, it’s not just a case of working with extraordinary animals in amazing places, it’s essential for me to also give a platform to researchers, vets, ecologists and other passionate people trying to save animals every day in their job. These categories raise awareness further, not just about the threats [to the environment] but about the solutions – it’s essential for us not to lose sight of the solutions and the positive work that’s going on to save endangered species and threatened places.
“Photographers should consider working more in collaboration and bringing skills together as storytellers, rather than working in isolation. This way we can try to achieve change together, and really raise awareness of the issues that we care about.
“In the Singles category, you really need to be able to tell the whole story. The rhino photograph that I’ve been fortunate enough to have in this competition (above) hints at the wider crisis facing rhinos, but it also tells a positive story about great work and opportunities. I would say to anyone looking to enter next year, that if you can identify a narrative in one story then that’s something the judges are likely to notice as well. Tell stories in thought-provoking new ways that haven’t been seen before.”
"There’s definitely an overlap between photojournalism and wildlife photography – photojournalism isn’t just about war. With these [Environment] categories, we can show some positive things, too.
"I like Neil Aldridge’s photograph that won the Singles category – it looks like a painting. Only a few days ago, I read in the news that the world’s last male white rhino had died. When I saw Neil’s photograph, I thought it was a great Environment entry. It’s good to shock people sometimes.
"We have to tell some very difficult stories, but taking care of the environment is so important now, and it’s our job as photographers to show what’s happening.
"I’ve just completed a project photographing two Chinese people, one is blind and one has no arms, and in the last 10 years they’ve planted 30,000 trees in China. China is one of the most polluted countries in the world – sometimes, in Beijing, you can’t see 10 metres ahead for smog. These men are living five hours from Beijing and decided to plant these trees for their children and their future. [Photographing them] is an example of what journalists can do to tell stories about the environment and show the positive as well as the negative."