Awards, Archives, and Affects: Tropes in the World Press Photo Contest 2009 - 2011
Photography contests have assumed an increasingly significant public role in the context of the global surge of mass-mediated war reporting. This study focuses on the recurrence of visual tropes in press photographs awarded in the annual contest World Press Photo (WPP) in the years 2009–11. By tropes, we mean conventions (e.g. a mourning woman, a civilian facing soldiers, a distressed witness to an atrocity) that remain unchanged despite their travels across the visual sphere, gaining professional and public recognition and having a strong affective impact. We contend that photography contests such as the WPP influence and organize a process of generic understanding of war, disaster and atrocity that is based on a number of persistent tropes, such as the mourner, the protester or the survivor amidst chaos and ruins. We further show that these tropes are gendered along traditional conceptions of femininity and masculinity, appealing strongly to both judges and wider audiences. The evidence for our claim comes from an analysis of the photographs that won awards, observation of the judging sessions, semi-structured interviews with three jury chairmen, and public commentary on the juries’ choices (blogs, newspapers and websites).