Swedish photographer Paul Hansen wins 56th World Press Photo

“The strength of the pictures lies in the way it contrasts the anger and sorrow of the adults with the innocence of the children. It’s a picture I will not forget,” says Mayu Mohanna, a jury member at this year’s World Press Photo photojournalism contest. In the image, two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and her three-year-old brother Muhammad are being taken to a mosque for the burial ceremony, after they were killed when their house was destroyed by an Israeli missile strike. “Their father’s body is carried behind on a stretcher [and] their mother was put in intensive care,” says the Amsterdam-based organisation. “The picture was made on 20 November 2012 in Gaza City, Palestinian Territories.”

The winning image was selected from 103,481 images submitted by 5,666 photographers from 124 countries. Hansen recently won First Place in the Pictures of the Year International competition in the Photographer of the Year – Newspaper category.

“I’ve always said that a picture should engage with the head, the heart and the stomach,” says Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography at The Associated Press and chair of this year’s jury. “Some pictures engage on all three levels. This picture for us on the jury reached us on these three levels. It just leapt off the screen for us, repeatably.”

Speaking with Hansen in a phone interview this morning, he told BJP how he felt upon winning World Press Photo. “I had very mixed emotions actually. I was very happy on one level, of course, and very surprised, and very honoured because I know the incredible quality of the work. And I was also very sad. It’s a very sad situation.”

“It was of course a very emotional and charged happening,” Hansen adds. “The event started the day before; we were sitting in a hotel near Gaza City and it’s very close to a hospital where a Norwegian doctor was working during this crisis. He was telling this horrible story about a family whose house was hit by a rocket. They had the mother of the family unconscious in their ward and they were very emotionally stress because they knew they would have to wake her up and tell her that her husband and two children were dead. The next day we went to one of the funerals outside Gaza City and it turned out to be this family.”

Hansen doesn’t yet know what winning the World Press Photo will mean for his career, but he hopes it will create an environment where he can work on more personal projects. “I think it will give me more opportunities to do the type of stories that I like.” But he has in the past, he adds, received a lot of support from his newspaper. “They support my strange ideas of stories.”

Also, he believes that winning this prize will give “this picture, and this family, and all the other families who die in this cycle of violence another platform. It gives us the ability to communicate this story again, which I’m really grateful for. It think it’s very important in today’s media climate.”

When asked whether this win will help strenghten photographers’ positions on the staff of daily newspapers, Hansen says he hopes so. “I have the luxury sometimes to work in close connection with a reporter and we try to stay with the issue. We don’t go to one funeral and another, and another. For example, in 2010, I went to Haiti to cover the earthquake. Now in December, I’ve just came back from my sixth trip to Haiti, just to follow up on the story we did the first time. I think that type of way of working will be strengthened, thanks to this award.”

More soon…

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