Danish photographer Mads Nissen has won the World Press Photo for the second time. This year he will receive the most prestigious photo prize for The First Embrace, a photo showing an 85-year-old woman embracing a social worker through a ‘cuddly curtain’. It’s her first hug in five months.
The photo was taken on August 5, 2020 in the Brazilian city of São Paulo. The country was hit hard by the corona virus in 2020 and again this year, with more than 13.5 million infections and around 360,000 deaths to date.
“President Bolsonaro completely denied the crisis, he said it was just a flu. When I heard that, I felt an urge to do something about it,” says photographer Nissen.
In March last year, nursing homes in Brazil closed their doors to visitors. In the summer, the ‘hug curtain’, a large piece of transparent plastic, was used in more and more places, so that residents could still have physical contact.
Nissen describes the conscious moment as emotional and loving. “While crying, people hugged each other. They tried to kiss each other through the plastic.” It was an “eye-opener” for the photographer. “We don’t just need medical care, but love and compassion. A hug.”
Not only photograph the problems, but also the solutions.
“This iconic picture of the Covid crisis symbolizes the most extraordinary moment of our lives, anywhere,” said judge Kevin WY Lee. “I see vulnerability, loss and distance, demise but also survival, all captured in one photo. If you look at it long enough, you see wings: a symbol of hope.”
Hope: it is exactly what Nissen is trying to convey with the photo. “As photographers, we should not only photograph the problems, but also the solutions. I hope everyone feels connected with this photo.”
See the other nominated photos in this article and read the stories behind them.
The World Press Photo is awarded annually to a photographer whose “visual creativity and skills have portrayed an important event of great journalistic importance”. Nissen will receive a cash prize of 5000 euros.
He also won in 2015, with an intimate photo of two Russian gays in St. Petersburg. The photo was part of a project on homophobia in Russia:
Best photo story
In addition to the prize for the best photo, there is also a Story prize. This is a series of photos that tell a story. The winner in this category is Antonio Faccilongo from Italy.
He portrayed Palestinian families who are victims of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Territories:
The jury calls Faccilongo’s photo series “a masterpiece”. “This is a story of human struggles in the 21st century; a story of unheard voices. It shows another side of the long conflict.”
Last year, Japanese photographer Yasuyoshi Chiba won the World Press Photo with his photo Straight Voice. The photo shows a demonstrator in Sudan reciting a poem in the midst of a protest against military authority. The protesters demanded more power for the Sudanese people.