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Jon and Alex, a gay couple, during an intimate moment. Life for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people is becoming increasingly difficult in Russia. Sexual minorities face legal and social discrimination, harassment, and even violent hate-crime attacks from conservative religious and nationalistic groups. The 2015 World Press Photo of the Year, and 1st Prize Contemporary Issues, Singles, by Mads Nissen (Denmark, Scanpix/Panos Picture), St. Petersburg, Russia (all photos courtesy World Press Photo)

The World Press Photo Contest 2015, this year culling from 97,912 images from 5,692 photographers representing 131 countries, announced its winners on February 12. The sheer number of images submitted suggests the contest to be truly representative of international photojournalism. Submissions fall into eight distinct groups: general news, spot news, contemporary issues, daily life, portraits, nature, sports, and long-term projects. Each category awards three prizes and has a specific set of rules regarding the date range of the images (though most require that the photos hail from 2014) and number of individual photos that may be submitted by each photographer. In addition to cash prizes, winning photographers will be honored in an April 24–25 ceremony in Amsterdam, and winning pictures are exhibited in approximately 100 cities around the globe. This year’s exhibition begins in Amsterdam on April 18 at the De Nieuwe Kirk.

Digital manipulation is, unsurprisingly, a sticking point for the judges. As PhotoShelter blog noted, this year a full 20 percent of submitted photos were disqualified for what the jury deemed excessive manipulation. The contest is grounded in principles of journalism; excessive changes to a photo render it non-representative and/or non-factual. However, as PhotoShelter author Allen Murabayashi suggested, the boundaries for what is considered “excessive” have yet to be clearly outlined in our age of easy digital manipulation.

Some of the most compelling work from this year’s contest resides in the contemporary issues category. This year’s World Press Photo of the Year, by Danish photographer Mads Nissen, shows two nude men in an intimate moment. The caption, “Jon and Alex, a gay couple during an intimate moment, St. Petersburg, Russia,” suggests political oppression in the shadowy obfuscation of the photo’s figures. The image reflects the repression of homosexuality by capturing figures in a moment both intimate and partially concealed.

The third-place winner of contemporary issues in the stories/portfolio subcategory, Blue Sky Days, a series by Belgian photographer Tomas van Houtryve, also approaches a political subject with the tools of visual obfuscation. Van Houtryve placed his camera on a drone. In the resulting images, figures are often only represented by the shadows they cast. The series is strikingly, if understatedly, political; one cannot help but realize that drone operators often see their targets represented in shadow — simple demarcations in the place of flesh and blood.

It is facile, if at least partially true, to think of press photography as driven solely by conflict and politics. The World Press Photo Contest reminds us that the role of documentary photography is to capture the times, not just the action. While war photography is essential, images of nature, sports, and daily life offer documentation necessary to both the contemporary world-in-flux and to posterity.

Shipwrecked people are rescued aboard a boat 20 miles north of Libya by a frigate of the Italian navy. After hundreds of men, women, and children had drowned in 2013 off the coast of Sicily and Malta, the Italian government put its navy to work under a campaign called “Mare Nostrum” rescuing refugees at sea. Only in 2014, 170,081 people were rescued and taken to Italy. 2nd Prize General News Category, Singles by Massimo Sestini (Italy), 7 June, off the coast of Libya

Laurinda waits in her purple dress for the bus that will take her to Sunday School. She is among the many socially isolated young women in disadvantaged communities in Australia facing entrenched poverty, racism, trans-generational trauma, violence, addiction, and a range of other barriers to health and well-being. 1st Prize Portraits Category, Singles, by Raphaela Rosella (Australia, Oculi), Moore, New South Wales, Australia

Damaged goods lie in a kitchen in downtown Donetsk. Ordinary workers, miners, teachers, pensioners, children, and elederly women and men are in the midst of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Artillery fire killed three people and wounded 10 on 26 August 2014. 1st Prize General News Category, Singles, by Sergei Ilnitsky (Russia, European Pressphoto Agency) 26 August, Donetsk, Ukraine

Caption: Odell Beckham (#13) of the New York Giants makes a one-handed touchdown catch in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. 2nd Prize Sports Category, Singles, by Al Bello (USA, Getty Images), East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA

Portraits of cadets from the most important military academies of Europe. 3rd Prize Portraits Category, Stories, by Paolo Verzone (Italy, Agence Vu) Cadet in the Koninklijke Militaire Academie, Breda, The Netherlands

When spores of the fungus land on an ant, they penetrate its exoskeleton and enter its brain, compelling the host to leave its normal habitat on the forest floor and scale a nearby tree. Filled to bursting with fungus, the dying ant fastens itself to a leaf or another surface. Fungal stalks burst from the ant’s husk and rain spores onto ants below to begin the process again. 1st Prize Nature Category, Stories, by Anand Varma (USA, National Geographic Magazine)

Students in a schoolyard. Several thousand people have been killed by covert U.S. drone strikes since 2004. The photographer bought his own drone, mounted a camera and traveled across the US looking for similar situations as mentioned in strike reports from Pakistan and Yemen, including weddings, funerals, and groups of people praying or exercising. He also flew his camera over settings in which drones are used to less lethal effect, such as prisons, oil fields and the U.S.-Mexico border. 3rd Prize Contemporary Issues Category, Stories, by Tomas van Houtryve (Belgium, VII for Harper’s Magazine), El Dorado County, California United States

A group of young Samburu warriors encounter a rhino for the first time in their lives. Most people in Kenya never get the opportunity to see the wildlife that exists literally in their own backyard. Organized by sophisticated, heavily armed criminal networks and fueled by heavy demand from newly minted millionaires in emerging markets, poaching is devastating the great animals of the African plains. Much needed attention has been focused on the plight of wildlife and the conflict between poachers and increasingly militarized wildlife rangers, but very little has been said about the indigenous communities on the frontlines of the poaching wars and the work that is being done to strengthen them. These communities hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals. 2nd Prize Nature Category, Singles, by Ami Vitale (USA, National Geographic), Lewa Downs, Northern Kenya

Medical staff at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Center work to escort a man in the throes of Ebola-induced delirium back into the isolation ward from which he escaped. In a state of confusion, he emerged from the isolation ward and attempted to escape over the back wall of the complex before collapsing in a convulsive state. A complete breakdown of mental facilities is a common stage of advanced Ebola. The man pictured here died shortly after this picture was taken. 1st Prize General News Category, Stories, by Pete Muller (USA, Prime for National Geographic / The Washington Post), Freetown, Sierra Leone

A protester calls for medical aid for a comrade shot dead.Caption: After several months of violence, anti-government protesters remained mobilized by holding barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square, known simply as the Maidan. On Saturday, 20 February, unidentified snipers opened fire on unarmed protesters as they were advancing on Instituska Street. According to an official source, 70 protesters were shot dead. Ukrainian riot police claimed that several police officers were wounded or shot dead by snipers as well. An unofficial source said that snipers opened fire on the police and protesters at the same time in order to provoke both camps. 20 February was the bloodiest day of the Maidan protests, and two days after, President Viktor Yanukovych left the country. Second Prize Spot News Category, Stories, by Jérome Sessini (France, Magnum Photos for De Standaard), 19-21 February, Kieve, Ukraine

A monkey being trained for circus cowers as its trainer approaches. With more than 300 roupes, Suzhou is known as the home of the Chinese circus. 1st Prize Nature Category, Singles by Yongzhi Chu (China, Suzhou) Anhui Province, China

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Julia Friedman

Julia graduated from Barnard with a B.A. in European History, and from NYU with an M.A. in Visual Arts Administration. She works as Senior Curatorial Manager at Madison Square Park Conservancy.