Istanbul Photo Awards winners: Stories behind pictures

Winners of international news photo contest share stories behind award-winning images with Anadolu Agency

The victors in this year’s Istanbul Photo Awards shared the stories behind their award-winning pictures with Anadolu Agency.

A jury of international experts last month picked the winners of the awards, organized by Anadolu Agency.

Sponsored by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) and Turkish Airlines, the contest, mainly focusing on news and sports photos, had four categories: Single News, Story News, Single Sports, and Story Sports.

Photos from news, sports, nature, and the environment and daily life as well as portraits have competed in the contest since it started five years ago.

The winner of the Photo of the Year gets $8,000, while winners in other categories are awarded $5,000 for first prize, $3,000 for second prize, and $1,500 for third.

The winning photos are collected in an annual book and are shown at exhibits in Turkey and abroad throughout the year.

Chris McGrath

Forty-year-old Getty Images photographer Chris McGrath, who won for his series "A Journalist's Murder" taken in the wake of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, told Anadolu Agency that he spent more than a month each day outside the consulate building, waiting for updates or new information about the case.

Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post, was killed last October. After producing various contradictory explanations, Riyadh acknowledged he was killed inside the consulate building, blaming the act on a botched rendition operation.

"It was a difficult story to photograph as it was such a complex multi-layered story but also it wasn’t a very visual story, so the challenge for me every day was how to try and take a different picture that told the whole story and reflected the mood of the story," McGrath said.

Thanking the jury for "seeing the power of these pictures," McGrath said: "Through these images, the story of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and the issue of press freedom will continue to be highlighted for years to come and increase awareness of the power of quality and truthful journalism."

McGrath also said that Istanbul Photo Awards plays an important role every year for recognizing "some of the world’s most iconic and historic images" related to the year’s most important news stories.

"With pressure on journalism and journalists around the world ever increasing, I think it's more and more important that we continue to do truthful, independent and quality news photography," he said.

McGrath won second prize in the Story News category.

Forough Alaei

In the Story Sports category, the top prize went to Iranian freelancer Forough Alaei, 30, for her photos telling the story of a 22-year-old Zeinab, who disguised herself as a man to enter football stadiums.

With the photo series, Alaei cast her lens on Iran’s 40-year ban on women entering stadiums.

Saying that women "have never stopped fighting," Alaei added that during the project she grew familiar with some "brave" fans who disguise themselves as men to not only enter the stadium, but also to give a voice to their rights.

Alaei said she was impressed by Zeinab's beliefs and passion for football and women's rights, and decided to enter the stadium with her to complete the project.

"In the first place, I hadn’t even thought of taking such risk, but after I saw their efforts I felt that I had to promote their voice," Alaei said, adding that they constantly ran the risk of arrest.

She also said that after noticing that they were women, men in the stadium showed their "huge" support.

"On that day, I completely felt that I was just like Zeinab. As if she is myself when I tried to photograph her," Alaei added.

Stressing the cultural similarities and "sympathy" between Turkey and Iran, she praised the Istanbul Photo Awards’ sports category.

"Thus, I consider the Istanbul Photo Award a prestigious one to present my story."

Ahmad Gharabli

In the Single News category, 40-year-old Palestinian AFP photojournalist Ahmad Gharabli’s striking photo of a Palestinian woman and Israeli security officer taking photos of each other on a Jerusalem street got top prize -- Photo of the Year.

The photo was taken during a Friday protest of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Gharabli said.

In December 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump sparked international outrage when he unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and vowed to relocate Washington's embassy to the city. In May of last year, the U.S. officially relocated its embassy to the holy city.

"I believed that this photo illustrates how the media is used not only in journalism nowadays but also on a personal and governmental basis as a tool in cases, court, evidence, and manipulation," Gharabli said.

Gharabli also said that being recorded by Israeli police during a demonstration can lead to conviction and even imprisonment in some cases, even if protesters do nothing wrong.

"So many people avoid being recorded or having their presence documented."

Calling the Istanbul Photo Awards a major international photo contest, Gharabli said: "Winning such an important award gives us a lot of hope and motivation to work harder as it symbolizes international appreciation for our presence at the right place, at the right time."

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the decades-long Middle East conflict, with Palestinians hoping East Jerusalem -- occupied by Israel since 1967 -- might one day serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Guillermo Arias

In the Story News category, a series by Mexican photojournalist Guillermo Arias, 44, a regular contributor to Agence France-Presse (AFP), got top prize.

The series depicts the perilous journey of thousands of Central American migrants to the U.S.

"It wasn’t the first caravan, but certainly it was the biggest and most visible, thanks in part to U.S. President Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric," Arias said.

Saying he was very honored to be recognized by the Istanbul Photo Awards, Arias called the prize a "very straightforward photojournalism focus award," adding that the contest has fewer categories but focuses on news photography.

"Anadolu [Agency] is a well-known, respected agency, and the Istanbul Photo Awards is one of the hottest contests worldwide," he said.

Matzke Stefan

In the Single Sports Category, German photojournalist Matzke Stefan, 56, got first prize for his photo showing big wave German surfer Sebastian Steudtner being wiped out on the famous Praia do Norte in Nazare, Portugal.

Stefan said that every December for the last four years he and his partner Christina Pahnke stay in "epic" Nazare to watch and take pictures of big wave surfers.

The award-winning image was taken on his last morning before leaving for Munich, he said, adding that it was "our last chance to get some nice pictures this season".

"And suddenly Sebastian had a headfirst spectacular wipeout," Stefan said.

Saying that it was his first time submitting images to the contest, Stefan said was proud to win, adding that he heard about the Istanbul Photo Awards from other photographers.

"I think this kind of award is very important for journalism, because in this time a lot of good pictures don’t find the way into newspapers."

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