The Gaza City alleyway is packed with men. Some are yelling, others have their hands in the air. In the foreground of the photo are two children (Suhaib Hijazi and elder brother Muhammad), aged two and nearly four. Their lifeless bodies are wrapped in white sheets, their small faces covered in dirt and dust, their eyes closed. The children were killed when their house was attacked by an Israeli airstrike on November 19 2012. Now their uncles are carrying their bodies to the mosque for their funeral. This photo, Gaza Burial by Paul Hansen, is World Press Photo of the Year.

Walking through World Press Photo 2013 currently showing at State Library of NSW, the viewer discovers the power of a single image to capture a moment within the subjects’ lives. Sometimes that moment is so arresting, so raw in its depiction of humanity that the viewer can’t escape distressing imaginations of what came before and after the photographer’s privileged lens made time stand still.

Considering these moments can often be very harrowing, such as in Hansen’s case and the exhibition’s confronting war photography. At other times reflecting on these moments is joyful, as is the case with Paul Nicklen’s enchanting underwater depiction of diving Emperor penguins. Then there’s photos that make us almost choke over their poignancy like Daniel Berehulak’s images depicting the aftermath of the 2011 Japan tsunami and Felipe Dana’s depiction of Natalia Gonzales, a 15-year-old crack user in a Rio de Janeiro slum who looks more than twice her age.

Not only does this exhibition offer insights into peoples’ lives from around the world, but it allows us to witness their worlds in a very immediate way – perhaps even in a way that that no other medium could offer. Without words, sound or flashing graphics, it shows the power of an image expertly or serendipitously captured to transcend language, time and geographic barriers.

3.5/5 stars


*Image credit: Paul Hansen, Gaza Burial, 2013.

World Press Photo is showing at the State Library of NSW until July 29.

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