With 78,801 photos submitted by 4,738 photographers, the 2019 World Press Photo of the Year Contest can only have winners of the very highest caliber. These hard-hitting images, taken by professional photo-journalists from all over the world, tell us the stories that matter, getting to the heart of the issues facing our world and opening our eyes to the often harsh reality.
This year's winner is a heartbreaking photo of 2-year-old Honduran toddler Yanela Sanchez, who is captured crying as she and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, are taken into custody by US border officials in McAllen, Texas. The photo, which went viral and sparked a major debate, was taken by Getty Images photographer John Moore, who described the experience in an interview with NPR. "I could see the fear on their faces, in their eyes," the award-winning photographer said. "As the Border Patrol took people's names down, I could see a mother holding a young child."
As Sandra and Yanela were being processed and searched, officers asked the mother to set the child aside. "At that moment, the young child broke into tears, and she started wailing," Moore said. "I took a knee and had very few frames of that moment before it was over."
It was an unhappy end to a long an emotional journey for mother and daughter, attempting to make a better life for themselves after their own country of Honduras has descended into poverty and violence, due in no small part to U.S. policies over the years. Moore knew that for the pair, some painful times could lie ahead. “Most of us here had heard the news that the Trump administration had planned to separate families. And these people really had no idea about this news. And it was hard to take these pictures, knowing what was coming next.”
As the immigration debate intensified, the image of the tearful girl was juxtaposed against a stern-looking Donald Trump on the cover of the July 2018 edition of TIME magazine, alongside the caption: Welcome to America. Later on, it emerged that mother and daughter weren't actually split up on this occasion, leading many to accuse the photo of promoting a false narrative. Moore confirmed to CBS News that the agents he observed that night acted professionally but says he’s still pleased with both the response to his photo and the TIME cover image.
“Oftentimes, immigration is talked about in terms of statistics, and when you put a human face and humanize an issue, you make people feel,” Moore says. “And when you make people feel, they have compassion. And if I’ve done just a little bit of that, then that’s OK.”
Despite the controversy surrounding it, the judges felt that the powerful image was symbolic of the wider issue at hand, and more than merited the award.
Scroll down to see other winners in the prestigious contest, which has been running since 1955, and let us know your favorites in the comments!