Life and death through a lense

Zürich, 8 May 2016

“Conflict uproots people and forces them to seek asylum.

Inequality produces injustice.

Humanity´s impact on the environment threatens species (including humanity).

Innovative technological advances disrupt established industries.

In this world…there are so many stories that need to be told…because people deserve to see their world and express themselves freely.

Freedom of information, freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech are more important than ever…

Quality visual journalism is essential for the accurate and independent reporting that makes these freedoms possible.”

(Lars Boering, Managing Director, World Press Photo Foundation)

On Sunday, bearing proudly tickets my wife won online, we visited the World Press Photo Exhibition 2016 in Zürich.

It was inspirational, engaging, educational and supportive.

Smog hangs heavy over Tianjin, a hazard so dangerous that schools stop classes, people are told to stay indoors and restrict vehicle use.

Air pollution accounts for 17% of all deaths in China.

A seven-year-old boy is badly burned when a bomb dropped by a Sudanese government plane lands next to his home.

Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in the war between Dafur rebels and the government of President Omar al-Bashir.

Are cops in America deliberately using racial violence and do black lives matter?

Unarmed civilians stare eyeball to eyeball with officers in riot gear armed to the teeth.

Syrian refugees desperate for peace, hungry for freedom, find little of both.

Babies are thrust through holes in razor wire fences, nights are spent in hiding, days dodging border police,  the desperate are gassed with pepper spray and shot at with water cannons for the “crime” of existing and seeking asylum.

Most are women and children.

But their Middle Eastern origins bring panic to right wingers and fear allows inappropriate leaders to claim power.

Paris and Brussels mourn and show solidarity with the victims of terrorist attacks.

Not since Paris was liberated from the Nazis at the end of World War II have so many rallied together.

A young man lies dead and bloody in a Honduran street.

For the past decade, Honduras has been at the top of the world´s homicide list in mostly gang-related, drug-related violence.

Miners in Burkina Faso search for gold, in pits hacked into the ground, many no wider than a manhole, under backbreaking conditions. regularly exposed to mercury and cyanide.

More than 370,000 Syrian refugees live in camps…

Many more have died trying.

Kurds fight Islamic State, protecting the borders of a country which would prefer if the Kurds died in the process.

People drown or die of hypothermia in unseaworthy craft crossing from Africa to Europe, from Turkey to Lesbos.

Native children play in a river in Brazil.

The Brazilian government plans a hydroelectric plant flooding much of the natives´ land, theirs for centuries while urban lights ignite, native people and culture collapses.

A blind Iranian girl enjoys the warmth of sunlight on her face through a window in the morning and though the concept of colour will never be hers, she still explores the world through touch, sound, smell and taste.

Australia remains the land God gave to Cain with violent storms, hailstones the size of golf balls and heavy rainfall – a climate as volatile and threatening as its politics.

Colima Volcano in Mexico remains active with rock showers, lightning and lava flows.

Skiers stumble and basketball players fly through the air, while Swedes synchronise swim in graceful motions.

Starving children live in overcrowded unsanitary circumstances in Koranic boarding schools in Senegal, forced to acquire religious instruction and learn Arabic.

They are the victims of child trafficking, kept in chains, made to beg on the streets for eight hours a day, with all monies given to their teachers.

A lesbian couple bear babies together united by love and common experience.

Constant shelling and bombardment, people flee, deprived of food, clean water, medicine or safety, families ripped apart, displaced amongst the debris of war.

Smoke billows from torn shells of buildings.

Children die before their parents, the healthy are crippled, while hope dies slowly.

Avalanches and earthquakes hit Nepal, but help is slow in coming for aftershocks continue, the weather worsens and roads may be wiped away.

Those not immediately crushed by nature´s convulsions die slowly and often alone from their injuries.

In Rio, shantytowns are so common that no one reports on them.

In Brazil, 2,000 people are killed every year by police.

The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine on 26 April 1986 released large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Children are born and grow up with radiation poisoning.

30 years later, they remain alive yet forever on the edge of life.

Poachers kill animals for sport and profit and forests disappear.

Orangutans are forced to forest edge driven out by manmade fire.

Russians play hockey while Sengalese wrestle.

Women bravely serve their country only to be sexually assaulted by their male counterparts.

Theirs is a special kind of trauma, which mostly goes unreported.

Few return as carefree as they left.

Some never do.

A couple live out their final year of their 34-year marriage fighting cancer together.

They choose to create new memories in their final moments and live lives full of love and meaning that not even death can erase.

A tyrant rules a far off land, rarely photographed or seen by outsiders, yet even here children play, couples dance, farmers work the land.

Underneath the fear and repression the spark that is human nature still burns.

Such are some of the striking images on display, causing us to laugh, feel deep sadness, rediscover our compassion and learn more about the world.

The stories are compelling.

I have not included these images here for I think they need to be experienced yourself.

For not only is a photograph worth a 1,000 words, it is as well a necessary link to our humanity and the planet we share.

Let us praise the photo journalist.

For without, we are truly blind.

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