I was thrilled to realise that we were in the right place at the right time. The World Press Photo competition has been an exhibition I have now appreciated viewing a few years in succession. 'Enjoyed' probably isn't the right verb. Many of the images hit home hard. That's the point. The journalist communicates without words. The pictures speak for themselves.
And this year was no exception.
I was mystified by 'Signal' the winning entry and stood confronted by it, as though frozen to the spot in De Nieuwe Kerk, the imposing Church situated on Dam Square where the 2014 exhibition has begun its tour which will visit 45 cities around the globe.
Signal is an image of technical ingenuity. But, beyond this, it really is an image of our time. It portrays African migrants on the shores of Djibouti City raising their phones in the moonlight, in an attempt to catch a signal from the neighbouring territory of Somalia. The picture depicts their immediate vulnerability and intrinsic desire to make contact with those they have left, and those they perhaps hope to see. These are individuals who are in transit, likely far away from the lives for which they search, but also now far from the lives seek to escape. The phone is, in this moment, a symbol of hope.
Watching video footage narrated by several of the panel who judged the contest opened my eyes more fully just as they were beginning to tire, fatigued by the images that demanded so much of their beholder.
The competition serves as a vital bridge between the photojournalism profession and the general public, two million of whom will go and see the photos before they are published in the yearbook.
But these pictures require more of their audience than a cursory glance. These images request your engagement. They remain with you, and within you. Seeing an exhibition such as this is like a work-out for me. The images cut deep in to the core of so many issues that I struggle to contemplate individually, let alone en masse.
There was a stunning series of pictures of Cougars - a species that, once in decline, has been making a silent comeback across the western United States over the last 4 decades. The photographer highlighted their elusive nature and the precarious position they occupy: whilst protected in California and Florida, they remain prized game in 13 other states. The juxtaposition of these wild cats and the Hollywood skyline poses challenging questions pertaining to their continued survival in such close proximity to their human hunters.
Whilst there were a handful more photos that stood out and spoke to me in the boldest of terms, there was one photo towards the end of the exhibition that said more to me than any other...
As a title, 'Heptathlon and Cancer' could not have failed to grab my attention: my best friend Charlotte is rarely far from my thoughts. And particularly just now, as she faces the prospect of more surgery.
30 year old Swedish heptathlete Nadja Casadei participated in both the European and World Athletics Championships, before being diagnosed with cancer of the lymphatic system, last summer.
Once the shock had subsided, and the specifics of her opponent were confirmed, Nadja came to the conclusion that there was only one way approach to it: with the same approach and attitude that she has on the track and field, where winning is all that counts.
There was no doubt in her mind that she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, beat the cancer. Casadei was determined to continue her athletic career and, with her sights firmly set on Rio 2016, she (like Charlotte) commenced chemotherapy immediately.
She has, since then (like Charlotte), kept up a training regime whilst fighting the disease for which she (like Charlotte) has undergone gruelling treatment. Her consultants have advised her to let her body dictate her training programme and Casadei (like Charlotte) does whatever training she can whenever her energy levels are up.
Seeing these beautiful photos of Nadja before and during her treatment have prompted me to consider whether I am doing what I can when I can in the pool, or on the bike...