World Press Photo

Award Winner: Pieter ten Hoopen

By ANNA LEA JAKOBS | May 8, 2019

Pieter ten Hoopen, winner of the World Press Photo contest in 2008 and 2010, returns to the shortlist for 2019’s photo story of the year. Ten Hoopen was nominated for his work on the migrant caravan in Latin America. People resting on a stone in a river, middle-aged men surrounding a fireplace in the evening, children looking down from a truck – ten Hoopen’s photos show daily life within the caravan. As he puts it, “People continue the way they do things: people take care of their children and try to create a safe atmosphere. It is just way more multi-dimensional than it is often shown.”

This is exactly what the photographer wanted to highlight in order to humanize the ongoing issue of immigration. Ten Hoopen describes such humanization as a photojournalist’s responsibility. “We are not taking a political stance, but we are taking a stance for humanity,” he explains passionately. According to ten Hoopen, the tendency to politicize humanization is problematic.

When he first heard about the migrant caravan, ten Hoopen decided to travel to Central America quite spontaneously. Due to the bare conditions, the caravan was forced to rest frequently, enabling him to slowly wander around. During these interludes, ten Hoopen was able to meet people and to capture the moments in between the caravan’s movement. Despite working in temperatures often above 30 degrees celsius, ten Hoopen regards himself as lucky – such conditions gave him numerous opportunities to photograph the resting people.

After winning various prizes in the past, ten Hoopen normally does not compete in contests anymore. Yet this year, he decided to submit his photo story, being driven by the desire to show what it really means to be in a caravan. In ten Hoopen’s view, the fact that his (albeit alternative) form of storytelling was recognized by the jury reflects the development of the World Press Photo contest. “When it comes to photojournalism, there is often a big lack of imagination: the way we think stories should be, the way we think people should be presented,” remarks the award winner. His photo project counters these one-sided expectations by presenting a rather more layered reality.

“We call it a migrant caravan, but the migrant caravan is a misplaced name for the problem,” the photojournalist states. “The UN does not want to call them refugees, which is really weird – because if you analyze why people are fleeing, we see that a big part of them are refugees.”

Indeed, many people in this caravan are fleeing from violence or discrimination because of their sexual orientation, while others are climate refugees. In ten Hoopen’s opinion, by not acknowledging these facts we hinder our own ability for dialogue.

Central in all of his works is one topic: what it means to be on the run. The photojournalist and his team want to cover fleeing on a global level. The work behind his ambitious vision is invisible to the viewer; fundraising takes months and the majority of projects will never be realized. Yet ten Hoopen remains resolute. “People say no. It is just a matter of continuing.”

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