COVID hug image named World Press Photo of Year

Mike Corder

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS (AP) – A photo symbolising “love and compassion” of an 85-year-old Brazilian woman getting her first embrace in five months from a nurse through a transparent “hug curtain” was named the World Press Photo of the Year on Thursday.

It was the second time the Danish photographer who shot the image has won the prestigious award.

The choice of a winning photo portraying the global pandemic was almost inevitable for the contest covering a year in which news around the globe was dominated by the virus that has killed nearly three million people, including more than 360,000 in hard-hit Brazil.

The image by Mads Nissen captured the moment Rosa Luzia Lunardi was hugged by nurse Adriana Silva da Costa Souza at the Viva Bem care home in Sao Paulo on August 5.

A curtain of clear plastic – its yellow edges folded into a shape resembling a pair of butterfly wings – offers protection, as does the nurse’s face mask. “This iconic image of COVID-19 memorialises the most extraordinary moment of our lives, everywhere,” jury member Kevin WY Lee said of the hug image. “I read vulnerability, loved ones, loss and separation, demise, but, importantly, also survival – all rolled into one graphic image. If you look at the image long enough, you’ll see wings: a symbol of flight and hope.”

‘The First Embrace’ shows Rosa Luzia Lunardi embraced by a nurse at Viva Bem care home, Sao Paulo, Brazil. PHOTOS: AP
ABOVE & BELOW: ‘Locust Invasion in East Africa’ won third prize in the Nature Stories category; and this image is part of a series titled ‘Port Explosion in Beirut’ which won first prize in the Spot News Stories category, shows firefighters working to put out the fires that engulfed warehouses in Beirut, Lebanon

The image taken by Nissen for the Panos Pictures agency and the Danish daily Politiken also won first prize in the contest’s General News Singles category.

Nissen also won World Press Photo of the Year in 2015 with a photo of a couple in Russia.

“The main message of this image is empathy. It’s love and compassion,” Nissen said in a comment released by contest organisers.

“It’s a really, really hard, grim situation and then in that horror, in that suffering, I think this picture also brings some light,” Nissen said at an online awards ceremony after being told he had won the award and the EUR5,000 prize that goes with it.

Second place in the category was a far more grim COVID-19 image – the body of a suspected coronavirus victim tightly wrapped in plastic in a hospital in Indonesia on April 18 by Indonesian photographer Joshua Irwandi.

The pandemic even reached the Environment Singles category, with American photographer Ralph Pace winning for his image of a curious California sea lion swimming toward a face mask drifting underwater at the Breakwater dive site in Monterey.

Judges looked at 74,470 photographs by 4,315 photographers before selecting winners in eight categories including general news, sports, the environment and portraits.

The World Press Photo Story of the Year was awarded to Italian documentary photographer Antonio Faccilongo, working for Getty Reportage, for a series titled Habibi about Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons who smuggle their semen out of detention facilities in the hopes of raising a family.

Winner in the Spot News Singles category was an image embodying the debate on race in the United States (US). The photo by Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post shows a white man and a Black woman disagreeing about the removal of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, DC, which depicts a freed slave kneeling at Abraham Lincoln’s feet.