Monday, February 24, 2014


World Press Photo of the Year 2013 by John Stanmeyer

I saw this photograph this morning and it has remained imprinted in my mind ever since.
Taken by John Stanmeyer, the stunning photograph above, titled Signal, is the winner of the World Press Photo award -  one of the most prestigious awards that a photographer can hope to claim.

Striking in its simplistic composition and color scheme, Signal unfolds a remarkable story. "So.. they're instragamming the moon?" was the suggestion put forth by one of my friends when I showed her this photo. A good guess, but no -  - this year's World Press Photo Award winner is not an example of the 21st century Instagram phenomenon, but rather a capture of a rawer and more intimate moment.

As is written in this photo's caption, the men in the photo are African migrants standing on the shore of Djibouti city, trying to "capture an inexpensive signal" from Somalia so that they can call home.

Family, hardship, journey, determination - at once, a slew of words emerges to accompany the photo and make its setting all the more befitting.

As Chinese poet 李白 wrote in his renowned poem 靜夜思, “舉頭望明月,低頭思故鄉:”  "Raise your head to look at the moon, lower it and think of home." In Chinese literature, the moon has always born a symbolic significance:it has always meant home and nostalgia - you're looking at the moon here, and the rest of your family is miles away looking at the same moon. Therefore, the gleam from the migrants' mobile phones - mirroring the light of the moon - almost seems to carry the connotation of the 'modern moon' - it is the "tenebrous link" to home.

Also stated in the photo's caption is a side-note on Djibouti city on how it is "a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East." Seeking a better life. These men are magnified, their voyage glorified, their purpose ennobled: something in the shadowed stance of these migrants becomes heroic, almost holy. It is as if they are raising their cell phones in prayer. It is an image that is as tender as it is brave.

Signal captures a perfect and moving enroute-moment. It captures the step between the departure and destination during which a hopeful traveller wants nothing more than to reach home, to call upon the comforts of family and the familiar before he once again returns to the voyage of "seeking a better life."

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

It's a trite platitude, perhaps, yet one that aptly captures the essence of Signal nonetheless.