A year after Covid-19 is confirmed as a pandemic, World Press Photo prize reminds us of photography's vital role in playing witness to history

Highest prize for photojournalism includes images from 28 countries that capture a year when the coronavirus intertwined with global issues of social injustice and territorial conflicts

Mads Nissen's The First Embrace © Mads Nissen, Denmark, Politiken/Panos Pictures, courtesy World Press Photo

Mads Nissen's The First Embrace © Mads Nissen, Denmark, Politiken/Panos Pictures, courtesy World Press Photo

The nominees for the 2021 World Press Photo Contest and 2021 Digital Storytelling Contest have been announced. The highest accolade in photojournalism this year includes images from 45 photographers spanning 28 different countries.

Joshua Irwandi's The Human Cost of Covid-19, Indonesia, 18 April 2020 © Joshua Irwandi, courtesy World Press Photo

The images on show reflect how photojournalism and visual documentary is uniquely capable of capturing, playing witness and providing proof of recent history. The works document a unique year when the Covid-19 pandemic intertwined with other urgent global issues, from unprecedented social justice protests and the climate crisis to transgender rights and territorial conflicts.

Ezra Acayan's Taal Volcano Eruption, Philippines, 12 January 2020 © Ezra Acayan, courtesy World Press Photo

“Good, ethical visual journalism is so important in this day and age, when we are confronted with such an onslaught of information and news,” says the jury chairwoman NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, the director of photo.circle and the Nepalese photography festival Photo Kathmandu. “Photography has this incredible evidentiary quality."

Nadia Buzhan's Waiting for Release at a Temporary Detention Center in Belarus, 22 July 2020 © Nadia Buzhan, courtesy World Press Photo

Highlights from the photographs nominated include Nadia Buzhan's powerful portrait of Olga Sieviaryniec as she waited with a small bunch of flowers for her husband Paval Sieviaryniec—a Christian Democrat politician and a well-known political activist—outside a detention centre on Akrestsin Street, Minsk, Belarus, on 22 July 2020.

Pablo Tosco's Yemen: Hunger, Another War Wound, Yemen, 12 February 2020 © Pablo Tosco, courtesy World Press Photo

Ezra Acayan photographed the communities around the Taal Volcano on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, which began erupting on 12 January 2020, spewing ash up to 14km into the air. Acayan was there with her camera amongst the panicked evacuation of village communities amidst ash falls and volcanic thunderstorms.

Karolina Jonderko's Reborn, Poland © Karolina Jonderko, courtesy World Press Photo

Then there’s the work of Indonesian photographer Joshua Irwandi who, in April 2020, captured on camera the bodies of suspected coronavirus victims who were tightly wrapped in yellow infectious-waste plastic in a hospital in Indonesia, in accordance with Indonesian government protocols at a time when, globally, we had little understanding of a deadly new disease that spread to every corner of the world.

Alisa Martynova's Nowhere Near, Italy, 2020 © Alisa Martynova, courtesy World Press Photo

The winners will be announced on 15 April during an award ceremony as part of the World Press Photo Festival 2021. Each winner receives €5,000 each and the prize-winning photographs are assembled into a worldwide year-long exhibition.

All the 2021 Photo Contest nominees are available to view at World Press Photo.