June 15, 2013

Amsterdam Diary: Personal suffering displayed at World Press Photo Exhibit Amidst Red Light District

World Press Photo Exhibit at De Oude Kerk, Amsterdam
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

SATURDAY, Amsterdam - Yesterday I arrived in Amsterdam and biked over to the World Press Photo exhibit at De Oude Kerk ('The Old Church') in the Red Light district famous for women selling their bodies in front windows and customers smoking marijuana in coffee shops.

The inside of the oldest building in Amsterdam (1300), De Oude Kerk is an impressive setting to display award-winning photographs from 2013 and the auxiliary exhibit, 'World Press Photo Laureates From Russian and the Soviet Union, 1956-2013.'

Rembrandt's wife Saskia is buried here.
Of particular interest to art history buffs, this is the church where Rembrandt received permission to marry Saskia van Uylenburgh (died 14 June 1642) and where she lies buried underneath a modest slab. Just as the church connects visitors to more than 700 years of Dutch history, the photo exhibit serves as a humble memorial to personal suffering in 2012.

Here's a link to the 2013 Photo Contest (winners were selected from over 100,000 images). The World Press Photo of the Year went to Swedish journalist Paul Hansen for Gaza Burial, 20 November 2012, in the Palestinian Territories, that showed two men carrying the bodies of two children through the street in a funeral procession. All the photos, such as scenes from the civil war in Syria to women who dare to play basketball in Somalia to a mother and daughter who survived an acid attack in Southern Iran, are accompanied by just enough information likely to draw visitors back to the news. These photographs make suffering personal.

Inside 'The Old Church'

Information accompanying photographs by Danish photographer Jan Grarup: 'Even though Somalia's UN-backed government has regained control of the capital Mogadishu, al-Qaeda-linked militants are still active in the city. Al-Shabaab and other radical Os;a,oc groups consider women playing sport to be un-Islamic. Members of the Somali national women's basketball team have received death threats.' The women have taken precautions. 'Team members have to exercise extreme discretion. They go veiled and conservatively dressed in public, and carry basketballs deep inside their bags.'

The Russian exhibit showed the passage of time, including toddlers learning to swim before walking (1979); the image of a deformed horse as a consequence of the nuclear explosion of Chernobyl in 1986; and from Georgia celebrating its membership as a Soviet bloc country in 1981 to its civil war in 1991.

The 2013 World Press Photo Exhibit will travel to 100 cities in 45 countries.