by World Press Photo

Family relations define the meaning of many photos in the World Press Photo collection.

A source of great joy and deep distress, the connection between family members belongs to the most profound and universal bonds in human relationships. It is often defined by blood, but may also be forged by friendship. A family can be a traditional one, consisting of a father, mother and children, or an extended one, including grandparents, cousins, and other relatives, reaching as far as a whole tribe or community.


In 1966, Kaljman Kaspiev photographed what must be the largest family ever pictured on an award-winning photo. In the middle, between his descendants sits the patriarch Shirali Muslimov, supposedly 160 years old at the time. Other awarded family portraits include Chuck Fishman’s series of immigrants after their arrival at New York’s Kennedy Airport, Mary Ellen Mark’s twins, and the Egyptian bodybuilders with their mothers portrayed by Denis Dailleux in 2013.

Past, present and future come together in family portraits, for example in Jillian Edelstein’s photo of three generations of Gardner women and in Søren Lorenzen’s picture of the Polish Stavinoga family. In 2000, Ziyah Gafic portrayed a Bosnian man presenting the pictures of his parents, children and grandchildren to the photographer. The future seems strangely absent, though, in Gérard Rancinan’s story about ‘kings without a kingdom’, especially in his portrait of the pretender to the Brazilian throne, sitting between the effigies of his illustrious ancestors.


A father cleaning a church in Uppsala, a family picnic on a beach outside Maputo, the daily life category, and others as well, contain numerous pictures of intimate moments in family life. Most awarded stories picture families confronted with challenges. Like Eddie Adams’ story about Mickey, a boy suffering from Progeria; and Gary Friedman’s portrayal of the 32-year-old Siamese twins Yvonne and Yvette Jones. Brenda Ann Kenneally draws attention for social issues by doing intimate projects about American families living below the poverty line. “I do believe that the personal condition is an accurate indication of political and social attitudes of the times in which people live,” she said in an interview, “If you look at the work as a family album it makes it approachable and a way to begin a conversation on common ground.”

That family life can be far from harmonious and even violent shimmers through Stephen Shames’ 1992 story ‘Outside the Dream’, about child poverty in America. Domestic violence is hidden from view, and most stories dealing with this subject only show the disastrous outcome, mainly for the women and children involved. In her project about Shane and Maggie and her children, Sara Lewkowicz comes very close as she seeks to portray family abuse and its effect on the victims, their families and their abusers.

Absence and distress

In some photo stories, the absence of a family is poignant. For example, in Maciek Nabrdalik’s image of Nicolette sitting in the corner of a room at an orphanage after her mother was sent to jail. Or in Fu Yongjun’s portraits of Chinese children whose parents have gone away to work in the cities. In 2002, Kristen Ashburn made a story of HIV-positive families in Zimbabwe, bereaved or about to be bereaved by AIDS.

Many pictures in the collection and indeed many that became World Press Photo of the Year show a family in distress, often the despair and grief of those who lost a loved one to conflict and disaster. In 1988, Anthony Suau’s photo of a South-Korean mother clinging to a policeman’s shield after her son’s arrest became World Press Photo of the Year. The bond between parent and child also became visible in Jean-Marc Bouju’s photo of a detained Iraqi father holding his son, and in Samuel Aranda’s portrait of a Yemenite mother comforting her injured son.


In 1995, James Nachtwey photographed angry Chechen women confronted with Russian mothers who had come to retrieve their sons from the war in Chechnya, where they were serving in the Russian army. Some of them did succeed in bringing their sons home. Family members being reunited after a long separation through conflict or imprisonment provide a hopeful image. Arnaud de Wildenberg witnessed the happy reunion between the Polish trade-union leader Lech Walesa and his children after his internment. But a reunion can also conjure other feelings, as Helmut Pirath captured in his World Press Photo of the Year of a German prisoner of war meeting his young daughter after 10 years of separation.

The quintessential homecoming picture was made by Sal Veder in 1973 of Vietnam veteran Robert Stirm greeted by his overjoyed family after his release from five years of North-Vietnamese captivity. It does not show, however, that Stirm had received a letter from his wife three days earlier asking for a divorce. They were separated within a year. Stirm felt ambivalent about the photo, he told Smithsonian Magazine in 2005, while his children have a copy on their walls, he cannot display it in his home as it represents for him both happiness and sadness.

Chuck Fishman

Mary Ellen Mark

Denis Dailleux

Jillian Edelstein

Søren Lorenzen

Ziyah Gafic

Harry Benson

Gérard Rancinan

Folke Hellberg

Joan Bardeletti

Eddie Adams

Gary Friedman

Brenda Ann Kenneally

Brenda Ann Kenneally

Stephen Shames

Sara Naomi Lewkowicz

Maciek Nabrdalik

Fu Yongjun

Kristen Ashburn

James Nachtwey

A. de Wildenberg

Helmuth Pirath

Sal Veder