by World Press Photo

Excitement, tension, concern, fear, shock, grief, disbelief, dismay, boredom, resignation, elation, joy, and relief: sometimes the gaze of the onlooker tells it all.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, Paolo Pellegrin photographed the faces of those who had gathered on St. Peter’s Square in Rome, gazing at the window of the Pope’s apartment after his death was announced. In these portraits, Pellegrin made the emotional impact of his death felt without needing to be explicit. We did not need to see the pope on his deathbed to understand what it must have meant for his worldwide congregation.


Janet Knoth was present at the scene when the space shuttle Challenger exploded and broke apart only 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the death of its crew. She photographed the tragic event itself, but also the reactions of the bystanders, their expressions of disbelief, shock, and grief. Ten days after the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, which was photographed by many who witnessed it, Julien Daniel went to New York to make a story about a city in mourning. His prize-winning series shows the response of those who came to Broadway to see ground zero. They gazed at the site with a mixture of curiosity, awe, disbelief, and equanimity.

Some high-impact events are very difficult to capture on camera because of their lack of visual focus. The fall of the Dow Jones index on Black Monday (19 October 1987) for example, which was the worst stock market crash on Wall Street since 1929. Frank Fournier managed to give an urgent impression of the situation by photographing the panic and incredulity on the faces of the brokers and investors on and around the trading floors, while they watched the Dow Jones index fall by 22.6 percent.

Sports and theater

Sports and theater are all about the audience. Usually, the activities played out on the field, or on stage, give ample opportunities for interesting images. A picture of the spectators, though, may be equally revealing. At the 1962 football World Cup in Chile, Walter Studer aimed his camera not so much on the field as on the stands to register the public’s mixed emotions, creating a photo story that earned him second prize at World Press Photo. Forty-four years later in Germany, David Klammer did more or less the same when he photographed fans watching their teams play at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Both Studer and Klammer had decided to create a different view on a much-photographed event.

Sometimes the story is to be found on the audience itself. Undoubtedly, Ronald Bell would have been able to make some spectacular shots of the RAF airshow that Queen Elisabeth attended in 1977. Instead, his winning pictures show how Defense Minister Fred Mulley falls asleep next to the Queen. Several years before, it had been the Queen who had drawn attention, when Horst Ossinger pictured her watching a parade of elephants clearly distracted by something which has never been identified.

Paolo Pellegrin

Janet Knott

Julien Daniel

Frank Fournier

Walter Studer

David Klammer

Ronald G. Bell

Horst Ossinger