'Even if I was killed, there would still be photos' - Killing of Turkish ambassador is controversial World Press Photo winner

The image of a terrorist holding his gun in the air after killing Turkish ambassador Andrew Karlov at an art gallery has proved a controversial winner of the prestigious World Press Photo prize.

The image was taken by Burhan Ozbilic for Associated Press.

Chair of the World Press Photo Contest jury Stuart Franklin said he voted against making the picture overall contest winner.

He wrote in The Guardian: “It’s a photograph of a murder, the killer and the slain, both seen in the same picture, and morally as problematic to publish as a terrorist beheading.

“Placing the photograph on this high pedestal is an invitation to those contemplating such staged spectaculars: it reaffirms the compact between martyrdom and publicity.”

Awards jury member Mary F Calvert said: “It was a very, very difficult decision, but in the end we felt that the picture of the year was an explosive image that really spoke to the hatred of our times.

“Every time it came on the screen you almost had to move back because it’s such an explosive image and we really felt that it epitomizes the definition of what the World Press Photo of the Year is and means.”

Another jury member João Silva said: “Right now I see the world marching towards the edge of an abyss. This is a man who has clearly reached a breaking point and his statement is to assassinate someone who he really blames, a country that he blames, for what is going on elsewhere in the region. I feel that what is happening in Europe, what is happening in America, what is happening in the Far East, Middle East, Syria, and this image to me talks of it. It is the face of hatred.”

Photographer Ozbilc told World Press Photo how he attended the gallery for the art exhibition opening by chance.

“When the gunman shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’, I was really scared because I wasn’t sure if there were others with him who would go on to shoot innocent people, as had happened in so many places before. People were screaming, but when I saw the gunman pointing towards them, warning them to leave the hall, I felt a little more secure.

“He was still shouting, but I didn’t pay attention to his words, rather focused on his movements, trying to analyze second by second whether he would shoot us or not. As he moved a little bit away, I got in closer to get in a better position to photograph him. He walked around the ambassador’s body and fired one more shot at close range.

“He seemed very angry, and tore some of the photographs off the wall, throwing them to the ground as an insult. Then he came closer to us and pointed his gun again. I was scared that now he would fire, so I was not moving too fast. I was extremely calm: running away wasn’t a solution, it wasn’t safe.

“I remember thinking: ‘I might be killed or injured, but the Russian ambassador has been shot. This is very big news, so as a journalist it is my responsibility to stand and do my work.

“Even if I was killed, there would still be photos.”

The winners of the World Press Photo contest were selected from 80,408 images taken by 5,034 photographers in 125 different countries.

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