Dane wins prestigious World Press Photo of the year prize

Intimate picture of a gay couple fosters debate about discrimination of sexual minorities

A picture by Danish photographer Mads Nissen has been named World Press Photo of the year.

Nissen, who works for Politiken, got the 2014 award for an image of Jon and Alex, a gay couple during an intimate moment in St Petersburg, Russia. 

"Winning the main prize at the World Press Photo is very, very overwhelming," said Nissen as he received the award on Thursday morning in Amsterdam.

Jury chair Michele McNally, the director of photography and assistant managing editor at the New York Times, described the image as "aesthetically powerful".

Love is the answer
The photo, which is part of a larger series depicting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Russia, also won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category. 

“The photo has a message about love being an answer in the context of all that is going on in the world. It is about love as a global issue in a way that transcends homosexuality,"  said Alessia Glaviano, a member of the jury.

"It sends out a strong message to the world, not just about homosexuality, but about equality, about gender, about being black or white, about all of the issues related to minorities.”

Sexual minorities in Russia face harsh discrimination including violent hate-crime attacks from religious and nationalistic groups.

Homophobia in Russia
Nissen explained how he managed to infiltrate homophobic and neo-nazi groups in Russia that lure homosexuals into their apartments, where they humiliate them, force them to drink urine and beat them up.

"They paint them, shave them bald, force them to call parents and friends, and say that they are disgusting, paedophile gays. It's insane and thought-provoking," Nissen told DR.

Although Nissen does not perceive himself as an activist, he admits the reportage has made him think more about his own judgements regarding homosexuality.

"The experience has made me reflect on how we, and I, personally, judge other people. I began to think how I would react if my son said he was a gay. There's a good reason why people – not only in Russia, China or Uganda – wonder how to talk about being gay."

To be seen around the world
World Press Photo is an independent, non-profit organisation founded in 1955 and based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. 

The contest is judged by leading experts in visual journalism, and all the prize-winning photographs are subsequently shown at exhibitions in 45 countries over the course of a year.