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Belgian photographer Stephan Vanfleteren picked up a 1st World Press Photo Award in the category of ‘Staged Portraits’ during a gala event held in Holland. Vanfleteren’s subject was a series of portraits shot in cooperation with the charity Mercy Ships. The organization operates the world’s largest private hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, currently on location in Guinea, West Africa, to provide free, life-changing medical care.
Joined by Mercy Ships Belgium Director Bert van Dijk, Belgian project manager Servaas Van Belle and Dutch Director Arjen van der Wolf in Amsterdam, Vanfleteren received the award in a ceremony to honour all the prize winners of the 56th World Press Photo Contest.
His Royal Highness Prince Constantijm expressed his appreciation for the commitment of photographers in general, but he emphasized also the responsibility they have to bring news and developments close to people. The organization received more than 100,000 images from more than 6,000 photographers.
Stephan Vanfleteren has always stressed in interviews the beautiful work of Mercy Ships to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor. He also emphasized this on the stage in front of a packed theatre with international press and VIPs.
Following the ceremony, all of this year’s winning photos will be exhibited in major cities around the world in a photo tour. For more information see the World Press website
The recognition is great, of course, but the best thing is to take a photo and then see the result at home. I have seen how the people of Mercy Ships do such brilliant and very important volunteer work. They just do their job without imposing themselves. I am always touched when people do something like Mercy Ships. Everyone can do something beautiful. One helps by performing eye operations, the other by removing tumours, and a photographer like me can hopefully make photos so other people can see what happens. Nice, honest portraits. This award is great news for me and also for Mercy Ships, stated Vanfleteren.
‘The portraiture of Stephan Vanfleteren has its own identity’, said Bert van Dijk, Mercy Ships Belgium Director, who was instrumental in introducing Vanfleteren to the work of Mercy Ships. What makes him so special is the emotional contact he has with the people he photographs. This is very noticeable in the portraits. They are not always the most pleasant portraits to look at, but they are very unique in the simplicity with which he summarizes the emotion between photographer and subject. The pictures move people emotionally, but retain the dignity of people.
Vanfleteren visited the Africa Mercy in Guinea, West Africa, in October 2012 and again in April 2013 to finish the photo documentation project, returning to Europe just before the prize in Amsterdam was awarded. As a result, he could also show in his presentation the latest images of the same people after surgery.
Later this year, Mercy Ships will organize additional special exhibitions.