Migrants crossing the border from Serbia into Hungary.
Spot News, 1st prize singles and World Press Photo of the Year.
A man passes a baby through the fence at the Hungarian-Serbian border in Röszke, Hungary, Aug. 28, 2015.
 Warren Richardson

Photo of Refugee Family Wins World Press Photo of the Year

Feb 18, 2016

It was 3:oo in the morning on Aug. 28, 2015, when Warren Richardson photographed a refugee handing his baby to another man as they crossed the barbed-wired border between Serbia and Hungary. The Australian photographer, who is based in Budapest, had been camping with a group of 200 refugees along the border. “We played cat and mouse with the police the whole night,” says the photographer, who couldn’t use a flash as it would have given away their location. “[The refugees] moved under the trees along the fence line. They sent women and children, then fathers and elderly men.”

That black-and-white photograph — one that captures the desperate nature of the massive exodus of war refugees from Syria and its neighbors — has now been selected from among 82,951 images as the World Press Photo of the Year, photojournalism's most significant award.

"I did a Magnum course with Ian Berry," Richardson tells TIME, "and he told me: 'All it takes is one picture and that's it.' And now I understand it."

For the 47-year-old photographer, winning World Press Photo's top prize is an overwhelming experience. "I never thought it would happen, not in a million years," he says. It's also an opportunity for the self-assigned photographer to continue his work across Europe from Belgium to Sweden where refugees and migrants seek better lives away from the conflicts that have ravaged their homelands. "I also hope to find the guy from my photo," he says. "I'd love to get his perspective on this."

For the judges, Richardson's photograph was a natural choice. “Early on, we looked at this photo and we knew it was an important one,” Francis Kohn, photo director of Agence France-Presse and chair of this year’s general jury, said in a statement. “It had such power because of its simplicity, especially the symbolism of the barbed wire. We thought it had almost everything in there to give a strong visual of what’s happening with the refugees.”

“It’s a haunting image,” says Huang Wen, director of new media development at Xinhua News Agency and a member of this year’s jury. “You see the anxiousness and the tension in such a mood, which is pretty different from those in-your-face images. It’s subtle, and shows the emotion and the real feeling from the deep heart of a father just trying to hand over his baby to the world he was longing to be in. This is really something.”

Here Are the Best News Photos of the Year

VIEW GALLERY | 61 PHOTOS
General News, 1st prize stories. Refugees arrive by boat near the village of Skala on Lesbos, Greece, Nov. 16, 2015.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
General News, 1st prize singles. A doctor rubs ointment on the burns of a 16-year-old Islamic State fighter named Jacob in front of a poster of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, at a Y.P.G. hospital compound on the outskirts of Hasaka, Syria on Aug. 1, 2015.
General News, 2nd prize singles. Refugees travel in darkness through Europe to avoid detection; Lesbos, Greece, Dec. 6, 2015.
General News, 1st prize stories. Refugees arrive by boat near the village of Skala on Lesbos, Greece, Nov. 16, 2015.
Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
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Richardson's photo is just one of the many diverse images that was rewarded by this year's jury. World Press Photo’s director Lars Boering welcomed the varied selection of winners across eight categories, from sports to wildlife to portraits. “What I like is that we have the top names of the industry, from Daniel Berehulak to Sergey Ponomarev and Francesco Zizola,” he tells TIME. “But we also have discoveries; the overall winner is a discovery.”

The refugee and migrant crisis on Europe's shores dominated this year's awards, from Richardson's winning image to Sergey Ponomarev's report for the New York Times.

The jury also rewarded two Syrian photographers — Abd Doumany and Sameer Al-Doumy — for their work from inside “the most terrifying fighting going on right now,” says Boering. “At a time when we ask ourselves who is able to tell this story, it’s nice to see two guys from Syria being recognized for their work.”

Here Are the Best Wildlife Photos of the Year

VIEW GALLERY | 15 PHOTOS
Nature, 1st prize storiesA Bornean orangutan climbs over 30 meters up a tree in the rain forest of Gunung Palung National Park, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, Aug. 12, 2015.Tim Laman
Nature, 3rd prize stories. Madagascar holds more than half of the world's chameleon species; however, as a result of deforestation causing habitat loss, 50 percent of the chameleon species is endangered.
Nature, 1st prize singles. A massive 'cloud tsunami' looms over Sydney as a sunbather reads, oblivious to the approaching cloud on Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia on Nov. 6, 2015.
Nature, 2nd prize singles. Divers observe and surround a humpback whale and her newborn calf whilst they swim around Roca Partida in the Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico, Jan. 28, 2015.
Nature, 3rd prize singles. Colima Volcano in Mexico shows a powerful night explosion with lightning, ballistic projectiles and incandescent rockfalls; image taken in the Comala municipality in Colima, Mexico, Dec. 13, 2015.
Nature, 1st prize storiesA Bornean orangutan climbs over 30 meters up a tree in the rain forest of Gunung Palung Nationa
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Tim Laman
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In the Long-Term Project category, which rewards photographers working on a single issue over a minimum of three successive years, the jury awarded Mary Calvert's documentation of sexual assault cases in the U.S. military. Nancy Borowick, who photographed both of her parents' terminal cancers, received second prize, while David Guttenfelder's insight into North Korean society received third prize.

This year’s contest also represents the contest's emerging from the controversy that overshadowed last year’s awards, when 20% of entries that made it to the final round were disqualified for manipulation or excessive processing, and one photographer was found to have misled the jury in the description of his work. The debate that followed threatened World Press Photo’s reputation, but Boering says the organization has ultimately benefited from the resulting conversations with photographers, editors and other experts. “This was key for both sides to start to understand the other’s values," he says. "We used that to built a good set of rules and procedures. By opening ourselves up, we improved ourselves.”

Here Are the Best Sports Photos of the Year

Czech Republic's Ondrej Bank crashes during the downhill race of the Alpine Combined at the FIS World Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, on February 15, 2015.
VIEW GALLERY | 15 PHOTOS
Sports, 1st prize singles. Czech Republic's Ondrej Bank crashes during the downhill race of the Alpine Combined at the FIS World Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, on Feb. 15, 2015.Christian Walgram, GEPA Pictures for National Geographic
Czech Republic's Ondrej Bank crashes during the downhill race of the Alpine Combined at the FIS World Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA, on February 15, 2015.
Sports, 1st prize singles. Czech Republic's Ondrej Bank crashes during the downhill race of the Alpine Combined at the F
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Christian Walgram, GEPA Pictures for National Geographic
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World Press Photo plans to release a report on this year’s process on Feb. 29. “That report needs to be a separate discussion,” says Boering. “Today, we want to celebrate the winners.”

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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