Anonymous and unpublished, Warren Richardson’s black-and-white photograph—a blurred night picture of a refugee handing a baby to another man on the Hungarian-Serbian border on Aug. 28, 2015— is this year’s World Press Photo winner.
The image, which captures the unprecedented mass exodus of refugees from war-torn Syria and beyond, has been dubbed by a panel of seven jurors as the best photo of the year for several reasons, jury chair Francis Kohn, the photo director of Agence France-Presse, tells TIME. “Just at the end when we had to reach a consensus, there was no doubt in our mind that this was the main story of 2015. And if we have the picture for it, we knew it should win,” he says.
The World Press Photo of the Year was selected from among 82,951 images. This year, 30 photos were examined on a screen, as well as on a table—all the first prizes in the awards’ 16 categories, including Portraits, Nature, Wildlife and General News. Photos were eliminated by an anonymous vote of a majority, until two remained. “We had a lot of debate on the issue, the content, does it show well the event, the aesthetic quality of the photo and so on,” says Kohn.
While the jury’s decision to award a refugee photo was not, at first, obvious, Kohn says it became clear the issue was a global one that resonated beyond Europe’s borders.
But most compelling to the judges was the image’s mixture of transparency and depth, Kohn says. “Its simplicity to convey the story, and yet, the more you look at the photo, the more you see that it is much deeper, much richer than it first appears.” The photo’s varying visual elements tell the story instantly: barbed wires show this is a border crossing; a blurred quality emphasizes the refugee’s hast; black-and-white shows it is night; and a literal movement across the border as the baby is transferred from one man’s hands to another.
But also its human quality, adds Kohn. While the man’s relationship to the child remains unknown even to the photographer, the act signifies hope for a new future—the title, which jury members only learned later, is Hope for a New Life. “Before we were told the title, we saw that hope,” Kohn says.
Vaughn Wallace, a member of this year’s World Press Photo jury and deputy photo editor Al Jazeera America, agrees. “We’ve seen thousands of images of migrants in every form of their journey, but this image really caught my eye,” he said in a statement. “It causes you to stop and consider the man’s face, consider the child.”
The photo’s blurred quality was the source of debate among jurors, though in the end it became a influential factor behind their decision. “Warren told us at the news conference he wasn’t sure he would get that photo because it was so quick and so dark during the night,” Kohn recounts. “He did everything right to capture the moment, so we judged that also.”
The Australian photographer, currently based in Budapest, was originally unknown to the jurors. “I had never heard of Warren, never talked to him, never seen his work,” Kohn says. “He is a well established photographer, but he was doing this not on assignment, not working with mainstream organizations. The photo was offered but not published, so we really had no clue, not because we weren’t interested, but because he was to us, anonymous.”