The selected image is a portrait of Jon and Alex, a gay couple, during an intimate moment in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“We thought it was a beautiful image,” says jury chair Michele McNally, the New York Times‘ director of photography and assistant managing editor. “It is a memorable image, that’s very much about love.”
In a year dominated by gruesome news events — from Ukraine, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone to Gaza, Liberia, Guinea all the way to Ferguson, Mo. — the jury’s choice was unexpected, even for its author, who entered the photo in the contest’s Contemporary Issues category. “I never thought I’d win,” he tells TIME. “But no matter which picture you take, it’s not something you should expect.”
Nissen started working on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues in June 2013 when he covered a gay pride in Russia. “I was standing next to a young guy, and a homophobe came up to him and screamed in his face: ‘Are you a faggot?’ And he quietly answered: ‘Yes I am homosexual.’ And this homophobe started punching him in the face.” Nissen was horrified. “I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know [whether] I should cry or scream or get involved in the fight. It’s something you read about, but seeing it… I was unprepared. This was pure hate.”
The speech of Mads at the ceremony:
Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen.
Last year, I lost a dear friend and mentor. Just two months before I took this picture. He never got to actually see the picture, but if it wasn’t for him, I never could have made it. Tonight, I think of you: Per Folkver.
Per told me that a photographer should never try to please. The biggest risk for a photographer, he said, is when we are trying to please the audience. Instead we need to challenge. Challenge how we see each other, the world and ourselves. Tonight, with this photograph, we are challenging homophobia and the hetero-normative definition of love.
Because make no mistake; in many parts of the world, distributing this image, will cost you your freedom. Being in this peaceful image will get you killed.
But when they hate – my answer is more love. When they oppress – my answer is more freedom. When they say: “Protect the children against gay propaganda”, I say, “Take it easy… it doesn’t work like that. I spent two hours in a gay bedroom and I’m still straight!”
I would like to thank those who helped me getting this story out: The jury, World Press Photo, Scanpix and my agencies Panos Pictures, LAIF and Prospekt. To my dear family, who are with me here tonight: Jeg elsker jer så meget! A big hug, to my photo chief, Thomas Borberg, and the world’s most photography-loving newspaper, Politiken.
Tonight, I think of you Jon and Alex. You, and all the other, LGBT-activists who trusted me. They want to humiliate you – but to me, you are the brave. They want to make you look weak. But I always believed, that only the strongest, dare to be vulnerable.
Before stepping on a landmine, Robert Capa was quoted for saying: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and I always felt, that was a cliché macho comment. But maybe, I wasn’t fair to Capa. Maybe, we just need to, rediscover his words to something like this: “If our pictures aren’t good enough, we’re not emotionally close enough…”
Because, if I am not moved, touched, happy or angry when I take the picture – for sure, neither will none of you be, when you see it. This image is not trying to please. In fact, I hope, it can challenge press-photography.
Challenge, how we define closeness. Challenge, our personal involvement in the stories we do. Challenge us, to take a stand. But above all, I would like to thank World Press Photo, for giving me this opportunity, to challenge hate.
Challenge hate with something as simple as love!