A CHILLING PORTRAIT
Burhan Ozbilici of The Associated Press at the World Press Photo exhibit in Montreal, where his award-winning photograph capturing the aftermath of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey is on display. Kelsey Litwin has details.
Standing in a photography exhibition with a camera in hand is a familiar setting for Turkish photographer Burhan Ozbilici.
It was at one such exhibition where Ozbilici captured the photo that would win him the 2017 World Press Photo of the Year award — an image of off-duty Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas with his left hand in the air, shouting, and a gun in his right hand, pointed to the ground. To the right of the frame is Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, whom Altintas had just shot.
At the opening of Montreal’s 12th World Press Photo exhibition at Marché Bonsecours Tuesday, Ozbilici was again taking photos, while Laurens Korteweg, World Press Photo’s director of exhibitions, introduced the winning piece.
“I’m always a journalist. I react,” Ozbilici said.
He had not planned to visit the art gallery in Turkey’s capital of Ankara on Dec. 19, 2016, when the photo was taken. He was going to meet a friend, he said.
“I always have my camera ... so when it happened, I was ready to do my job.
“I was scared, but I did not panic,” he said. “I immediately decided to stand and do my job.”
Ozbilici said he relies heavily on his self-confidence and his ability to be able to quickly analyze a situation and act.
“Even if you are killed or injured, you will not be injured or killed for nothing. You will document history,” he recalled thinking.
Korteweg said displaying history is the purpose of the annual global photojournalism contest, now in its 62nd year, and all winners work with a sense of purpose similar to Ozbilici’s.
“They work because they want to show the world to us, they want to make us aware,” he said. “They want to enable us.”
Because of that, the exhibition becomes a tool that engages the public, highlights an issue and inspires action, he said.
Amber Bracken said that was part of the motivation behind her four trips to protest camps in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, during the months-long action against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“This is not an isolated or distinct issue,” the Alberta-born photographer said.
She said the fight south of the border is similar to the issues of colonialism many Indigenous communities in Canada face.
“I really don’t see a barrier or a distinction between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening here,” she said.
Bracken won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category for her photos of the protests, which have appeared in Buzzfeed and the Globe and Mail.
Despite their international relevance, Korteweg said the graphic — and at times controversial — nature of the winning images often causes the travelling exhibition to face the question of censorship.
While World Press Photo normally visits Ankara and Istanbul, he said Ozbilici’s images would have had to have been removed for them to do so this year.
“We do not make this compromise,” Korteweg said.
Ozbilici is steadfast in his belief in the importance of independent journalists who work in the name of honesty.
“We have to learn the right thing from this tragedy,” he said. “This is the news, history. This is courage.”
The exhibition is on until Oct. 1 at Marché Bonsecours (325 de la Commune St.). Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday to Saturday.