We take great care with words, weaving them into elaborate tapestries to recount the week's events, provide insight and convey the drama of the world we live in. But sometimes all the words in the magazine can't do that job as well as John Stanmeyer's pictures. Last week our Hong Kong-based contributing photographer won both first and third place in the spot news stories category of the World Press Photo Contest. I asked John for some words to describe his winning images:The 12 pictures that took first place were shot last November during the four days before Indonesia's historic selection of a new president. Violent clashes were breaking out all over Jakarta as police cracked down on supporters of Megawati Sukarnoputri. When the crowds learned that she had lost, they erupted in anger, storming police lines. I spotted a car that I could rest on. When I was about 15 m away, it exploded into a ball of flames, killing three people. At times during intense conflicts, you are so focused on documenting the event that you don't notice danger. It's as if everything around you moves in a slow, liquid dance--and then stops. The people that I was photographing are the real risk-takers. They were fighting and dying for a better life.
The eight images that won third place were taken last Aug. 26, just before East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia. An army-backed militia was shooting at a crowd of independence supporters in Dili, East Timor's capital. Just then Joaquim Bernardino Guterres entered my life. He was barefoot and armed with two rocks to protect himself from the militia. He ran up to a group of nearby policemen and begged them to intervene. They ignored him. He asked more passionately, and the police began to punch and kick him. Guterres broke away and ran toward me. Just as he passed, the police shot him dead--for asking them to stop the killing. The police hadn't noticed me, but after the images appeared in Time and on cnn, I had to leave East Timor because of potential threats. I think about Guterres nearly every day. I want to make sure that no one forgets his senseless death. He is no different from the rest of us. One day we, too, might need to fight for our basic human rights. We can only hope that we aren't killed by the ones who are supposed to protect us.