Filipino Photographer Michael Varcas Achieves Regional Win in the 2024 World Press Photo Contest

Filipino fishermen at the West Philippine Sea. Photo by Michael Varcas

The World Press Photo Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization that has held the World Press Photo Contest for decades, highlighting important visual stories across the world. This year, Filipino photographer Michael Varcas is one of the regional winners of the contest.

On April 3, the World Press Photo Foundation announced the regional winners of the 2024 World Press Photo Contest. Each year, the jury of respected photographers and storytellers worldwide showcases a selection of the world’s best photojournalism and documentary photography.

Filipino Photographer Michael Varcas is one of the regional winners for this year with his project, Battle for Sovereignty, depicting the lives of Filipino fishermen amid the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea. With the renewed tensions in the area reported in the last couple of months, the fishermen’s stories became more relevant to be told.

Veejay Villafranca, this year’s Regional Jury Head, shares that Varcas’ coverage was an important representation of the topic in the region. As a seasoned photojournalist himself, Villafranca notes that the hope of each photojournalist is that some of the work or even the collective work of all photojournalists would hopefully create discussion, make people move, and hopefully leave the world a better place than what they photographed it in.

A photo of the Chinese coast guard vessel. Photo by Michael Varcas

“I think his [submission] moved forward because he showed a cohesive perspective on the lives of the fishermen,” Villafranca says. 

This approach of showing insider perspectives on global issues was a conscious effort made by the jury. As other topics that were included in this year’s set of winners featured a variety of topics, including the Israel-Hamas war, the climate crisis, and stories about the condition of family relationships in today’s society, jury members selected photos that approached each angle in a different way.

“It’s always an effort to show a more intimate perspective,” Villafranca adds. While social media platforms have made news more accessible and at times, have desensitized audiences on social media to ongoing conflicts, the photos the jury have selected highlight specific narratives that encourage curiosity about the story and make them feel more human.

Michael Varcas captures the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea. Photo by Michael Varcas

With the range of topics presented in this year’s selection, Villafranca says the winners from the past years are also widening the narrative to present solutions being made in different parts of the world as well. Notably, stories about climate solutions and efforts to preserve the environment have come to the fore.

Villafranca is continuously reminded of the importance of photojournalism in this age especially in his second year as part of the foundation’s jury. “News images and stories are important because [they highlight] our humanity,” he says. “It gives us the capacity to raise important topics and issues, and gives us a more informed perspective and critical thought in weighing in these stories.”

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