Intimate portrait of Russian gays is World Press Photo of the Year

Jonathan Jacques Louis, 21, and Alexander Semyonov, 25.
The winning World Press Photo of 2014 (Photo: Mads Nissen)The World Press Photo of the Year (Photo: Mads Nissen, Denmark, Scanpix/Panos Pictures)

Danish photojournalist Mads Nissen’s image of a young gay couple in St. Petersburg was named World Press Photo of the Year on Thursday.

The atmospheric photo of 20-somethings Jon and Alex – one lying supine with the other folded onto him, in a dimly lit room – shows a slice of life in what Nissen calls “forbidden love in modern Russia.” The staff photographer for the Danish daily Politiken created and produced the "Homophobia in Russia" series, from which the portrait was selected, in 2013 and 2014.

“[T]he winning image needs to be aesthetic, to have impact and to have the potential to become iconic. This photo is aesthetically powerful, and it has humanity,” said this year's jury chair Michele McNally of The New York Times.

Seventeen internationally recognized photo experts formed they jury. They convened this week in a darkened room at the World Press Photo foundation’s headquarters, located in an airy church-converted-office in Amsterdam Zuid.

All images were presented to the jury anonymously. Organizers say this year’s contest drew in 97,912 submissions from 5,692 photographers across 131 countries. Additional awards were given in the categories of sports, long-term projects, spot news, general news, daily life, nature, portraits and contemporary news – in which Nissen’s image also took first prize.

For his main win, Nissen receives 10,000 euros and a camera and lens kit donated by Canon, a partner of the foundation. All category first-prize winners receive 1,500 euros.

Established in Amsterdam in 1955, World Press Photo has become globally renowned for its annual competition. An exhibition of the winning images opens on April 18 at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam.