World Press Photo of the Year winner Warren Richardson was paparazzi for 10 years

Photojournalist Warren Richardson’s winning picture, Hope For A New Life, captures the moment a refugee baby is passed underneath a barbed wire fence along the Serbian-Hungarian border.
Photojournalist Warren Richardson’s winning picture, Hope For A New Life, captures the moment a refugee baby is passed underneath a barbed wire fence along the Serbian-Hungarian border.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Photojournalist Warren Richardson got down and dirty to document the plight of Serbian refugees, one shot of which won him the World Press Photo award

Freelance photojournalist Warren Richardson, 49, prefers to call himself a time collector. "That is what we do in photography. Collecting time. You know you're capturing that moment in life which was there one second and gone the next," he says.

Based in Budapest since 2008, he has collected many moments during his 20-year career. One particular moment, lit only by the moon - a moody monochrome photograph of migrants passing a baby underneath a barbed wire fence along the Serbian-Hungarian border - won him the prestigious World Press Photo of the Year award for the 2016 contest.

Depicting the hardship of the migration crisis, the same picture also won the contest's spot news singles category. Titled Hope For A New Life, the hauntingly powerful and symbolic visual has been praised by judges for its subtlety, simplicity and nuance.

Born in Australia, Richardson was quite the nomad before settling down in Hungary. He has lived in Asia, the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

He says: "I was a paparazzi for nearly 10 years and sent all over the world to take pictures of celebrities." The money he made taking pictures of the rich and famous allowed him to pay for the long- term documentary projects on human and environmental issues that he felt strongly about.

Stories he covered included unexploded ordnance in South-east Asia, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, as well as a feature on a monk's life.

During a photography tour at Budapest's Keleti train station in 2015, he noticed 10 people sitting on the ground and knew they were not locals. He spoke to them and found out they were Syrian refugees. The refugee numbers soon escalated to more than 10,000 and he realised he was witnessing the start of a refugee crisis. He decided to move towards the Serbian-Hungarian border to document history.

Hungary was hardening its stance towards refugees attempting to enter the country. In July 2015, it began construction of a 4m-high fence along the entire length of its border with Serbia, to close off crossings through all but official routes. Refugees attempted to find ways through before the fence was completed on Sept 14.

Richardson describes that particular day, Aug 28, 2015: "I had camped with the refugees for five days outside the border. I was with the group for hours. We hid in an apple orchard and played cat and mouse with the border police the whole night... It was 3am and pitch black. I couldn't use a flash while the police were trying to find these people because I'd have given them away."

The police had unleashed pepper spray in the air and rags had to be put over babies' faces, covering their mouths and nostrils, to prevent them from giving away their location.

The award-winning photograph was shot right after the police had left. He had not slept for days and was exhausted.

Richardson has been stabbed, held against his will and beaten up, but he strongly believes in immersing himself in the work he does. The longest period he has spent in a refugee camp was three weeks.

"What I usually do is I go there with the dirtiest possible torn clothing. I live with them. I get dirty. I don't shower for days, but it allows me to have access to everything.

"Because they see it as a form of respect. You're not that person who's just coming in with your shiny camera gear and taking photos. You're actually deciding to live like how they're living to understand how it feels. I think it's extremely important if you're calling yourself a photojournalist."

He believes choices have to be made and likes to do it the hardest way because it lets him get to know the people and find the real stories.

Ironically, the award-winning image was never published until it won the World Press Photo award. It had been sent with other pictures to two photo agencies, but his pictures were not sold.

Lamenting the flip side to the industry and the huge problem for photographers today, he says: "There are so many agencies out there now that the devaluation of a picture is so rancid, it's horrifying."

That said, his picture has been seen globally, raising awareness of the European migrant crisis.

After years of doing celebrity- based photography where everything was in colour, he now shoots predominantly in black and white, his cameras always set on monochrome. He uses Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR cameras and works with two camera bodies in the field to facilitate lens changing.

Winning the Oscars of photojournalism in his first participation came as a shock and he has his family to thank. His five-year-old son was drawn to the particular image as they were going through Richardson's pictures. His partner, who works as a photo editor in Hungary, then submitted the image for the annual competition.

Richardson is continuing his work on refugees and migration, as well as the effects of humaninduced climate change on the world, although he does not deny that if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were to walk past the front of his house, the paparazzi in him will still grab his camera and take a picture.

"I'd take a picture because I know the picture will be worth a lot of money. For someone who's in the business, if the picture is there, you take it."

Then off he will go, in his dirtiest clothes, to continue his work as a time collector in the refugee camps.


WORLD PRESS PHOTO 2016 EXHIBITION

WHAT: Presented by The Straits Times, the exhibition showcases 145 prize-winning photographs that captured the most powerful, poignant and, sometimes, provocative news images from around the world.

WHERE: The Concourse (Level 1) and The Canyon (Basement), National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road

WHEN: Friday to March 26, 10am - 7pm daily

ADMISSION: Free

GUIDED TOURS

Saturdays 10am & 12.30pm, Sundays  12.30pm

SHARING BY YUMI GOTO

WHAT: On being a judge at the World Press Photo 2017

WHEN: Friday, 6.30pm

PANEL DISCUSSION

WHAT: Photojournalists Warren Richardson, Kazuma Obara and Yumi Goto will discuss the topic, Photojournalism In The Age Of New Media

WHEN: Friday, 7pm

TALKS

Saturday

11am: Covering The Refugee And Migrant Crisis by Warren Richardson

1pm: How To Reveal Invisible People/Time/Space And Pain With Visual Storytelling by Kazuma Obara

March 12, 11am

A Photojournalist's Life: The Good, The Bad And The Not So Ugly by Straits Times photojournalists Mark Cheong and Caroline Chia

March 19, 11am

Keeping It Local: Looking For Newsworthy Stories by Straits Times photojournalist Neo Xiaobin

March 25, 11am

Covering The 2016 Olympics In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil by Straits Times photojournalist Kevin Lim

The sharing by Yumi Goto, panel discussion and talks will take place at the Gallery Theatre of the National Museum.

•Admission to the talks is free, but registration is required. Register at www.straitstimes.com/st-world-press-photo-2016

•Presented by The Straits Times; worldwide sponsor: Canon; venue supporter: National Museum of Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Time collector's winning moment'. Print Edition | Subscribe